Thank you for letting me speak to you today about how entrepreneurship is becoming an increasingly important option for all young people, but especially women. As youth unemployment remains high, more young people are becoming aware of the opportunity to start a business or to take over a retiring business owner's operation and put their own stamp on it.
Barb McLean-Stollery from Calgary is just one example. When 9/11 ended her hope of becoming an airplane pilot, she joined a Calgary aircraft-grooming business and ended up buying it with our help when the owner retired. The problem for most young people is that they don't have any business experience or assets, and they're too high risk and time-consuming for banks and other conventional lenders. Young entrepreneurs need training, money, and mentoring to launch and grow. Barb had this experience as well: who was going to lend to a woman in her twenties without a house or a car or any kind of business track record?
Futurpreneur Canada is the only national non-profit organization that gives aspiring young entrepreneurs anywhere in Canada what they need most. In the last 20 years, we've given ten thousand 18- to 39-year-olds business-plan coaching, volunteer mentors, and up to $45,000 in non-collateral loans from Futurpreneur and our co-funder, BDC. The federal government has been a critical partner in our work since 2006, and we recently had our funding renewed through ISED.
We are incredibly proud that 40% of our Futurpreneur businesses, over 400 in the last year alone, are female-owned. This is double the national average for majority-female-owned businesses. As you probably know, since majority-female-owned businesses are more likely than others to engage in product and other kinds of innovation, it's important that we increase this average from the current and very dismal 15.5%.
Why does the rate of female entrepreneurship lag behind that of male, particularly in the growth stages? Most aspiring young entrepreneurs lack confidence, entrepreneurial skills, networks, and financing. For women, these challenges are compounded by having far fewer role models and by not being well understood by lenders. Like other young entrepreneurs, women need help to overcome these challenges. This includes awareness raising and encouragement, business-plan coaching and mentoring, as well as financing and other launch and growth support.
We have the opportunity to leverage the proven supports that exist in Canada to benefit more women entrepreneurs without duplicating infrastructure and efforts. At Futurpreneur, we consult and work with aspiring women entrepreneurs and the other organizations that support women to understand and respond to women's highest priority needs. We know that engaging young women through awareness raising and outreach, in collaboration with partners, is key. For example, we recently teamed up with BDC on a campaign promoting women entrepreneurs and the support we have available to them. It was called “Be the Boss of You”, and it was one of our most popular campaigns ever. We reached over a million people through social media and generated a huge amount of interest from young women in our entrepreneurial programs.
We're also doing targeted outreach to part-time or side-hustle entrepreneurs. These are people who are working in other jobs but on the side are building businesses that employ people. This can be really appealing to women entrepreneurs, because it reduces the risks of starting up, and it lets them choose when they want to enter that business full time themselves.
Once we reach women, they need help to turn their business ideas into reality. At Futurpreneur we do this through skill-building and ideation workshops, business-plan coaching, webinars, and online resources.
We also provide loans that are generally enough to get a business started, or at least they provide a basis for further financing. Banks and other lenders take a lot of comfort in knowing that every futurpreneur has a volunteer mentor from our network of about 3,000 volunteers across the country. Like us, they know that mentoring significantly impacts the chances of someone's long-term business success, especially for women.
As more women get interested in becoming entrepreneurs and building businesses for themselves and jobs for others, governments and organizations like ours have to work together to get them the support they need to move forward. Futurpreneur Canada has long helped women to launch businesses and industries ranging from retail to food to technology, but our consultations confirm that there's a significant opportunity to expose more women to the concept of entrepreneurship as a career option, and to help them secure the financing, financial literacy, business skills, and networks they need to launch and grow businesses in Canada.
As always, we stand ready to collaborate with governments and other partners across the country to realize this opportunity.
How will we benefit? I want to return to Barb, who in the last 10 years has increased revenue at her company by 1,500%. She added locations and donated huge amounts of resources to help the people in Fort McMurray when they needed help last summer. Barb's growth isn't only national, it's global. She was chosen by Futurpreneur Canada last year to participate in the G20 Young Entrepreneurs' Alliance Summit in Beijing, and she has since successfully expanded her operations to China. Canada needs more Barbs.
I'm hoping that you have questions. That is the end of my prepared remarks.
Thank you and merci.
