As Canada Rebuilds Its Economy, Inclusion of Women and Diverse Groups Essential for Success.

TORONTO,ON-A new report, Economic Equality in a Changing World: Removing Barriers to Women’s Employment, by Ryerson’s Diversity Institute and the Public Policy Forum and supported by the Future Skills Centre shows the inclusion of women, especially diverse women populations, must be central to Canada’s recovery and growth strategy.

This research provides insights into four primary barriers COVID has exacerbated including the wage gap, the underrepresentation of women in STEM, the absence of women in leadership and the challenges facing women entrepreneurs.

Report co-author and Executive Vice-President, Public Policy Forum, Julie Cafley said, “Women are bearing the brunt of COVID-19 impacts.  Women are facing higher unemployment than men and the burden of unpaid work is preventing many from returning.  This is leading to reduced productivity and a dramatic reduction of talent available to employers. Canada continues to have one of the highest gender wage gaps among Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries and with COVID its gotten worse. This is not only about social justice, this is clearly an economic issue.”

“We need to apply a gender and diversity lens across our skills and employment ecosystem and to ensure women are front and centre in the discussions of economic growth and innovation if Canada is to achieve its potential. COVID has taken a terrible toll but it has also disrupted old ways to doing things – whether in retail, or education or health care.  We need to take advantage of the disruption to accelerate innovation across sectors and to ensure women are core to driving change,” said Wendy Cukier, founder of the Diversity Institute.

“Small and Medium enterprises are the engine of Canada’s economic growth but we see women entrepreneurs facing massive challenges, said Nadine Spencer, CEO of the Black Business Professional Association and founder of BrandEQ Group. “Not only are they, like other women, facing the crushing burden of childcare but they also have less access to the supports needed to survive. Women led businesses tend to be smaller, newer and less well financed than those owned by men. Research shows that Black owned businesses are even more disadvantaged. We need targeted support for Black entrepreneurs and particularly Black women entrepreneurs.”

“Even prior to COVID-19, women were underrepresented in senior leadership roles, especially in the corporate sector,” said Zabeen Hirji, Executive Advisor, Future of Work, Deloitte. “While we are making some progress with women on corporate Boards, reported at 25.3 percent of directors, the study highlights this doesn’t hold true for racialized women, reported at just 1.2 percent of directors. White women out-numbering racialized women on corporate boards in Toronto by 12 to 1. The talent is there, it is policies and practices that need to evolve. We need to cast a wider net.”  

Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) findings:

  • ●Women have made inroads into highly paid professions such as medicine and law, but they remain underrepresented in the lucrative fields of engineering and computer science. Despite years of advocacy, there are fewer women in computer science and only marginally more in engineering today than 30 years ago, highlights the report.
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  • ●Technological skills could be in the greatest demand across sectors by 2030, rising by 55 percent and representing 17 percent of hours worked, up from 11 percent in 2016.  The result could be an increase in demand for basic digital skills, as well as advanced technological skills such as programming and artificial intelligence (AI).  Yet a recent study by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with LinkedIn, found that only 24 percent of AI professionals in Canada are women.
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  • ●Research shows is not a lack of qualified candidates, but rather a lack of intentional strategies.
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  • ●Occupations within some of the high-growth and high-income sectors reveal the disparity of women trying to advance in STEM fields, generally filling lower-level jobs compared to their higher-level male counterparts.
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  • ●The definition of technology roles and stereotypes of entrepreneurs often unintentionally excludes women and impedes the innovation agenda as the focus is often on making technology rather than using it to drive change.

Women entrepreneurship findings:

  • ●SMEs and entrepreneurship are drivers of the economy. Women account for over 35 percent of self-employed Canadians but are majority owners of only 16% of SMEs with employees.
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  • ●Gendered structural differences remain, with women entrepreneurs more likely to be in services and social ventures and less likely to be in manufacturing and information technology.
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  • ●Women are more likely than men to be solo entrepreneurs who employ sub-contractors, meaning that SME business supports designed to help business owners recruit and retain staff through economic downturns does not benefit women business owners as substantially.
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  • ●Research shows that the impact of COVID-19 has hurt businesses with less than 20 employees the most, and hurt businesses in services sectors—where you find more women-led business—more than those in technology sectors.
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  • ●A recent survey led by Femmessor in Quebec indicated two-thirds of women entrepreneurs reported a 50-percent or more decline in their productivity. In the same study, one of the five main expectations of respondents regarding the economic recovery was better measures to help conciliate work and family; another was better digital skills.

The report is part of the Skills Next Project, a collaboration of the Public Policy Forum and the Diversity Institute at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management —supported by the Future Skills Centre, which explores a number of the most important issues currently impacting the skills and employment ecosystem in Canada.