Thank you, Madam Chair.
My name is Danniele Livengood, and with me is Sandra Eix. We are here representing the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology, fondly known as SCWIST.
For more than 30 years SCWIST has been supporting and advocating for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Over this time we have seen many positive changes in the representation of women in these traditionally male-dominated fields. Women now account for 39% of students enrolled in STEM programs, and just this year the University of British Columbia achieved record numbers for enrolling women in their engineering programs. At the faculty level, women are 35% of life sciences researchers and 15% in physical sciences, computer sciences, engineering, and mathematics.
It would be tempting to congratulate ourselves and to say that even if women haven't completely achieved equitable representation in STEM fields, we have at least implemented a key part of the solution: encouraging and supporting young women entering STEM programs. However, a closer look indicates that there is still work to be done. For example, Statistics Canada reports that in comparison with men with STEM degrees, women with STEM degrees are more likely to be unemployed or employed in fields that do not require a degree. 2011 U.S. data shows that in the non-academic workforce, only 26% of STEM workers were women, yet we know that overall women make up 48% of the workforce.
More significantly, there is still an alarming absence of women at the leadership level, both in academic research and in industry. Statistics from 2013-14 show that women hold only 15% of full professorships in science overall and only 8% of full professorships in engineering, as compared with 31% in the humanities. Also, only 3.3% of the top 25 NSERC grantees, as measured by grant size, involve women.
The story is similar outside academia. Huge tech companies—Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google—show promising diversity statistics, such as 35% of their workforce being women, but women represent only 15% to 17% of their technical employees and only 20% to 25% of senior staff.
Until we understand and act to counter the historical and cultural forces that keep women from STEM leadership, we have solved only part of the problem.
In the 21st century, the challenges that face Canada and the world are not simple, and new kinds of thinking will be required to take them on. Recognizing this, education systems across Canada are evolving to focus on creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Whether addressing climate change, new diseases, management of an information economy, or feeding a growing population, we need to think differently.
Leaders who think outside of the historically informed archetype can bring fresh perspectives to solve complex, interconnected problems. More than 20 years of research tells us that gender diversity is key to this kind of innovation. Studies by the Conference Board of Canada in corporate governance link gender diversity not just to employee satisfaction but also to improved governance, innovation, and economic benefits for corporations. Studies in the Journal of Business Ethics found that the presence of at least 30% women on a board decreases “group think”, while women directors improve a firm's ability to navigate complex strategic issues.
What we can learn from these studies is that a lack of women in STEM leadership isn't just a problem for ambitious women. It's a limiting factor in the ability of Canada's researchers and corporations to thrive and grow. In other words, STEM needs female leaders.
Women working in STEM identify many barriers to their success. Some of these are in the form of infrastructure and systems that hold them back, some are related to organizational or workplace culture, and some are related to attitudes about women's abilities in these fields. Over time, strong women and their supporters, bolstered by public policy and law, have chipped away significantly at the most obvious parts of these barriers.
Societal attitudes about who can and should participate in STEM have changed enormously. It's well established that there is no innate connection between gender and mathematical or scientific ability.
Human rights legislation makes discriminatory hiring practices illegal. Breaking down the final barriers requires us to change how we think and requires a level of self-reflection.
Most people are not aware of implicit biases that cause them to make small assumptions without realizing it. This is a critical barrier to women's advancing in STEM, since even the best-intentioned teachers, guidance counsellors, professors, and hiring managers have implicit biases. To illustrate the effects of implicit bias on women's advancement into leadership positions, a study presented a CV to several science professors and asked them to evaluate the candidate for a lab manager position. The male candidate was offered 12% higher salary and more mentorship and was rated more competent and hireable than the female candidate, even though the only difference in the CVs was the name at the top.
Regular and repeated use of instruments such as the Harvard implicit bias test can help educators, managers, and HR professionals become aware of and combat biases. Being aware is the first step.
The importance of role models in encouraging women as they enter non-traditional fields is widely recognized and is the raison d'être of many successful programs, such as SCWIST's Make Possible and ms infinity programs, as well as Let's Talk Science, and the scientists and innovators in the schools program.
