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Women in Business: Why Do We Still Have Such a Long Way to Go?

Clock5 min. read
byBarbara Bowes onSeptember 14, 2020

Despite major strides in the last 50 years, women still lag behind men at the highest levels of business and politics.

International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the achievements gained by and for women in all areas of life, including the social, economic, cultural and political arenas. While the specific day of March 8 and the Manitoba celebrations have passed, we need to remind ourselves this special celebration is really a call to action for continuing the work towards gender equality in Canada. 

Many younger readers might be asking, why do we still need to focus on gender equality? They ask, aren’t we there yet? After all, there are so many benefits afforded to women today. Women have good jobs, women are moving up the career ladder, women are involved in science and technology and women are sitting in our legislature and in corporate leadership roles. What more is there to do? 

The answer is yes, absolutely, there’s much more to do. That’s because the traditional perception of men being more capable than women in leading our social, moral, political and economic life still persists. It is still men at the highest levels who are overwhelmingly making decisions, shaping policies and controlling resources that affect women. Change is far too slow and more needs to be done. 

When I react to the not-so-distant past, I can recall the uproar, name-calling and ridicule of women who were labeled "bra-burning" feminists during the 1970s and ’80s. I recall meeting rather secretly to strategize about how to aect women’s rights, and I recall the many news articles that raged against working mothers and their poor, neglected, "latch-key" kids. It was also a time when daycare for children was non-existent, maternity leave with pay was barely under discussion and women had to get permission from an ex-spouse in order to return to their birth name after divorce. 

Thankfully, many of the negative perceptions about women in leadership are nally easing. The patriarchal society is visibly but slowly shifting its attitude and approach to gender equality. Yes, more women are working alongside men in senior executive positions and in the legislature but for sure, there is much more to be done. 

This was once again evidenced in a study highlighting Manitoba’s progress in women’s equality published by the Manitoba Status of Women Advisory Council in 2018.

Interestingly, one of the findings of this study pointed to the fact that data which would accurately measure gender inequality is often not collected nor tracked. 

This makes it difficult to not only make judgments but also to propose and develop solutions to problems. Unfortunately, intuition, feelings and soft assumptions just don’t count when it comes to demonstrating the need for program funds to deal with the variety of gender issues experienced by many women. 

This Manitoba study showed that while 88 per cent of women aged 25 to 64 held a high school diploma, only 72.2 per cent of Indigenous women did, while the rate was lower for women with disabilities. 

Similar statistics were seen for women with post-secondary certificates and/or degrees. The study also showed that women were focused mostly on studies such as health, arts, social sciences and education versus science, mathematics and technology, the so-called "hard skills." 

This trend toward the study of soft skills takes women away from critical areas of corporate and political decision making. 

In terms of employment, the study also showed that more women than men work part time and that women continue to be underrepresented in areas such as law enforcement and in the military in spite of the fact these sectors have adopted diversity strategies. Women continue to be under-represented on corporate boards and in the public sector. Also, the study demonstrated that the issue of pay equity continues to be rather pervasive to such an extent that on average, women still earn approximately $10,000 less per year than men. In addition, the study identified that Indigenous women and women with disabilities both have lower employment rates. 

Yes, there has definitely been much progress in terms of gender equality but if you ask any woman today what still needs to be done, I am certain you will hear the following:

Women in power – women would like to see more of their female counterparts in senior levels of political leadership. They would also like to see far more respect shown for the women who have the courage to seek out and hold political positions. It’s women who have been the driving force for years behind issues such as longer maternity leave, the existence of paternity leave, the availability of daycare, compassionate care leave, leaves for victims of domestic violence as well as the controversial topic of assisted death. Failing to have women in leadership significantly impacts the ability to make change on women’s issues because of the lack of control over funding, resources and policies.

Pay equity – believe it or not, pay equity continues to be an issue in many workplaces right here in Manitoba. Pay equity is all about women being paid less when doing work of equal value to men. When pay is less, it is essentially wage discrimination based on gender and it is absolutely a discriminatory practice. However, many managers don’t realize there is discrimination because they don’t pay attention to it and don’t recognize it. The year 2020 is a good time to be proactive and conduct an analysis on all your jobs to determine not only wage discrimination but also whether or not you are paying a good market rate that will attract new employees.

Gender-based analysis – as noted in the recent study by the Manitoba Status of Women Advisory Council, there are large gaps in the research data pertaining to women. While this is being strengthened in some sectors such as government workplaces, there is much to be done in the private sector. Internal research can provide powerful information on an employee population. There is good value in creating a full prole of how organizational policies and procedures affect your employees and how different factors such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion, age, and mental or physical disability makes a difference in how your policies are perceived and appreciated.

It’s been 45 years since the UN proclaimed March 8 as International Women’s Day. Women have achieved many rats and many overall accomplishments. Yet, we need to remind society that this special celebration is really a call to action for continuing the work towards gender equality in Canada.

It’s also a time to celebrate those individuals whose timeless eorts on the front line of their communities and organizations make such a difference to the lives of women. That’s why I was pleased to learn that Cathy Cox, minister responsible for the status of women, has announced a special award program to recognize 20 female leaders as part of the celebration of Manitoba’s 150th birthday. 

In doing my research for this article, I also encountered a slogan that I believe speaks to the goal of gender equity and this is, "An equal world is an enabled world." Believe it and make it work in your organization.

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