September 1, 2019

How Gender Equality Can Help You Build Productive and Vibrant Workplaces

By Carine Lacroix

It is unbelievable to me, in this age of enlightenment and digital connection,that many still argue about the importance of equality between men and women in the workplace. Certainly, things have changed for the better since the Second World War. Women have become more involved and even assumed leadership roles in the labour market, to providefor their families but also –in equal measure–to pursue their own personal fulfillment. This is particularly true in Canada where so many women have become successful business leaders today.

Working women have come a long way in 69 years. In 1950, only 23.2% (1.1 million) of women in Canada aged 15 years and older participated in the labour market, according to the labour force survey (LFS) from Statistics Canada for that year.Today, the number has increased to61.4%, based on June 2019 Statistics Canada data.Now that we are there and accounted for, working alongside our male counterparts,allthe same rules of the game need to apply. It is imperative that we have access to the same employment rights as our male counterparts today. In short, “equality can’t wait”.

Gender equality: research shows that work is needed

There are 195 countries in the world today and the 2018 Gender gap report from the World Economic Forum made among 149 countries (meaning 76.4% of all countries in the world) confirmed some progress regarding gender equality, but also indicated that it will take 202 years to achieve equality in the workforce globally. That simply means that sadly, we are not even close to achieving gender parity.

But how can we really measure gender equality? After all, there must be clear guidelines to gauge and guide our progress. The World Economic Forum providesfour base-areas or dimensionsfor organizations and governments seeking to advance gender equality:

  1. Economic participation and opportunity
  2. Education attainment
  3. Health and survival
  4. Political empowerment

Based on these four dimensions, the World Economic Forum has created an equality score card for every country.The score card helps us measure the state of gender equality in each country for each dimension, along with the overall parity level in the country. A country which has achieved parity should have a total parity level or index of1.

Canada ranks 16th in the world for gender equality
The Global Gender Gap Report 2018 of the World Economic Forum indicated that the top 5 countries with the highest gender parity scores are: Iceland (0.858), Norway (0.835), Sweden (0.822), Finland (0.821) and Nicaragua (0.809). With a score of 0.771, Canada comes at the sixteenth (16) place out of 149 countries when it comes to gender equality.

Gender equality is a human right

While some may argue that gender equality as a biological debate, it is not. Equality is a human right. The United Nations defines gender equality as “the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys.”

For this reason, equality should be present everywhere: at school, at home, at work, at the grocery store, etc. This also means that responsibilities and opportunities should not be given to someone because they are born male or female, but rather because they possess talents or skillsunrelated to gender. This should not be a feminist rallying call or counter reaction to the “all boys club”. The goal is not to push for more women in leadership roles because they are women, but rather to give a chance to the ones who possess superior “know-how”, experience and drive to excel in these roles.

Canada needs to improve its gender equality in two key areas

While Canada is a leader in many facets of gender equality, there is still work left to do.According to the World Economic Forum, 2018 Global Gender Gap report, equality is the lowest in two main dimensions: Economic participation and opportunity (Equality score: 0.748), and political empowerment (Equality score 0.365).

Economic participation and opportunity
The “economic participation and opportunity” dimension identifies the level of gender equality for five criteria:

  1. Labour force participation
  2. Wage equality for similar work
  3. Estimated earned income
  4. Legislators, seniors officials and managers
  5. Professional and technical workers

As represented in graph 1, many women participate in the Canadian labour market (0.913) and many as professional and technical workers (1.000).
However, Canada scores poorly in gender parity related to economic participation with low scores in the following areas:

  1. Wage equality for similar work(0.690)
  2. Estimated income earned(0.675)
  3. Gender equality in legislative, senior official and managerroles (0.551).

So, what can we learn from all of this? What is the current status of women in the Canadian labour market – and where do we urgently need to address our gender equality policies and practices?

1. Women are paid less than men

Canadian womendoing a similar work as their male counterpart are in general underpaid. Despite their high participation in the workforce, men, on average, are still earning more money than women. According to the Labour Force Survey of Statistics Canada “women in Canada aged 15 and older earned $0.87 for every dollar earned by men in 2017”. This isthe equivalent of working 47 days without pay (assuming women worked the same number of hours as men in a given year).Why? Surely women do not perform any less competentlythan men in their jobs. There is no good reason for this pay inequality.

2. Men still dominate leadership roles

Most decision-making and business leadership roles are filled by men.In 2016, women held less than 1/5 of all leadership roles in Canada.In fact, a 2016 study from Statistics Canada (Representation of Women on Boards of Directors, 2016) reveals that among 12,762 Canadians corporations and 44,658 directors or members of a board of directors:

  1. Women accounted for only 19.4% of directors
  2. 28.0% of corporations had only one woman on their board of directors
  3. Only 15.2% had more than one woman on their board of directors
  4. 56.8% of corporate boards of directors were composed entirely of men.
Why? Is it because women are not applying for these roles? Or is there a hiring bias at play?

Political Empowerment
The “political empowerment” dimension in the Gender Gap survey identifies the level of gender equality for three criteria:

  1. Women in parliament
  2. Women in ministerial positions
  3. Years with a female head of state.

As represented in graph 2., gender parity has been reached for the number of women in ministerial positions (1.000). However, work is needed to increase the number of women inparliament (0.370), as well as in the number of years in which a female head of state has held power (0.007).
As of August 2019, there are 91 women currently serving in parliament, representing just 27.25% of elected members of Canadian parliament.
Interestingly, since Canadian confederation in 1867:

  • Canada has had 23 prime ministers, justone of them a woman (4.3%)
  • Canada has had 29 governors-general, just four of them women (13.8%)

Women as organizational catalysts

With women representing half the potential in the world (101 males to 100 females, world sex ratio), gender equality brings great benefits to all organizations that embrace it.The most compelling statistics and findings, perhaps, come from the UN secretary-general’s high-level panel on women’s economic empowerment titled Leave no one behind – A call to action for gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. It concludes:

  • High levels of gender parity in organizations correlates to better financial returns.
    • “companies in top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above industry means”
  • A gender-diverse workforceleads to higher innovation.
  • Businesses with more women in senior management or on a corporate board have stronger financial performance.
  • Companies characterized by gender parity have better potential to address complex problems byincorporating more diverse views.
  • Gender equality has a positive effect on female talent attraction, retention and motivation.
    • These women workers can easily understand the needs of female customers and address them accordingly. This is very important since “as customers, women make or influence 80% of buying decisions and control US$20 trillion in global spending”.
  • A commitment to women correlates with organization’s reputation and brand.

In summary, achieving gender parity is a must. It is a social change that has been proven to generate significant gains for businesses and economies. Gender equality means organizational effectiveness and prosperity. It builds businesses and boostsa country’s economic development and growth. Most importantly perhaps, the presence of equality enhances motivation and participation in the labour market as it also increasesthe personal fulfilment of both women and men alike. That is why, once more, “equality can’t wait”!


Leave no one behind – A call to action for gender equality and women’s economic empowerment – United Nations
Gender, diversity and inclusion statistics – Statistics Canada
Women in corporate Canada: Who’s at the top? – Statistics Canada
Study: Representation of Women on Boards of Directors, 2016 – Statistics Canada
From stamping out stereotypes to finding your ‘spark’, here’s how to close the global gender gap – World Economic Forum
Gender gap report 2018 – World Economic Forum
The Gender Wage Gap and Equal Pay Day, 2018 – Statistics Canada
Members of parliament – House of Commons


Carine Lacroix

Carine Lacroix

Carine Lacroix is the founder and CEO of Reneshone, a Toronto-based HR company specializing in optimizing the talent journey for growing and established businesses.