However, when women in STEM are recognized and celebrated in the media, the stories often reflect inherent societal stereotypes. Media critical tests such as the Bechdel test for movies can help identify the gender biases that we are so used to seeing. An analogous test, the Finkbeiner test, serves to call out representations of women in STEM fields that define their successes in the context of their gender. To pass this test, articles about a woman in STEM must not mention, among other criteria, the fact that she's a woman, her husband's job, her child care arrangements, or how she's the first woman to.... These items may seem normal, even laudable to include in a story about a successful women in STEM, but we have to ask ourselves whether we would say these things about a man in the same field. While we need to see more women in STEM represented in the media, it's essential to be mindful of how they are portrayed.
As you can see, the representation of women in STEM is still lacking at the leadership level. This needs to change, because more diverse models of leadership are what Canada needs to meet 21st-century challenges. To move forward, we need to continue to support the best practices that have advanced women in STEM thus far, and we need to address the many more subtle barriers, such as implicit bias in media representation.
First, we cannot stop supporting the initiatives that we have worked so hard on this far. This includes support and advocacy networks such as SCWIST, DAWEG, WWEST, and the NSERC chairs for women in science and engineering program. lt includes mentorship programs for girls and young women such as SCWIST's ms infinity program, and our double-X networking evening. It also includes skill-building opportunities, such as SCWIST's immigrating women in science and ladies learning code programs, as well as its science and tech camps for girls.
Second, we must invest in systems to help HR professionals and educators understand and counteract their biases. This will help ensure that unconscious systematic biases against women in STEM will not continue as barriers. Workshops for professionals and academics, supported by the sharing of best practices for combatting biases, could change the landscape greatly.
Promising initiatives in this area include the WinSETT workshop series, Make Possible's HR inclusion workshop, and the HR toolkit on diversity being developed by Digital Nova Scotia.
Third, we must recognize and celebrate organizations that are models of diversity and tell the story of how they have benefited. For example, we know that the Fortune 500 companies with the most women on their boards far outperform those with the fewest. Motivating change in well-established institutions and corporations will be easier when the business case for diversity is widely understood.
Finally, we must work to build, connect, and integrate the existing networks of mentorship and peer support for women in STEM. We need to encourage initiatives that bring like-minded organizations together for common goals. For example, Creating Connections is a conference in metro Vancouver at which university and college STEM students meet with organizations that support women in STEM to bring together people of all genders to discuss issues of personal and professional development, networking, and inspiration.
Women in STEM and their allies have a lot of work still to do to provide Canada with the STEM leadership necessary for the 21st century and beyond. The advances we've made thus far justify optimism and further support as we take on the next set of challenges.
My name is Suzanne Winterflood. I am the executive director for the Centre for Education and Work. My colleague is Jeri Marchinko, senior adult learning specialist.
The Centre for Education and Work is a not-for-profit organization. We have partners in industry, education and government. We create relevant and real-life digital learning materials in affiliation with the University of Winnipeg, focusing primarily on industry workforce development.
The background of our project is that we were focusing on funding received from Status of Women Canada. We conducted research. We developed a website with online resources for employers and women in non-traditional occupations. The project focuses on the way to support recruitment and retention of women in non-traditional occupations, especially in manufacturing.
Why focus on manufacturing? There are no existing resources for Manitoba employers or women in manufacturing. For example, if a manufacturing company has female employees, they are more likely to be office staff, human resources personnel, or in finishing departments. They are rarely, if ever, heavy machine operators.
One focus group participant remembered that in 30 years only two women had worked in the press room, and they had not stayed for long. He said that it takes a special type of woman to incorporate herself into an environment where it is exclusively male.
“We just don't have a lot of women in the sector, and it puzzles me why they are not more”. That was a quote from the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Participation rates show low participation. Although these numbers reflect only skilled trades, women also have low representation in unskilled trades. The need to encourage and support participation in non-traditional occupations has been well documented. As you can see from the figures, there were 128 women out of a total 5,053 in apprenticeship training in the trades in Manitoba, with a participation rate of 2.5%. That's extremely low.