Thank you. I'm wearing two hats this morning. One is as the CEO of the Women's Enterprise Centre in Manitoba, which is part of the women's enterprise initiative in western Canada, funded by Western Diversification, our RDA. My second role—and perhaps in this venue the most important—is as chair of the Women's Enterprise Organizations of Canada, a group of organizations that work with women entrepreneurs to further develop their capacity to succeed, to access capital, and to achieve leadership in their various areas.
The Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, like the other WEIs in the west, concentrates on three major areas: loans up to $150,000, advisory services, and training. We have been around for 20 years and probably have the greatest depth and breadth of experience in working with women entrepreneurs.
Studies have shown that women entrepreneurs respond best to targeted and tailored services from women's organizations. The WEI organizations in the west have found that one of their greatest strengths is the autonomy to meet the specific needs of women entrepreneurs in their regions.
The organization that we have founded to emulate some of the best practices and to further develop women's entrepreneurship—through the creation of a website, a portal, and a national loan fund—has about 25 organizational members at this point and represents women's enterprise organizations and entrepreneurship organizations across the country.
Some of the programs that we have developed here in the west in response to the needs of women entrepreneurs include—and this was a goal of mine that was originally funded by Status of Women Canada and continues to this day—providing financial acumen and profitability information to women entrepreneurs to increase their capacity to develop their enterprises and to further your goal, which is economic security. We firmly believe that women's entrepreneurship is one of the primary tools to do just that.
While women are starting businesses at a greater rate than their male counterparts, they're still quite under-represented in the larger business categories, the gazelles that develop through technology and innovation. We're working very hard to develop that growth aspect of our training and our supports.
Some of the programs that we have developed here in the west include—and you'll hear more about this next week from my colleague from Alberta—the PeerSpark program, which has rolled out here to Manitoba as well. It is working with growth-oriented clients who want to get past that first million-dollar mark to create jobs, to create an asset, to create wealth, and to create a legacy for their families and their communities.
Studies have shown that women who succeed in their businesses contribute a great deal more to their communities than their male counterparts in a great many ways. Support for women entrepreneurship is a support for women everywhere.
One of the things we've done here in Manitoba, which is a huge success, is an annual conference for women in leadership. This last year, we had 1,100 participants just from Manitoba. We're looking to develop that next year into rural Manitoba. There's also interest from other regions, and we are hoping to create a national conference based on some of what we have learned here in Manitoba. We'd be doing this through the Women's Enterprise Organizations of Canada.
We've recently put a proposal to the federal government, and I hope we can get support from all of you folks to carry it forward. It is for a national loan fund and funding for WEOC, which to date has been created off the sides of our desks and as a volunteer organization. Despite that, we have, through our own budgets and our own activities, built a national coalition to move this forward.
We are at this time probably the only voice for women's entrepreneurship in the country, and have already made international connections to further this goal at a global level.
There's much, much more I could tell you, but that's pretty much it, in a nutshell.
I'm open to questions.
Thanks to both of you for your testimony on this. We talk about women and entrepreneurship, but I think what's often left out is young women. Sometimes the most creative ideas and innovation come from some of the younger people. We know also that in addition to being a woman, and being young, there are others who face even more barriers. We've talked a lot here about intersectionality. Certainly for indigenous young women, those with disabilities, and racialized young women, the numbers are even lower.
I'm wondering whether or not you see that and whether there's been any improvement over time, particularly through your programs. As well, particularly with regard to indigenous young women, at Algonquin College, in my riding, we're funding a centre for innovation, entrepreneurship, and learning. In that there is a specific centre for indigenous entrepreneurship. When I asked why that was important, they said it was because the cultural approach to entrepreneurship is different for indigenous women. It's more collaborative, and of course the money networks aren't there.
Perhaps you could both talk a little bit about how we encourage not just young women but also young women who face even more barriers because of other identity factors.
I'll start with you, Ms. Deans.
I think about that a huge amount. We know that there are a lot more women to be reached to even be exposed to entrepreneurship. Reaching women who have additional barriers takes more targeted outreach. It costs more money and takes more time. We're trying to develop our own capacity to do that but to also do it through partners.
I'll use indigenous young women as an example. In northern B.C. we are currently in a partnership called ThriveNorth, which was supported by BG Group, which is now Shell, one of the LNG proponents. They said that if they were going to create a facility in Prince Rupert, they needed the people in the area to benefit from it and to have businesses. It allowed us to double down on figuring out how to work with indigenous young women and men in these rural areas.
