Women Leaders in the Canadian Public Sector
In our fast-paced world of competition and innovation, female leadership may be the key to success.
By: Elizabeth Palmieri, Staff Writer
Whether you’re a politician, board member, or public servant, leaders in the public sector have the power to impact the lives of Canadians every day by making important decisions about the nation’s welfare. Dealing with issues ranging from the economy, to health care, to globalization requires a diverse range of thought, experience and perspectives to respond efficiently to these challenges and maintain a prosperous future for the well-being of Canadians.
According to 2009 data from Status of Women Canada, the World Bank ranked Canada second overall for government effectiveness among the 20 largest members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. They claim that “gender equality is smart economics” and that investing in educating women contributes to a higher efficiency of productivity and economic growth.
Women are disproportionately represented at lower level, lower paying, and often part time employment despite employment equity laws having been in place for the past 10 years.
However, despite the fact that women constitute over half the workforce in the public sector in Canada, according to research on women as public sector leaders published by EY this year, women only account for 45% of public sector positions in Canada.
Further, the EY study shows that women are disproportionately represented at lower level, lower paying, and often part time employment despite employment equity laws having been in place for the past 10 years. Governments across the world have also addressed gender inequality in the workplace and have implemented legislation and protective measures to promote equal opportunity employment for the past 40 years.
However, despite the fact that there are nearly as many women employed as public servants as their male counterparts, they continue to lag in management positions in Canada.
Ruth Shaw, the winner of the 2013 Public Service award at the UK First Women Awards, is a strong advocate for employment equity programs in organizations and corporations, emphasizing the need for an increase in female leadership in the public sector as a means of continued economic success.“Organizations can only succeed and grow if the best talent is not only employed, but supported and developed,” Shaw explains. “As long as 51% of the population is not represented at senior levels then we are missing out. And of course it is morally and socially right to have gender equality. It is fair.”
“What’s the point, for example, of having better-educated women if we find our aspirations blocked and our talents shortchanged in the world of work?”
Although employment equity laws and progressive organizational policies may have led to an increase in women in the workforce, the effects of these initiatives haven’t been felt in more senior level positions, leading some to question whether countries like Canada have missed the mark when it comes to employment equity. According to Naledi Pandor, the South African Minister of Home Affairs, implementing legislation to address gender inequality in the workforce and in education may not be enough.
“What’s the point, for example, of having better-educated women if we find our aspirations blocked and our talents shortchanged in the world of work?” Pandor said.
Findings from Carleton University suggest that countries with employment equity legislation show a definite increase in women’s representation in the workforce, unlike countries without such equity legislation; however, this legislation must be coupled with specific goals and strategies to transition women into higher leadership positions within the public sector.
An important way to get women more involved in leadership positions is for women who are in these positions to become role models and mentors to their female colleagues.