THE BLOG

For the Sake of Women, We Need to Do Better in 2015

01/02/2015 07:34 EST | Updated 03/04/2015 05:59 EST
John Lund/Tiffany Schoepp via Getty Images

As 2015 begins, it is a good time to reflect on the past year and look to the new year. For a period of years, women's equality seemed relegated to a dusty corner as many argued we had attained full equality in Canada. The Charter of rights and Freedoms was in force, as was legislation respecting protections in the work place and prohibition against discrimination in accommodation, employment and services. How wrong these pundits were in announcing a premature victory!

In 2012 the Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership, in partnership with Deloitte, published a benchmark study of women's leadership in Canada entitled "Progress in Inches, Miles to Go." The report clearly debunked the myth of attainment of full equality by demonstrating the underrepresentation of women in positions of leadership in all sectors. Equality cannot exist until both women and men are equitably represented in positions of leadership and decision making along with other milestones including freedom from sexual harassment and violence and economic security and prosperity.

The Conference Board of Canada report on the gender income gap, as of 2013, showed a 19 per cent gap, based on median full time earnings between men and women. Canada ranks well behind many other developed countries in closing the income gap.

Both catalyst and the Canadian Board Diversity Council annual reports highlight the significant underrepresentation of women on corporate boards. The Annual Report Card of the Diversity Council reported in 2014 that 17.1 per cent of Financial Post 500 companies board members were women. An increase from 2013's figure of 15.6 per cent. While progress, the projections point to parity sometime in the 2080's at this pace of change. Clearly that's a rate that is much too slow.

Good news came in December 2014 with the announcement of changes to governance rules respecting companies listed on the Toronto Stock exchange. The changes require companies to comply with rules specifying disclosure of their diversity policies and plans respecting women's representation on boards and in their senior executive ranks, or explain their absence in an annual disclosure to the securities regulators. The federal government released a report in 2014 urging companies to set a goal of attaining 30 per cent representation of women on their boards by 2019. Simultaneously, the report promoted measures to ensure government appointments to public boards reflect the need to move toward gender parity.

While the new rules are an important first step, much work remains to be done. The true test will be whether the measures result in real and sustained changes. Securities regulators and organizations such as Catalyst and the Canadian Board Diversity Council can play a key role by monitoring and measuring the progress of advancing gender parity on boards, in the executive ranks of Canadian companies and on public boards. A number of other countries such as Australia and Great Britain, along with those in Europe, and Scandinavia, have already taken measures to increase their representation of women on corporate boards and in senior executive ranks recognizing corporations were not making the changes that would result in increased representation.

2014 saw the revelation of serious allegations of sexual misconduct and violence against women by a number of public figures including a number of sports stars, as well as entertainment stars creating a debate that has not been so prominent in some time. A few weeks ago, Perry Belgarde, following his election as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called again upon the Federal government to launch a national Inquiry on missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

In response, the federal minister of Aboriginal affairs called upon the provinces and Aboriginal communities to do more citing a "lack of respect" for Aboriginal women on reserves. While there is no doubt a need for all governments and communities to be engaged in preventing violence against Aboriginal women in their homes, communities and on the streets of our cities, in 2015 we need concrete action -- not more words and pointing of fingers.

As a result of CBC's woes respecting Jian Ghomeshi, sexual harassment has once again been brought to the attention of Canadians. A number of other incidents involving sports teams and universities provoked a lot of commentary including in relation to my previous blog. Speculation has arisen about sexual harassment and violence against women as a topic for the Federal leader's debate in 2015 leading to the federal election.

Without a doubt, leaders in government and in industry need to be fully aware of the continued challenges facing women (some men too) and take measures to end violence. 2015 is an opportunity to move the issue from conversation to concrete actions. We can and should hold our representatives at all levels of government accountable for moving from words to concrete action. Oh yes, and do not forget to hold ourselves accountable too as parents, siblings, spouses, partners, friends, employers etc. for ensuring that we are part of the solution, not the problem.

It is much too easy to sit back and expect someone else to do the heavy-lifting. Everyone of us is empowered to make changes in our sphere of influence to advance equality, and to end violence and sexual harassment. What will you do today?

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