We've undertaken years of research, conducted a needs assessment, completed a literature review, and identified a number of challenges and promising practices. There were insufficient responses from women in the manufacturing industries. We identified this in our project risk assessment at the beginning of the project. We therefore decided we had to broaden our scope to include occupations in other sectors, for example heavy equipment operators, truck transport mechanics, carpenters, painters, and electrical technicians. But as you'll see, there are very few from manufacturing, which speaks to it.
What did we learn? What we heard from our focus groups was that findings for female participants were similar to other studies. Although there has been work done in the areas of awareness and career planning, there is clearly a need to do more. There is also a need to extend awareness activities beyond high school. Several participants said that they had tried the traditional route first, went to university and entered jobs that were acceptable within their culture and their families. It wasn't until they were more mature, less influenced by peers and family, that they started to explore options they felt were more suited to their skills and interests. That's when they explored the non-traditional occupations.
There are recruitment challenges. All employers interviewed said that they got few applications from women and were, for the most part, unaware of gender biases in their job descriptions. Focus group participants said that they wanted to see real women in promotional material, not models with full makeup on. Focus group participants said that they were still being asked questions that were not asked of male counterparts in interviews, so gender bias exists in interviews, in questions, and in job descriptions.
As far as retention challenges, there are still problems with basic accommodations, changing rooms, washrooms, personal protective equipment designed for men rather than women, and inappropriate photos in the workplace. I dare not elaborate.
For example, one focus group participant told us the following story, “I used the upstairs restaurant washroom and the general foreman called my boss and told him that I thought I was special because I wouldn’t use the construction washroom—it had no door and no toilet seat.”
Sometimes women were asked or expected to clean up after team meetings, to make the tea. Participants said that they wanted to be treated in an equitable manner—no special treatment, just to be respected for the work they do. One comment that was given was, “They give you every opportunity to not succeed, but it's so nice when you do.”
Other women's experiences included the lack of information on knowledge of employment standards and the fear of taking maternity leave—fear of losing their jobs or of just not being called back when they were ready to return. We identified a lack of mentoring programs. Support and acceptance varies from workplace to workplace. You have to find the right fit and not be afraid to leave a job to go to new pastures. Lack of part-time and/or flexible working options was another identified issue.
Among the promising practices we identified—some employers are engaged in these activities already—were: employers working with school divisions to educate teachers, parents, and students on career options to transcend gender definitions; gender inclusivity in advertising and promotional materials; women in non-traditional occupations speaking at career fairs and schools, etc.; and pre-employment programs for women who had different voices.
Some women felt it was helpful and others felt it was demeaning to have special programs just for women. “There weren’t special programs for men to enter nursing—even when there was a nursing shortage.”
There were clear progression paths in companies. On-the-job training or access to further training is available. Putting respectful workplace policies into practice, identifying gender bias in interviews or in people with hiring decision-making authority, providing on-site child care and flexible working arrangements—these are some of the things we identified throughout the research.
As a result of the research, we're developing resources. There are two websites. The focus group website women's portal emphasized the importance of connecting with other women. This was key to having a successful website. They wanted awareness of occupations, positive and potential challenges, and information about rights, etc.—employment standards, maternity leave. They also wanted a support group online, interactive cases or studies for actual scenarios that women encountered in the workplace and how they have coped with them, and connections to mentors. These are just some of the things they want to see on their website.
There will be an employers' portal. Reaching employers has been challenging. All employers interviewed to date said they were interested in improving their recruitment and retention of women in non-traditional occupations. Some employers, especially those from smaller companies, stated that they would welcome supports in these areas. We're looking to develop tools to checklist or self-assess whether they are female-friendly workplaces; to provide tips on how to make the workplace more equitable, including online mentoring kits; and to show how to conduct a focus group with the women in their companies to be able to use them as a reference.
Thank you for your time. If you have any questions, we'd be pleased to take those.
One final note to take away, change is happening but it's slow. It takes a long time for attitudes to change.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to the committee for the invitation to speak today.
My name is Kate Mclnturff. I'm a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
The committee has already heard that women are highly under-represented in most STEM fields and in the skilled trades. I'd like to spend my time today talking about why that is the case, and what kinds of public policies are needed to increase women's representation in these occupations and to address the challenges that are most pressing.
