How reducing key gaps for women in the workforce would boost Canada’s economy

Click to play video: 'International Women’s Day: Why experts say tackling wage gap could boost economy'
International Women’s Day: Why experts say tackling wage gap could boost economy
WATCH: Why experts say tackling wage gap could boost economy – Mar 8, 2024

As Canada is set to mark another International Women’s Day (IWD), economic, policy and business experts say there’s still work to be done on gender equity, stressing that addressing gaps still facing women may help boost the country’s economy.

IWD is a day held yearly on March 8 to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

Kari Norman, economist at Desjardins, said there has been progress for women, especially when it comes to the labour force.

According to a new survey by the company, the participation rate has increased from 76 to 86 per cent in the past decade nationally, excluding Quebec, which has seen the number at 89 per cent.

Norman said they believe a big reason behind that number in Quebec is subsidized daycare being brought in several years ago. With a similar system established across the country with $10-a-day child care, it’s expected that number will rise.

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In fact, a recent report on the outlook for women looked at the impact of subsidized child care being rolled out nationally and what would happen if women’s participation reached the same level as Quebec by 2030. Its data suggested nearly 350,000 jobs would be added, and the real gross domestic product (GDP) could increase by up to 1.5 per cent.

Statistics Canada said in its February jobs report released Friday that the gender wage gap has improved over time, but “remains persistent.” As of February, women aged 25 to 54 made 87 cents for every dollar a man in the same age group earned. That’s little changed from a year earlier and the pre-pandemic average.

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Political Panel: New pay transparency legislation

The wage gap is more pronounced in male-dominated jobs, StatCan added. Core-aged women earned 22.4 per cent less than men in the manufacturing and utilities fields, for example, but the wage gap narrows to 1.6 per cent in health occupations, according to the agency.

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Women also accounted for just over a third (35.3 per cent) of all management positions in 2023, StatCan said, a figure that’s also changed little in recent years.

Narrowing the earnings gap can also have an impact because having a more diverse board of directors, for example, can bring in better decision-making, a variety of management skills and a better understanding of customer preferences. Norman says this could bring more profitability to companies.

Robert Half senior district president Koula Vasilopoulos said it’s not just the business impact that can benefit either, with individuals also able to contribute when the wage gap is smaller or doesn’t exist at all.

“They’ve got greater incomes, which means they’re likely contributing more in the economy, contributing in their communities,” she told Global News.

But while its research suggests the economic benefit of more female participation, Norman notes there are still issues facing that effort.

Among the policies that could be targeted, Norman said removing barriers and adding more flexibility would be helpful, and this includes removing the maternity penalty — sometimes known as the “mommy penalty.”

A study by University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) professors found that 10 years after the birth of their first child, a mother’s earnings were still 34 per cent on average below where they were before that first birth. There was minimal or no change for men before or after their child was born, the study found.

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“They talk about the fatherhood premium where men with children tend to have higher rates of pay than those without,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior researcher Katherine Scott told Global News. “It works exactly the opposite for women, they have a motherhood penalty where they’re seen as less committed and so forth.”

The various gaps for women need to be addressed overall to improve the economy, with Scott noting opening up the green jobs economy is one such tool amid the transitional push by professions.

Scott said big improvements have come, given it used to be the case that women couldn’t be hired in certain fields, but while the legal framework has changed, socially, the economy still needs to improve.

“We all benefit when we push up the floor,” she said. “That drives our overall well-being up and down the income ladder.”

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That ladder, though, still has some Canadian women concerned. A new survey from Robert Half found that 56 per cent feel their company provides ample opportunities for career growth, compared with 72 per cent of men.

Vasilopoulos said this perception should be a signal to companies to do more.

“Organizations just need to continue to be very focused on their approach with that, be very mindful when they’re sharing career opportunities with internal as well as external that there’s maybe an understanding that this is sort of an open to all,” she said.

As people look for ways to shrink the gaps facing women, Norman says it’s not just a women’s issue.

“The earnings and wealth gap is not just a women’s issue, it’s an issue for all Canadians,” she said.

– with files from Global News’s Craig Lord

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