We found that they needed a more foundational layer of support as well, because entrepreneurship is probably a more distant concept for them than it would be for someone in downtown Ottawa. We did things like create peer circles, where young people could come together even just to talk about what owning a business would be like, or about some of the skills that you'd need. Instead of a loan, we established grants of $1,000 so that somebody could buy a sewing machine or hire somebody part time for a few months. We learned a lot about what is needed to work with that community, and I think that's probably pretty apt across the country. We're now working to try to figure out if we can replicate that in other parts of the country, particularly in rural communities, where there's so little opportunity for some of these young people.
The other group would be immigrants. We know that you need to do targeted outreach to reach immigrants where they are, whether it's in their faith communities or community organizations. Again, that takes more targeting. It's something that we're working on. We don't have the money to do as much as we'd like, so we do it through partnerships, with immigrant-serving organizations and others. On the indigenous side, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business would be a big partner for us.
Finally, it's about telling the stories. I can think of some of the women we've worked with in Prince Rupert who have established tutoring businesses. One won the B.C. award for young entrepreneur of the year a couple of years ago, which was tremendous. The stories are there, and we, the collective we, have an obligation to tell them. I would love it if you as members were willing to share those stories in your newsletters about people in your ridings or in your provinces who are doing these great things.
That's excellent. Thank you.
I would agree with Julia Deans that the requirement for specifically targeted kinds of teaching is very important. Through the WEIs and through our own work here in Manitoba over the last 20 years, we have worked with women at every stage and every age.
Both the newcomers and the indigenous clients we've had, although they have very different needs and very different outcomes, are an important target for us, because they create role models in their communities. There are some courses that have been developed in Alberta that are specifically geared to teaching entrepreneurship and developing business plans in that area. Here in Manitoba, we've worked with a number of organizations, both first nation and Métis organizations, to partner in developing business plans and in providing due diligence and the aftercare to ensure that those entrepreneurs have a greater degree of success.
It's very labour-intensive work, as you can imagine, and we have very little in the way of resources to do as much as would like to do in the province. Where we have achieved successes, they have been tremendous, and we're very proud of the work we have been able to do to further these goals. This is a community that is underserved in a great many ways, and we hope that the leadership work we're doing, the conferences that we're going to be doing, and the webcasts that we'll be doing in rural Manitoba will reach a higher number of indigenous women who will be able to recognize the supports that are available to them through the centre.
It can be any gender to any gender. We spend maybe 15 to 20 hours with a young person in getting them ready to come into our program. Before they get our loans, we “hand-match” them with a mentor. Seventy per cent of our mentors are entrepreneurs themselves. That's the primary thing: somebody who has walked in that path before. If they're not an entrepreneur, they're often someone with financial skills and the expertise to help someone who may not have those skills.
We hand-match them with a mentor. They are generally in the same city or community, because being able to have access to one another is huge. We're looking for people who match in terms of skill sets, interests, experience, and often industry as well. You can imagine that for a restaurant owner it's pretty important to have a mentor who's run a restaurant before, as that's a pretty specialized area.
Once they are matched, they have an orientation to make sure they know how to work together. It was designed with the help of Lavalife, so it's very much about “do I email you?”, “do I phone you?”, and “how are we going to communicate with one another?” They have that mentor for up to two years. The idea is that they spend four to five hours a month together by phone or in person. The mentor can have no financial interest at all in their business. They're completely about the entrepreneur and helping them through rough times, and keeping them true to their plans and ideas.
We find that it's particularly in the second year where they need help. Often something has gone wrong. They've back-end loaded a lease, or something has happened, and they need that person there to say, “How are you going to change your direction to get things back on track?” We know that our entrepreneurs are still in business at the rate of 50% to 60% after five years, which is much higher than the normal average, and we're pretty sure it's because of this mentoring.
Thank you to both the witnesses.
Ms. Altner, I want to talk a little more about some of the underlying reasons that women face barriers to their credibility, capital, connections, competence, and confidence in that list cited by witnesses here.
We heard from one of the witnesses from the Canadian Labour Congress. Vicky Smallman encapsulated it nicely, saying that we need to look at women's economic justice and not just women's economic empowerment so that we're sure that we're removing the barriers that keep marginalized women from realizing their full potential and addressing those barriers. I saw in your response to budget 2017 that you had hoped that some of the funding allocated for innovation and entrepreneurial development would be targeted specifically to support programs benefiting new Canadians and indigenous women.
