rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Canada's women lagging way behind in the workplace -- and we can do so much better

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: freestockphotos.biz

On a recent visit to Ottawa, Christine Lagarde, President of the International Monetary Fund, took aim at Canada's economic and social policy. She asked: where are all the women?

In a blog on the IMF website, Lagarde asserts that increasing women's labour force participation is good for economic growth and that there is considerable room for improvement in Canada . The labour force details are familiar and implacable: an increase in well-educated women has not translated into proportional labour market participation; women's overall participation rate remains 10 per cent below men's; women experience a vexing gender wage gap above the OECD average; and women make up only one-in-four senior managers.  

The result? Canada's real GDP is 4.5 per cent lower than where it might be if more women, especially the pool of well-educated women, were in the labour force. Increasing growth potential does more than help the economy overall: it raises standards of living and tackles poverty.

Lagarde rightly notes that Canada's social policy architecture plays a huge role in the kinds of decisions individuals and families can make to balance work and care. Canada (outside Quebec) is a consistent low spender on early childhood education and care. Lagarde notes that Employment Insurance (EI) funded parental leaves and certain tax measures have had positive effects on women's labour market participation rates.

What should the government of Canada take from this challenge?

First, there should be significant investment in early childhood education and care at a scale similar to the economy-boosting stimulus infrastructure spending underway across the country. This requires negotiating childcare agreements and terms with provinces/territories/First Nations, building bricks and mortar centres, training staff and paying them well, and creating additional jobs in cleaning, transporting and maintenance. High quality, affordable, accessible and culturally appropriate childcare is central to women's labour market participation. 

Facilitating women's labour force participation means decreased rates of poverty, including child poverty, and will increase income tax revenues. On this front, the Trudeau government is amenable and agrees that "poverty is sexist." Important first steps include the new Child Tax Credit that effectively lifts a majority of children above the poverty line. Childcare, coordinated with leave policy, should be the next urgent infrastructure investment.

Parental leave policy is the second area that the government of Canada should take up. This will require deviating from the Liberals' proposed plan to extend parental leave to 18 months at a lower benefit level and make it more flexible. Why? These changes, in concert with a failure to meaningfully invest in childcare, may worsen women's participation rate in the labour market and widen the gender wage gap.

Currently, qualifying for EI maternity and parental leaves remains a feminized problem. 36 per cent of women outside Quebec are left out of maternity/parental leave benefits. Replacement rates are set at a maximum of 55 per cent of average insurable earnings up to a ceiling, and having a higher income increases the likelihood of benefit receipt. International studies suggest that longer leaves can actually lead women to exit the labour market, especially when the income replacement rate is low. Exit rates increase with the number of children a woman has. Longer leaves can also contribute to deepening the motherhood penalty in earnings -- the gap between the earnings of women with children and those without. These outcomes have lifetime consequences for women's and children's risks of poverty.

The solution? Move towards universal leave by counting EI contributions over the life course, undertake rigorous study on the effects of longer leaves in Canada, and, in the interim, adopt the Québec parental leave policy (QPIP) for all Canadians. QPIP covers 90 per cent of all parents, includes far more self-employed parents, has a higher replacement rate, and has dedicated "daddy-leave" that among other things may offset the motherhood penalty. Most importantly, it exists in concert with significant investments in affordable childcare. This approach should be emulated.

Implementing policies to increase the participation of women would help significantly to grow Canada's economy. As Lagarde concludes, "It is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do."

Kate Bezanson is an associate professor of sociology at Brock University.

 

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.