Men and women in Canada work in different fields, for different numbers of hours, at different rates of pay. Women are three times as likely as men to work part time, twice as likely to work for minimum wage, and nearly 100% likely to be paid less for the work they do.
The fact that men and women tend to work in different fields isn't unusual. Canada is fairly typical in terms of labour force segregation in OECD countries. The problem lies in the fact that there are women who want to work in non-traditional fields and they are being pushed out or meeting insurmountable barriers to achieving their goals. The problem lies in the fact that the women who make it into those male-dominated occupations are making less than their male peers, as we've just heard, and facing obstacles such as a hostile work environment. The problem lies in the fact that women's work in both male- and female-dominated sectors is undervalued.
Women want to work in skilled trades. Over the past 10 years, young women under 30 have gone from being 13% of new registrants in skilled trades training programs to 18% of new registrants. That's a 5% increase. However, the share of young women in the same age group completing those programs has increased by only 1%. This suggests that a significant portion of those new entrants are meeting barriers during their training before they even enter the job market.
I've met some of these women. When I taught at the University of Ottawa, I found them in my classes. They told very similar stories. They were inspired by a teacher in high school, a mentor, or a parent, and they entered trades training programs with high expectations. They were going to be the next Mike Holmes, but what they found was persistent discrimination, sexism, and exclusion.
Women who do manage to make it through their training and into jobs in skilled trades continue to face gender-specific barriers. Efforts to increase the presence of women in Canada's mining sector are a good example.
Women make up 20% of those employed in mining and oil and gas today in Canada. That percentage has remained unchanged since 2006 in spite of initiatives to support women's participation in the field and broader economic policies that have tried to support growth in that sector. Why? Reports by women in mining have identified some of the barriers that women face to working in this industry. Top of the list is a hostile work environment. Next on the list is the lack of mentors and women in senior management positions. Finally, there is the lack of child care and flexible work practices.
Women in mining, oil and gas, like women in other skilled trades, also face significant discrimination in their wages. The wage gap in oil and gas in Canada is one of the largest of any sector in our labour force, with women earning 65¢ on the male dollar, working full time, full year. Women working in construction trades fare little better. They earn 72¢ on the male dollar. Female electricians earn 79¢ and female plumbers earn 82¢ for every dollar earned by their male peers, working full time, full year.
ln the face of this level of discrimination, it should come as no surprise that most of the women who go on to work in skilled trades are concentrated in female-dominated fields such as food service and the beauty trades. The men who complete registered apprenticeships are concentrated in programs for plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and carpenters. So even within the skilled trades, we see gender segregation very clearly.
The wages in these different skilled trade fields are also very different, with male-dominated occupations paying double the rate of female-dominated occupations in the skilled trades. Let me give you an example. The average full-time wage for a chef or a cook is $29,000 a year. For a hairstylist, it's $22,000 a year. Contrast this to the average full-time wage for a plumber, which is $55,000 a year, or for an electrician, which is $60,000 annually.
Why? Because cooking and hairstyling are still viewed as women's work, and women's work is valued less than men's work.
The persistent and endemic undervaluing of women's work is a problem. It is, I would argue, the most urgent problem facing women in the workforce today.
Earning $22,000 a year is not enough to meet the basic needs of a family—not even close. An average market basket of goods, as determined by Statistics Canada, runs closer to $35,000 a year. A woman who is struggling to pay for food and rent cannot wait for attitudes to shift of their own accord. They cannot afford to leave it to karma. They need change now, and they can have it. There is ample evidence from across Canada and other OECD countries that the wage gap can be narrowed and that women's work can be valued.
Research on narrowing the wage gap is conclusive. The mechanisms that narrow the wage gap are as follows.
Family-friendly policies are the first mechanism. Women's hours of household and care work have not fallen over the past 20 years as their hours of paid work have increased. Today women put in 3.9 hours of unpaid care work a day, compared to 4.2 hours of unpaid care work 20 years ago. Only now, that four hours of work comes on top of a full day of paid work for the majority of women.