I hope that you can talk with us for a couple of minutes about what you see the federal government's being able to do to help remove those barriers. That means not just focusing on empowering women, but what we can do in a focused way on the federal government's side to assist women of colour, immigrant women, women with disabilities, and indigenous women.
As a start, I think that ensuring that women, wherever they are in the country, have access to support to create jobs for themselves and for others is tremendous. I often say that in Toronto or in Vancouver or in Ottawa, we're in the land of plenty. There's lots happening. But if you're in Terrace, or in a remote part of Newfoundland, there may not be much there. So providing some foundational support for organizations like ours to be available and to connect those women to resources, I think, is huge.
The second piece is connection building. The federal government, whether through INAC or ISED or the other acronyms, has the ability to draw links between some of the programs that are happening. We have talked a lot this morning about indigenous women. A lot of different departments are supporting or attempting to support indigenous women. The more that connections can be built among those efforts, the better.
The third would be procurement. I think we all know that the Government of Canada and the governments of the provinces are huge procurement bodies. Stating the policy of reaching out to organizations that are led by women, and particularly women from under-represented leadership groups, can make a huge difference as well.
We had a situation in Toronto that some of the companies said they would deal only with law firms that had women on the teams or leading the teams. It just changed things overnight. It's very easy to say, “We're looking for the women. Where are they?”
The final piece would be influencing education. It's not within the federal purview per se, but the federal government is in a position to influence education policy across the country and to ensure that young women are getting access to skill development, whether it's financial literacy or communications. Coding is another example. I happen to think financial literacy is probably the key, because if young women are raised to know that it's on them to figure out that they have to take control and determine their economic future, they are going to be a lot more interested and motivated to do that, I think.
The final thing I'd say is that when you get women leading businesses, they bring up women behind them. We see it every day. One of our businesses in Hamilton—it's a bakery—won the TELUS business of the year award. It won $100,000. One of its things from the get-go was, “We're going to pay everybody on our staff a living wage,” which was huge, because in the bakery business, bakers make next to nothing, and they're all getting paid a living wage. So women, when they lead the businesses, tend to do the right thing by their women.
It's been very interesting to hear some of the questions that have been asked. I want to focus on three particular areas.
The first one is obviously access to capital. I think we well know that it's really difficult for women to have access to capital from either traditional banks or other banks, because the requirement to have access to start-up money is to have chattel, and most women don't. Most women don't own a house. They don't own anything, so they can't put that up in order to get the money. We've heard this time and time again.
As a result, I know that in the 1990s the federal government of the day actually started women's enterprise centres, where they gave small amounts of money to these groups—there was one in Kelowna—and allowed these groups to give women a bit of money to start up a small business, to help them to build a business plan, and then to follow them through for the first year or so. Are those things still in existence and funded solely by the federal government, with the federal government making sure that happens?
Second, what about the Business Development Bank of Canada? I know that they have not necessarily bellied up to the bar to waive some of the requirements for women to borrow money, so that's a second place we could look at. I want to hear what you have to say about that.
The third piece is child care. Obviously, when women want to go into non-traditional areas, the big thing that prevents them from that, the biggest challenge they face, is child care. Women wanting to go into the building trades, for instance, or women wanting to go into anything that requires flexible hours, have a problem.
In this budget, we've put money into child care. How do you see that best being spent to help women entrepreneurs have access to child care? They don't fit the package. If they start the business at home, then they're homebodies and they don't need to get money for child care. As for rural women who own farms or are taking over farms, because they're on a farm and they're at home, they don't qualify either. Even though they're out in the back pasture doing work, they're at home.
These are some things that I think we may need to consider in terms of how we find ways to lever the ability for women in non-traditional areas to get access to starting their businesses. Perhaps I can hear the two of you, with the chair's permission, expound on what you think we could do better.
May I respond to that, especially since it concerns the women's enterprise initiative in western Canada?
That was our group. It started in the 1990s. The amount of the loan at that time was $100,000, and there was an office in Kelowna, which still exists. There was one in Alberta, one in Saskatchewan, and one here in Manitoba.
Our loans are now at $150,000 and we're working both with start-up and growth-oriented clients. Yes, those programs do exist, and they have been very successful.
