Big Ideas to Close Canada’s Urban Gender Gap

What are the big ideas and specific policy actions that will be needed to close Canada’s gender gap? This event provides a summary of what advocates, experts and policy makers in Canada are currently doing to improve the wellbeing of women and girls – and showcases efforts emerging out of COVID towards achieving gender equity.

Mind the Gap:

The Post-COVID Gender Gap in Canada’s Cities

Read CUI’s conversation primer, which provides a snapshot of what we know today about gender and COVID in Canada’s cities

Read Here


A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

Rethinking maternity leave, Sonja Foley

We talk a lot about the wage gap and the power gap, but those conversations never include the maternity gap. Mothers are 8.2 times (820%) less likely to receive a promotion compared to women without children, and their starting salaries are 7.9% lower than those of women without children. Sonja Foley, intergovernmental relations director at the City of Vancouver, is launching a project that treats maternity leave not as a sudden removal from and jarring reintroduction to the workplace, but instead as a period of extended yet connected leave. The experience of having a child can be isolating and overwhelming, and the pressures women face to perform well in both motherhood and the workplace can be devastating. Women and mothers are invaluable to the creation and evolution of resilient businesses. Rethinking maternity leave is an opportunity to keep new mothers connected with their work and reintegrate them empathetically, treating their absence and maternal responsibilities as benefits rather than liabilities.

Intersectional data collection, Maureen Jensen

Maybe “collecting intersectional data” doesn’t sound like a big idea, but what gets measured gets noticed, and what gets noticed gets changed. While it is a truth universally acknowledged that women deserve the same chances and lives men have access to, gender itself is not a sufficient measure to track the gains women are making (or losing) in our society. Race, socio-economic background, region and culture are all factors in how women fare in the workplace and how high up the ladder they are able to climb. Women are half the population but hold less than 20 percent of executive positions in Canada, and women of colour, are barely represented in the figure. Gender and race-based data must be gathered. Setting targets for female representation in the workforce, as well as setting and publicly disclosing targets for racialized women in executive and board positions, is a strong start, but deepening and broadening the talent pool throughout the business world with readily available skills development is also required so that women can be prepped to fill and keep these positions.

Economic empowerment of women, Michi Komori

Everyone has blind spots and biases that can impact our decision making without our conscious knowledge. Blind spots in the eyes of people in power have a huge negative impact on women in the business world. Not only are women less likely to approach banks for loans, but banks are biased against women-owned businesses and have been shown to require much more proof of traction before approving their applications, compared to male-owned businesses. As we look to build economic and societal systems that use regenerative rather than extractive capital, we have to ask how can we empower women to build companies that embrace these models, so everyone thrives? The answer is in community interaction. Removing barriers to women’s prosperity relies on empathy and trust, which can be built from the ground up within communities. Focusing on regional impact investing and prioritizing involving local stakeholders will create opportunities for long-term prosperity as businesses focused on raising up women and nonbinary people see the ripple effects of such work. We can choose not to perpetuate the old rules, and intentionally invest in a future where nobody is left behind.

Hiring Indigenous women and girls, Sheila North

Like several on this list, this may not sound like a big idea at first. However, we are simply not seeing the hiring and retention of Indigenous women right now. Shutting this group out of the job market keeps Indigenous women vulnerable, feeding into an insidious cycle. Call to Action 92 of the TRC asks corporations to monitor their policies for clauses that might impact who they hire and who they keep on. For example, are you shutting out certain groups from success at their jobs by prioritizing experience over education? Requiring certain education levels can limit experienced workers, particularly Indigenous workers who often have had less access to formal education. At the moment, Indigenous women and girls are starting from way behind the starting line. Rather than asking them to find their own pathways to success, starting to offer them tools to access and retain meaningful work will ripple out into healthier families and communities. It’s time to start building ships: allyships, mentorships and partnerships to empower Indigenous women and girls to be entrepreneurs, workers and mentors to other women. The equitable hiring and training of Indigenous women is absolutely key to economic recovery and reconciliation.

Childcare, Brooke Richardson

The pandemic has radically increased the awareness that we need to start thinking collectively rather than individualistically and accept that we have a core responsibility to one another. The current model of childcare is not working, and without urgent funding there will be even less available childcare in Canada than there is now. We have the opportunity at this moment to rethink the provision of childcare services. Childcare currently meets the needs of few women and is nearly entirely inaccessible to many women whose requirements are different from what is perceived as “the norm”. This is unacceptable. A pan-Canadian childcare system has already been announced, but the initiative must be developed in conjunction with women from diverse experiences and backgrounds such as nonstandard work hours and racialized communities, not just able-bodied 9-to-5 working women. Where the money to develop this system goes and how it will be spent is also very important. Children and families deserve responsive, high-quality childcare within the public infrastructure, and the development of that infrastructure can itself jumpstart the economic recovery of women care workers and educators.

Making women their own storytellers, Kadie Ward

When women participate equally and are recognized for the contributions they make, their organizations and communities flourish. But not only this, when women are included in the story of their organizations, the narrative itself changes. Men talk more than women in nearly every professional context from boardrooms to media panels. There is a widespread and continuing culture of sidelining and silencing women that makes it more difficult for our ideas to be recognized, our contributions to be uplifted, and even our salaries to be equalized to those of men. While the past few decades have seen a drastic increase in women’s contributions to and visibility in most professional fields, more needs to be done to center and uplift women’s voices if wage equity, among many other goals, is to be achieved. Policymakers must continue to create legislation and programs that focus on women’s economic justice and closing the gender wage gap, and institutions must show enthusiastic support for women to return to the labour market. If gaps go unnoticed, they go unfilled. For women to truly become equitable in the workforce, we must embrace talking loudly about our positions and barriers.