By Linda Nazareth* – June 2023
Gender equality is a long way from happening and Canada is bearing the economic cost, according to the latest World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, which shows that in order to make economic progress, countries need to harness the potential of the full population.
Since 2006, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has been publishing a Global Gender Gap index, which benchmarks progress in closing the gaps between men and women in economic participation, education, and political empowerment. As of 2023, it estimates the global overall gender gap to be 68 per cent closed, a figure which is up about 4.1 percentage points since 2006.
If we keep on at this pace, it will take 131 years to reach full global parity between men and women. And in North America, it will take 95 years, according to the report. Some things clearly need to change if we are to achieve better outcomes and it would serve Canada well to be a leader in making those changes.
According to the WEF’s index, Iceland is the most gender-equal country in the world, followed by Norway, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden.
Overall, 77 per cent of the gap is closed in Canada, which puts us in 30th place (down from 25th last year) out of 146 countries surveyed. On the plus side, Canada has no gap when it comes to education, and we have closed 97 per cent of the health gap. When it comes to the economy though, we are at 74 per cent, which is at least better than the 37 per cent we score for political empowerment – about one percentage point lower than last year.
That Canada still has a sizable gap when it comes to economic outcomes is dismal and costly – although some progress has certainly been made over the decades. Canada actually ranks first when it comes to access to female education and we have the highest percentage of female professional and technical workers of all countries surveyed.
As well, by the WEF’s statistics, Canadian women have full access to financial services and full inheritance rights for widows and daughters, neither of which were likely true a half-century ago (it took until 1964 before a woman could open a bank account in Canada without her husband’s signature). Canada still has a 17-per-cent gender pay gap though, and when it comes to women’s participation on corporate boards, we have apparently only closed 33 per cent of the gap.
It does not take an in-depth economic analysis to work out that when you do not harness the potential of a large chunk of the population, you are going to pay an economic cost. According to Statistics Canada, as of 2018, 49 per cent of GDP in Canada was attributable to men and 29 per cent attributable to women (the rest represents a mix of factors including the profits of foreign corporations).
At least some of the gap comes about because women are doing unpaid work at home or because a lack of child-care options makes it difficult for them to participate in the labour force, suggesting that policies to remedy those things could make a difference in closing the gap.
It is unclear how much progress will be made in the near future. Young women have been flocking to colleges and universities at a higher rate than men, and female graduates out-number male ones in many fields. However, one exception to this is in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), where only 31 per cent of Canadian graduates are female.
Global statistics from the WEF also show that there are far fewer women than men working in artificial intelligence, a field which is set to be a powerful economic force in the near future. When it comes to getting women on boards and in leadership positions in politics, the challenges are even more daunting.
Linda Nazareth is an economist, a futurist and a respected authority on the future of work. As a newspaper columnist and an author, she knows how to frame things in ways that both educate and entertain and as the Senior Fellow for Economics and Population Change at think-tank the Macdonald Laurier Institute she knows what she is talking about.
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