To answer the second question on whether or not BDC has bellied up to the bar, I'm happy to say that because of what we've done so far in the Women's Enterprise Organizations of Canada, there has been interest on the part of BDC to partner with us on loans. There has been a pilot program for that here in Manitoba. We signed an MOU back in August, and because of the work we've done in managing our own loan fund, BDC sees us as an accredited lender and thus will rubber-stamp some of our loans. At the $150,000 level, they will provide up to $100,000. At the $100,000 level they will provide up to $50,000 and cut out all the paperwork in-between, so it's a pilot program that they hope to move out across the west. Should we be successful in developing a national loan fund, they would partner with us in creating that across the country.
On your third question regarding child care, when Minister Morneau was in Winnipeg last year, I spoke about the importance of child care to the development of women-owned business. I was very happy to see that some attention was paid to it in this budget. It's nice to know that occasionally our voices are heard.
I'm not sure that answers all of your questions, but that's how I would respond.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks for the invitation to appear today. Canada's Building Trades Unions is a national, non-profit organization that represents 14 national construction unions across Canada, representing 500,000 tradeswomen and tradesmen across the country.
CBTU is working towards an equitable, accessible workplace in Canada through Build Together, a workforce development program focused on the recruitment and retention of workers from under-represented portions of the population. Diversity in organizations is increasingly respected as a fundamental characteristic of an organization's ability to create an environment of involvement, respect, and connection, where rich ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are harnessed to create value. A better-skilled and more inclusive workforce is the key to successful attraction and retention.
The Canadian construction industry has an aging workforce, and in the coming decade will lose almost a quarter of its skilled workers to retirement. At the same time, medium- to long-term forecasts by BuildForce Canada indicate that the industry will continue to grow. To fill the vacancies left by retiring baby boomers and meet the demands of anticipated growth, the industry will need to recruit and train new workers. This is an enormous opportunity for women in Canada to earn a secure living wage. Careers in construction offer economic security for women and a direct path out of poverty.
Build Together's initial program, women of the building trades, promotes, supports, and mentors women in the skilled construction trades. Women represent 4% of this industry on average in Canada, a number that has remained unchanged in decades. At our CBTU 2016 policy conference, a resolution was passed on women in trades that included a goal to double the number of women in our industry within the next five years. We hope that through our work and our partnerships with other incredible organizations across the country this number can change and that we can successfully recruit and retain women in our industry.
Build Together has challenged existing myths and stereotypes of careers in the trades, providing the space for robust conversation on how to engage women in the sector. In support of the project, Build Together has provincial platforms where tradeswomen as leaders, mentors, and ambassadors can network, engage, and support the cause at the local level. Again, we have created the space for conversation on how to engage women in the building and construction trades.
We've identified methods to defy stereotypes and amplify the strengths and characteristics of women as tradespeople. As part of our outreach, tradeswomen have attended events across the country, including trade shows, career fairs, schools, mentorship events, and networking functions. We have been featured in media outlets across the country as part of the overarching narrative of middle-class opportunities in the trades as well as the empowerment and equalization of women.
In the past, the burden fell on women to use humour to deflect discrimination or harassment, in fear that speaking out or filing a complaint would not make a difference. We believe that unions, employers, owners, contractors, and tradespeople all have to commit to removing these barriers rather than blaming someone for failing to overcome them.
At CBTU, we have demonstrated our commitment by passing a respectful workplace resolution at our 2016 policy conference, recognizing that harassment and discrimination in the workplace are behaviours that will not be tolerated by our organization and our affiliates. In support of this resolution, we introduced resources that aim to create safe and welcoming work environments. Build Together has workshops, materials, and diversity training modules that provide leadership with the information, tools, and protocols they need to enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards unwelcoming behaviour.
Change must come from the top down and from the bottom up, but most importantly from middle management—the supervisors, foremen, and forewomen who manage our tradespeople every day on the job. When workplace culture is inclusive and staff morale increases, ultimately productivity and efficiency improve. Research suggests that in environments where employees feel valued, teamwork increases, which leads to decreased absenteeism and employee turnover.
In support of our work on respectful workplaces, we'll be launching an industry-wide, industry-championed campaign, calling on levels of leadership within industry to be champions and advocates for respectful workplaces. We want to provide our communities, our members, and our partners with the most promising future in an inclusive network of building trades.
Now that I've had the opportunity to highlight the work we do, I would like to take a moment to address a barrier that I've encountered in our work with Status of Women Canada.
