The leadership imbalance in Canada’s professional and political institutions is rooted in patriarchal, colonial, and discriminatory practices, which create additional barriers for diverse women, transgender and Two-Spirit people. While many do overcome these barriers and pursue leadership roles, systemic change is needed to increase women’s representation in decision-making spaces.
Systemic sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia all contribute to the social conditions that women experience throughout their lives, as well as access to economic security and civic participation. Education and income levels, employment and social status are all determinants of health and of civic participation (Canadian Women’s Foundation, Resetting Normal: Gender, Intersectionality and Leadership 2021).
Lack of access to diverse women role models, mentors, and networking opportunities impacts women’s and girls’ abilities to see themselves in these roles and navigate toward them (OECD, Policies and Practices to Promote Women in Leadership Roles in the Private Sector, 2020).
Entrenched stereotypes and bias about women’s leadership capabilities reduces the possibility that leadership development opportunities and roles will be offered to them (DDI, Gender Bias in Leadership Starts at Day 1, 2021).
Despite spending equivalent time at a job, women are significantly less likely than men to be promoted. Women are 30% less likely than men to get promoted out of an entry-level position, and 60% less likely to move from middle management into the executive ranks (CBC News, How much does gender inequality cost Canada? $150B, report finds, 2017).
The disproportionate level of sexism, discrimination, and hate directed at women leaders, particularly in political roles plays a role in their decisions on whether to pursue or stay in these roles. (CBC, Female politicians speak out about sexist, violent cyberbullying, 2017 and The Tyee, Jody Wilson-Raybould: Today’s Politics are Toxic to Indigenous Women, 2021)
Many women take primary responsibility for home-based labour and childcare. Women do almost twice as much unpaid care work as men, which encroaches on their potential for career advancement (Oxfam Canada, Who Cares? Why Canada Needs a Public Child Care System, 2019). These responsibilities may create work/life conflict and reinforce negative stereotypes, which are both barriers to accessing leadership roles.
Three quarters (75.8%) of part-time workers in Canada are women. The top reason women gave for working part-time was a need to care for children. Only 3.3% of men who work part-time cite the same reason (Statistics Canada: Women in Canada: A gender-based statistical report. “Women and Paid Work,” 2017).
Interruptions to women’s careers tend to be longer and more frequent than those experienced by men. Women also report more spontaneous, short-term absences than men, such as staying home to care for a sick child or deal with a home repair (Statistics Canada, Women in Canada: A gender-based statistical report. “Women and Paid Work,” 2017. Table 4.).
Both short- and long-term absences are stigmatized in the workplace, and have been linked to fewer promotions and salary increases (Statistics Canada, Women in Canada: A gender-based statistical report. “Women and Paid Work,” 2017).
Lack of access to affordable, quality childcare influences women’s ability to participate in the workforce and pursue leadership roles (Oxfam Canada, Who Cares? Why Canada Needs a Public Child Care System, 2019).
Lack of access to flexible, family-friendly work arrangements may make it too difficult for women to balance paid work and career advancement with care work (OECD, Policies and Practices to Promote Women in Leadership Roles in the Private Sector, 2020).