This is double the amount of time spent on household and care work as performed by men in Canada. Unless we add more hours to the day, this puts an absolute limit on women's capacity to increase their hours of paid work and to go after those more demanding jobs that require them to work after hours or overtime. Women are five times as likely to take time off from work to look after family members. Without family leave and sick leave policies that address this reality, women are further marginalized within the workforce and see their opportunities for advancement and better pay reduced.
Solution number two is child care. Where affordable child care is readily available, women's labour force participation increases, the wage gap narrows, and the rates of promotion increase as well.
In Quebec, for example, women's labour force participation outstrips that of other provinces. Quebec has one of the smallest wage gaps in the country, second only to P.E.I. Women's employment in Quebec also held steady during the recession, while it dipped in other provinces. I think this makes an important economic point. This demonstrates the stabilizing effect of accessible child care on women's employment, which is all the more important when we see male-dominated sectors dip, such as, for example, the oil industry and construction. If we have women in stable employment, this means that families are better able to weather the storm during times of economic downturn.
Policy number three is regulation and wage-setting institutions. In every age group, in every occupation, at every educational level, the wage gap for women is smaller in the public sector than in the private sector. This is the result of regulation and wage-setting mechanisms, which require employers to track levels of pay and promotion and address gaps where they find them, because you can't fix the problem if you don't know it's there.
Engineers and electricians do not live in a vacuum. They live and work in the same society as everybody else. If we want to support women entering those occupations, we need to put in place proactive measures that are going to level the playing field for all women in Canada, wherever they choose to work.
Some of our high school initiatives.... We do look at high school students, as well. Again, we find there is a decline and, really, a lack of information provided with regard to what an engineer is and what a scientist does. We have high school initiatives called Discover WISE and Women in Research, which have been designed and implemented by CU-WISE, so far exclusively. These focus on highlighting female graduate students and/or professors within the Ottawa field, not necessarily just at Carleton. Whoever will come, we'll take.
It allows a glimpse into the life of a researcher and an engineer—what do they do on a day-to-day basis?—again, really focusing on how this research is implementing real-world changes. Girls and women tend to be driven towards real problems and real solutions that they can actually help with.
Following these TED Talks kinds of lectures, they go to a mentoring social event where they get to interact with graduate and undergraduate students who are part of the WISE family. Again, those are really the peer mentoring and the social support and role models that are being highlighted for them. We answer everything from basic questions such as, “How hard is first-year calculus”, to “I want to be an aerospace engineer; how do I get there?” We try to make sure everything is available for these girls.
Again, for these programs we bring in the teachers and the guidance counsellors. They are extremely important not only in decision-making, in terms of where these girls are going to go, but also in implementing their abilities—“You can totally do first-year calculus; it's not a big deal; don't worry about it”. They're very influential. Again, we're targeting people of power in these girls' lives and hoping they'll influence them in a certain way. This is not just a woman's issue; it's a social issue.
Turning to our campus support for the women in STEM, again, I mentioned that we have social events such as the meet-and-greet and networking events at Carleton. We also have a mentoring program, attracting both undergraduate and graduate students. The mentors range from graduate students to professionals in the field. We try to attract, as much as possible, people from across Ottawa.
Finally, we have a fund for a conference that has been very popular in the last couple of years, which we're very excited about. Not only does it offer money to help pay for conferences, but we also encourage them and send out a weekly newsletter that highlights different tech conferences and sciences conferences that are happening across Canada or internationally, building the confidence in these girls' abilities to not only showcase their skills but also engage with their colleagues, increasing their visibility within the science and technology fields.
Thank you for the question.
The 65¢ is specifically for the oil and gas industry. As I mentioned with, say, construction or engineering, it's different but it is there and it is in the order of 20% to 30% less for those working full time, full year.
In terms of the data that we have, we have very good data on what people earn and we can break that down by occupation, and by using our National Household Survey data by age group and educational level. The data shows it is highly persistent and we see it in female-dominated and male-dominated industries. We see it between men and women in both those industries. We see it across the board. We see it in industries where men and women are relatively equally represented as in trade, where we have relatively equal numbers of men and women. We still see the wage gap.