As outlined in the Status of Women Canada general eligibility requirements for the women's program funding, labour unions are not eligible for funding via Status of Women Canada. Other not-for-profit organizations are eligible, as well as for-profit Canadian organizations, if the nature and intent of the funded activity is non-commercial and not intended to generate profit.
Our office has met with Status of Women Canada on this issue a number of times over the last three years, with no resolution on this policy. There have been a number of calls for proposals that women of the building trades have missed out on, slowing down progress of our mandate, and in our opinion, the mandate of Status of Women Canada.
The latest call for proposals that we were not eligible for was the call for proposals for projects to advance gender equality across Canada. Through this call for proposals, organizations will receive funding to identify women leaders in various sectors, organizations, and communities, and engage them in local projects to advance gender equality. The call aims to identify and engage a total of 150 women leaders from across the country, to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017 as we move forward.
We are disheartened that because of the exclusion that Status of Women Canada has outlined in their eligibility requirements, there will be no female leaders from the labour movement, especially construction, included in the 150 women leaders from across the country.
Tradeswomen from across the country who are leaders in their communities, in their workplaces, and in their unions and who have spent countless hours volunteering their time for the cause will not have the chance to be engaged in this project. They are working hard every day to provide solutions to the barriers women face in their industry. They are mentors and advocates who work tirelessly for gender equality in Canada, and they do not deserve to be excluded as leaders in this country.
The unionized skilled trades do not have pay equity issues, but we do have workplace cultural issues and issues surrounding child care and pregnancy in the trades. We are working to address some of these barriers, but we need your help.
We hope that the eligibility requirement can be revised and changed to reflect the important work we do in this sector; to help us continue to provide economic security for women in our country; and to reflect the inclusive eligibility requirements of other federal departments, such as ESDC and numerous other government departments.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today about the work we are doing and for hearing our recommendations on the economic security of women in Canada.
It is a real pleasure to be here with you this morning to talk to you about our organization, Actua, and about our work with young girls in science and technology.
Good morning, everyone. It's a real pleasure to be here today. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share Actua's work and some of our recommendations with regard to your current study.
Actua is a national charitable organization that designs and delivers programs that build confidence and skills in science, technology, engineering, and math. We support a network of 35 university- and college-based members across Canada who deliver programming in 500 communities reaching every province and territory. For 20 years we have been the national leader in inclusion programming in this area, engaging underserved and under-represented youth through national programs for girls and young women, youth facing socio-economic challenges, youth in remote and northern communities, and indigenous youth.
Our work in STEM education contributes substantively to Canada's social and economic prosperity. We all know that STEM occupations are typically associated with better employment conditions and higher pay, yet women still occupy only 21% to 23% of all STEM occupations. Obviously this is contributing significantly to the gender pay gap. The stage for this gap is set well before women enter university or the workforce. It begins when young girls learn about their world, hearing subtle and not-so-subtle messages from parents, teachers, and their peers about their roles, and often participating in very different extracurricular activities from boys.
It continues in high school, when teenage girls with higher math scores are less likely to choose STEM programs at university than are teenage boys who have lower math scores. The gap widens in university. Despite representing 59% of all university graduates in Canada, women represent only 23% of graduates in engineering and 30% of graduates in math and computer science. If we want to close this gap, we need to shift the narrative—from how girls and women must change to fit into STEM to how the context around them needs to change.
Actua's national girls program was developed 20 years ago in response to these barriers. We have interacted with literally tens of thousands of girls and their parents across the country. From those experiences we have learned a lot, and a couple of things in particular. Young girls aged six to 10 have no shortage of passion, curiosity, talent, and interest in science and technology. That is without exception across the country. That interest drops at around grade 5 or 6. At this age we see a marked decline in the participation rate of girls in our programs. That decline worsens as time moves on. The interests, behaviours, and choices of girls are hugely influenced by parents and teachers.
We now engage 10,000 girls each year through those initiatives, and do a lot of evaluation to ensure that they're effective. We see from pre- and post-evaluations that girls' confidence, enjoyment, and interest in STEM are increasing as a result of Actua's programs. This is further reflected in the larger data. Between 1991 and 2011 the proportion of women in scientific occupations increased from 18% to 23%. It's not enough, but it's a good increase. In fact increases were seen in all occupational categories except in computer science, where the proportion of women declined from 30% to 25% over that same period.
