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There was a time when we all thought we were invincible. That we could say and do anything. But it seems, at some point, that changes for girls.
Bit by bit, that is eaten away as we are reprimanded for being too bossy, the same trait encouraged in male counterparts. As we’re told we can’t go for a walk down the street alone at night, even though when our brother was the same age he was allowed — because it isn’t safe for a girl. As we watch the media focus on what a woman is wearing rather than the words she is speaking.
And these things add up until we sit quietly in the classroom while the men around us raise their hands to answer questions. Until smiling through a colleague mansplaining back to us what we’ve just said becomes second nature. Until we’re so used to being treated as less than, that we start to believe it.
That’s why I needed a quadruple take when I saw recent polling, conducted by Abacus Data, showing that in Canada today almost 50 per cent of Canadians think that rights and opportunities in Canada are equal for both men and women.
I suppose on paper things look good in Canada. Women’s rights are entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Canadian Human Rights act says that all Canadians should have equal rights and opportunities. But we still have a minister for women and gender equality in the federal cabinet for a reason.
That reason is that as much as we’d like things to be equal (more than 90 per cent of both men and women agreed with this), they aren’t.
In 2018, women employees aged 25 to 54 earned 13.3 per cent less per hour on average than male employees and women are still substantially less likely than men to move from middle management to executive ranks.
"Equality needs a firmer push, because those who have power often don’t give it up that readily, even to someone better qualified." Bruce Anderson, chairman of Abacus Data, said.
And when you look across this country at our elected leaders, a sea of men’s faces stare back. In total, Canada has only ever had 12 female premiers, the first being Rita Johnston of B.C. in 1991. In that same timeframe, since the first female premier, there have been more than 75 male premiers. Needless to say, this isn’t great.
Federal politics is a similar story. In 2019, there were more women MPs elected than ever before, but that is still just 29 per cent of the seats in the House.
When you think about the qualities of a good leader the ability to handle stress, to be a hard worker and to be able to make hard decisions typically would rank pretty high.
Abacus Data’s polling shows men believe they are more hard working (56 per cent), better able to handle stress (55 per cent), and better able to make hard decisions (69 per cent) than women. And while women rank themselves higher in these same areas, the problem lies in the fact that men are the ones in positions of power in this country.
In 2016, more than 4/5 of all leadership roles were held by men, and women held fewer than 20 per cent of director seats on boards of directors. If the majority of men tend to think that other men have more typical leadership qualities, who are they more likely to promote? No wonder progress is so slow.
While there is an agreement by both men and women that both the genders should be equal, the knowledge around where equality currently stands in this country is lacking. How do we make change if we don’t realize we need it?
Awareness, acknowledgement, education and action.
If we’re aware there is inequality and we acknowledge that it’s wrong, then let’s teach everyone how to remove the barriers and then take action to do so.
It’s not enough to talk about it, it’s time to do something.
When I first studied politics, we were taught that if you wanted to know how a woman was likely to vote, find out how her husband was voting, and you’d have a pretty good idea. In the first election I was eligible to vote, in 1979, fewer than 15 per cent of the candidates, and fewer than five per cent of the winning candidates, were women. Last fall, 98 women were elected, which sounds like progress.
Except that 29 per cent of the men who ran for office (for one of the five major parties) won, compared to a 16 per cent success rate for women.
What makes this continuing disparity all the more remarkable, and disappointing, is that it has nothing to do mainstream beliefs about whether men are superior to women.
Majorities of both men and women think women are smarter, more competent, more thoughtful about the future and more compassionate.
A stunning 90 per cent of all Canadians say women are more compassionate, 78 per cent say women are more thoughtful about the future, 74 per cent say women are smarter, 68 per cent say women are more competent.
Majorities say women are better able to handle stress and work harder. Many men clearly see an aptitude and performance gap — but not the one we would have expected in this type of data not very long ago. Today, many men know that women are better prepared and outperforming them.
Alongside these numbers men and women both agree that opportunity should be equal. Only a meagre five per cent believe men should have advantages over women, and I can tell you that wasn’t the psyche when I was growing up.
But things aren’t equal yet.
A third of men and almost half of women say men still have the upper hand in Canada. A quarter think that will still be the case 10 years from now — and 20 years from now — reminding us of just how stubborn these patterns of thought and action can be. And to be clear, these gaps are about women generally — the barriers to women of colour, Indigenous women, and those who face other forms of additional discrimination are even more dispiriting.
The results — to my eyes — are mostly frustrating, but with a few encouraging signs. On the one hand, ridiculous, patriarchal stereotypes of women have been replaced by a modern take that reverses — not just improves upon — the chauvinistic standards that existed forever in many societies. (I’m not “pro” stereotyping, just pointing out that modern stereotypes of women are better than those of men.)
According to these numbers, women don’t need to persuade anyone that they are up to the job. The barriers have less to do with who can do the job, and more about who decides who will get the job.
Given this, when organizations establish appointment quotas to ensure equality in practice, not only as an ideal, they are recognizing that being ‘good’ isn’t good enough to ensure equal treatment.
Equality needs a firmer push, because those who have power often don’t give it up that readily, even to someone better qualified.
I know some men will look at these numbers and want to believe that the barriers for women are resolving over time. But I also know that’s a comfortable take, and if I were a woman, I don’t know why I would be OK with that.