A host of things are causal factors. One of the most well-documented reasons has to do with the perception by both men and women, both employers and employees, that the reality of women's unpaid work is going to make women less able to do the job that would come with a promotion, so what you see from day one as women are hired, as I think some of the other presenters pointed out, is that the employers are already putting them in less responsible positions, consequently lower-paid positions. I appreciate the lean-in argument, but the data shows that the wage gap is there the second you set foot in the workplace. Then it gets exacerbated. In particular it gets exacerbated by things like maternity leave, and again, this isn't just a matter of women leaning out. This is employers, often out of very good intentions, discounting a woman who has young children from opportunities and writing her off—not putting her into the competition, as it were.
The data is there. It's pretty clear. The good news is that we also have good data on solutions, and those are some of the things I mentioned earlier.
Thank you for the question.
If you look at women's employment and the gaps in levels of employment and levels of pay across the country, Quebec really does very well. I think that a couple of reasons why the gap is narrower—and indeed the employment gap is narrower as well in Quebec—have to do with the host of family policies it has in place. There's evidence not only from the Quebec model but also from a number of studies that looked at countries in Europe that have similar kinds of programs in place.
I've spoken a bit about child care. The evidence is very clear that where child care is both affordable and available, women's labour force increases and the wage gap narrows, so you see greater economic security and greater employment security for women and their families.
With the $7-a-day child care model in Quebec, it is not as available—there are still shortfalls in terms of spaces—but it is certainly the most affordable child care in Canada by far.
The other thing Quebec has in place, which could be expanded across Canada, is not only a more generous maternity leave policy, one that has a lower threshold of hours worked for women to qualify, but also a targeted paternity leave policy. This is particularly important. What we see in Quebec is that, because there is a specific leave allocated only for new fathers, now in Quebec 75% of fathers take leave and they take 5.6 weeks on average. In the rest of Canada it's 25% of fathers, and they take two weeks on average. The paternity leave is exactly five weeks, so there's a clear causal effect.
The knock-on effect of this is particularly important when we're talking about women's access to work and the kinds of informal biases that push them out of promotion and entry into these fields. The paternity leave program is relatively new, but what I can say is that I've looked at the share of sick leave taken by men for family reasons, and it's actually increased since the introduction of paternity leave. What that suggests is that you're seeing a shift in the balance of unpaid work between men and women because those family policies are in place, and that is hugely important.
We were talking about women's promotion in academia. There are studies in Canada and the U.S. that show that when women in academia have children—I was one of those women, so I feel this in my heart—their rates of pay and promotion go down. When men in academia have children, they go up. There are clearly attitudes at work that say that when women have children they're less reliable, less serious, and not committed; and when men have children, we say they're very responsible and committed, and we should pay them more and promote them more.
Having these family policies in place not only addresses the really pragmatic issues of just how women balance their days, but they actually are helping us shift the relationship between parents. They're shifting the burden of unpaid work, and that is going to create a huge shift within the workplace.
Thank you all very much. Every one of you has added something really special to this.
You see people around the table nodding because we've all had many of these experiences. I actually found the study very uplifting. A lot of us have been through many of these challenges, but we're also getting further ahead. With every discussion we have each year, and with every study we do, this seems to be a little bit more in the forefront. The news is a bit better.
When you were talking, Suzanne, I was thinking about how in Alberta we don't have so many of the problems of getting women into these skilled trades and higher jobs, because there's such a desperate shortage of work for us. Although the male culture may dominate, if they don't have a woman driving those big, huge trucks in Fort McMurray....
Incidentally, they now drive by far the majority. I think it's over 80%, and their driving records are also way better than the men's.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Ms. Joan Crockatt: They're highly sought after; otherwise, they might get somebody coming in who doesn't even have the same language or cultural background, which can be more difficult to integrate. They're actually being welcomed in the workplace.
One thing we are looking at is that in my own industry, for example, the newspaper industry, we had a real problem trying to get women editors until circulation started to decline and they started getting good tracking. They found out that women were big consumers, and that's who advertisers wanted to put the advertising in the paper for, to get those eyeballs. Suddenly we had a big push to integrate women.