With technology now underpinning every single field, from business to health care to agriculture, digital literacy is no longer a “nice to have” skill. It has become a basic literacy. If we don't engage girls in building digital literacy, they will be further segregated and will continue not to have equal access to major areas of growth within our economy.
In October 2014 Actua launched with Google a three-year project called Codemakers. We want to transform the way in which youth are engaging with computer science and digital skills. We want to move them from their typical role as consumers of technology into much-needed roles as innovators and producers of technology. In the first two years of that project, we've engaged 80,000 youth across the country in digital skill development experiences. The demand for those programs in every community across the country is massive, but girl engagement has been lacking. We wanted to aggressively pursue changing that so we didn't go down the same path we did with our STEM programs.
Last year we had the support of Status of Women to launch another project, this one to look specifically at the issues and barriers facing girls in computer science and in building digital skills. To date we have done an environmental scan, a literature review, and expert interviews. We're in the process of doing what I think is very unique, a girl-led research piece where the girls are developing the research and then going out and conducting the research. It's putting them right in the middle of this project.
Just a few things have come out of that initially, and I would be happy to come back and share the results once we're finished. At a more general level they include the following.
First, learning experiences in computer science need to be accessible to girls. The systemic sexism that exists in computer science traditionally and how it has been approached needs to be addressed.
Second, girls also need support and encouragement from their parents and teachers, but the parents and teachers need to actually be trained on how to provide that support.
Finally, girls need to understand that digital literacy is a basic literacy. It's not just about becoming a computer scientist. It's relevant to all of their interests in every career path they might want to pursue.
It's clear that in order to make real change we have to focus on context, how everyone from every sector, men and women, needs to stand up and demand that the context for girls and women change. We need to have more open and transparent discussions with girls and women earlier on about what to expect when they get into the workforce, what challenges they might still encounter, and how to overcome those things that exist within the context.
We also need to acknowledge and counteract popular misconceptions about computer science that are not going to appeal to girls.
In closing, I would like to actually commend the current government and those members of other parties who have put their support behind major federal investments in STEM outreach programs for youth. Actua has literally been advocating for this for over 20 years, and in the recent budget 2017, a new fund was announced called teaching kids to code, $50 million over two years. This funding is essential to support organizations like Actua that are ready to scale their work to engage girls in those critical early experiences. We will not achieve gender pay equity if we do not have girls engaged early.
Moving forward, I want to leave you with three recommendations.
The first is to support and incentivize initiatives and efforts to get more women on boards, more women in senior positions in all sectors, and to profile and celebrate companies and specifically men who are fighting the status quo on this. If girls do not see change at the top, things will not change from the bottom.
Second, support initiatives that help parents, teachers, and other influencers gain a better understanding of the skills and competencies that girls require to achieve economic independence; more specific information on that is needed.
Then third, in your constituencies at the local level, support and highlight initiatives that are challenging the status quo and advancing this narrative about how the context needs to change.
That's it for our recommendations, and thank you.
My daughter is just finishing university, and some of her friends, girls, graduated from engineering. I had asked them how many female faculty members there were. They said one or two. In terms of mentorship even within the disciplines, there's obviously a challenge there. Thank you.
I also thought it was really interesting when you talked about the significance of the passion of young girls between six and 10. To me that was really interesting because so often, in elementary school education, much of the faculty are women, and as the grades increase, we see a difference between men and women in terms of the teaching levels.
I know from teaching at the graduate level that we would talk about technology, but then when I would talk with the teachers who were in the masters of education program, I would learn that it wasn't integrated into the regular curriculum in the undergrad level.
Do you have any involvement with the undergraduate teaching in terms of curriculum influence or guest speaking about the importance of mentorship role models in terms of your practices to incorporate teaching into undergraduate levels for teachers who will then be teaching kids whether they are six to 12 or 11 to 18?
What can the federal government do? I think it is absolutely essential that this early engagement continues to be supported, and that we look at it not just from an educational perspective, because obviously we then get mixed up in the whole provincial/federal jurisdictional issues. That aside, we need to look at it from a skill and competency development perspective. Girls, as you said, at eight, nine, and ten, are extremely interested. They're still interested at 13, but there's just a lot of pressure in other areas and a lot of negative messaging about who can do science, technology, and engineering. A lot of peer influence is going on. We're hearing from girls how their peers are talking about these subject areas—and how they're being discouraged by their female and male friends is also very influential.
We need to not only engage them, but also we need to look at.... We know a lot now, we know the factors that influence them. We know they need role models, we know they need to have coaching, we know that when programs for girls are delivered, they need to be safe spaces, they need to be spaces where girls can develop the skills that some of them are lacking through other means, through play and risk-taking, taking things apart, putting them back together, learning that failure is not horrible, that it has a very good use, and all the other good things they love, such as collaboration and creativity.
What can you do? You need to invest in these programs and recognize that they have to start early—it's not good enough to start in high school—and look at the specific nature of their programming. It's not just about bringing girls together and giving them hands-on science, but that we need to be making sure that we're talking to them about what they're going to encounter and the challenges they're going to face. I think we've shied away from that, maybe because we don't want to put ideas in their head before they have them, but the reality is that six- and seven-year-olds know the messaging, if you ask them. Having open conversations makes a big difference.
There's a total disconnect.
I hear you. Thank you for being so clear, and I'll definitely take it up.
On a happier note, my friend Hilary Peach is a boilermaker. She's my age, and she's been in the work for a long time. She says the thing that's actually changed the workplace dynamic more than anything is a lot of young men raised by strong feminist single mothers. They're the ones who call out their fellow workers, and Hilary is like, “Oh, my God, I've been trying to teach these guys about sexism for decades.” Now it's these young guys on the job, who are, thankfully, taking the load off her. That's not a federal responsibility.
I want to talk with you a little bit, Lindsay, from Canada's Building Trades Unions' side, about the shift that we're starting to see at the grassroots level with organized labour building leave for victims of domestic violence into their collective agreements. As well, in some provinces, such as Manitoba with its NDP government, and also I think in B.C. with some private members' bills there, and I think in Ontario, the same cause is being picked up. Last week in my community, I talked to some of the employees at women's shelters in Nanaimo as well as to the police, the RCMP. They were very clear that sometimes work is the most stable place for a woman who's experiencing domestic violence, and that if she can't get leave to get her kids and her rent and a new place to live organized, then she has the choice between returning to a dangerous situation and falling deeper into poverty, and that's a terrible choice.
Would you like to see a recommendation from this committee around domestic leave provisions being considered as one of the tools that we can look at to protect women's economic security in times of violence?
Yes, absolutely. We have a national indigenous outreach program that annually engages 35,000 indigenous youth, with first nations, Inuit, and Métis working in partnership with 220 indigenous communities. That's for boys and girls.
In the north in particular, we have 50 locations across the three territories and Labrador. There, the connections to economic development are so much closer, but are completely isolated, in that kids have no idea of the economic development opportunities that are happening in their communities. Actua is playing a significant bridging role there to talk to boys and girls about who these people are in their backyards, what the opportunities are, and what skills they need to build so they can not just understand this but become the leaders in those economic development projects.
From a financial literacy perspective, that's in everything that we do. Because we're very focused on experiential learning, we don't want to develop just science and tech skills, as schools do that quite well. We want to have youth apply those to real-world contexts. That's how the innovation muscle develops: when they actually are applying skills to something they care about. With the financial literacy piece, they're like, “Why do I need math?” In our projects, we will have them building something, for example, but they'll have to do a budget, and they'll have to learn about how money works in a business.
Obviously this is in the context of a nine-year-old or a ten-year-old, but just that first exposure.... They've never been told what financial literacy even is and why math matters and how that would affect their lives. That application is incredibly important. Then we do all kinds of other more detailed financial literacy pieces, but that first exposure is important, and it's relevant everywhere, and obviously we do it with indigenous youth as well.
Thanks very much to both of you for being here. I really enjoyed your testimony.
I'll jump right into it because we have limited time.
We've heard from a number of different panels, including today, about the importance of encouraging women's participation in STEM and growth industries. One of the things that we don't often talk about is encouraging women to join other professions within those sectors.
Recently in my own community I met with an start-up tech company. They said they were dying for people, but not just computer programmers. They said they needed people who have a B.A. and can be good technical writers, and people who have creative minds, particularly in the marketing industry.
Are there things we can do to shift the focus away from solely engineers and mathematicians in order to recognize that there are growth opportunities in those sectors generally and to draw from the immense pool of talented women going through our post-secondary education system now who are disproportionately represented, particularly in university degree programs, and could take part in these sectors? Are there things that you think the federal government could do to tap into that resource?
That's for whoever wants to tackle it.