You guys are all in scientific fields. What you do is based on evidence. We've heard some of this evidence about women increasing the returns on boards and maybe increasing sales. I'm wondering if anybody has any new research.
You know, I think we're far better to make a moral case that women will actually improve outcomes if you can get them in the workplace rather than trying to push people in—you should because you should.
I'll throw that out there, but Suzanne, do you want to start?
Sure. We have Status of Women funding for—and it's ridiculous that I don't have the exact numbers at my fingertips—a three-year program, I believe. It's a substantial piece of funding. What we are doing is creating a mentorship network. There are two broad components to it. One is creating a site that I'd describe as having sort of a little bit LinkedIn, a little bit Facebook, and an awful lot of what I've described as “SCWIST love” in it. It's an online place where men and women can sign up to have conversations around skills.
The notion we started out with was to have mentors connected to mentees. We realized that is actually not what people wanted. People wanted to be both mentors and mentees. Having that unidirectional passing of wisdom was not what people wanted. What they wanted to do was to share skills. The website, which is up now at makepossible.ca, is an opportunity for people to sign on, choose their skills—skills they have, skills they want—and connect with others around skills they want to share with each other. I'm biased, but I think it's beautiful. It has a pretty darn good population on it already, considering that it just went into beta within the last few months. It's a brand new website. There was an awful lot of work done on the front end, trying to figure out what people wanted that would be different from what already exists and challenging some of our own assumptions, like the mentor-mentee relationship, challenging our own assumptions about what was required.
I think this is another thing that was a little bit of a surprise. The other part of that funding has supported a number of face-to-face workshops and workshop series. We have an HR inclusion workshop coming up to talk about HR professionals, about ways to combat bias, really high-quality stuff that's brought to us by the WinSETT Centre. We're working with it. Because we are able to do these sort of face-to-face mini-conference or workshop opportunities, it's a way to actually build capacity in terms of mentorship, having conversations about women in diverse fields, or gender diversity in various fields, I guess, in general. So the other piece of it is the face-to-face component.
Given how many mentorship programs there are, and how many girls in science and girls in tech programs there are—so many of them—the long span of the program and the substance of it, has allowed us to partner with other groups and to really figure out who those partnerships are. WWEST, west coast women in engineering, science, and technology, the local NSERC chair in women in science and engineering.... We've been able to pull all those groups together and collaborate on projects. The data sheets that I keep flipping to are a co-production with WWEST. The workshops are a co-production with the people at WinSETT. The SCWIST outreach programs are plugged into Make Possible. We have a networking evening, a huge one, for undergraduate women, and it's plugged into the Make Possible network as well. That's what the funding has allowed us to do: integrate locally. It would be awesome if we could integrate in a larger way. I think we'd be able to share best practices a lot better.
I'm in favour of infrastructure spending and always happy to see more investments in infrastructure and in public transit, which women depend on very heavily in our major cities.
I think in terms of job creation, we need to recognize that infrastructure spending is going to stimulate jobs in male-dominated professions. So if we're looking at job creation this year, if the job creation is happening in construction, as it is—and women make up 20% of that field—then the job creation is mostly going to go to men, which is fine; but what we need to see is a kind of parallel investment in job creation particularly in industries where women work, where the wage gap is smaller, and where the pay is better.
For example, if you invest heavily in infrastructure and in resources in manufacturing, as we've seen in Alberta, for example, you see also that there isn't a kind of a parallel investment, at least not on the same scale, in health and education where women tend to work and to experience less of a wage gap. It's not that women aren't working there. It's just that they are working in service and hospitality industries where they are making much lower wages, and they are much more likely to have temporary work, so they are in a less economically stable position.
I wanted to come back a little bit to the opening up of student loans, which is fantastic, of course, but I think one note of caution is that because of the wage gap, there is clear evidence that women take longer to pay off their student loans. That means the cumulative interest they pay is greater. Essentially the wage gap means that, when women take out loans, they are paying an additional tax on their education because it takes them longer because of the wage gap.
The loans are excellent. I would never say anything bad about them. It's fantastic. But I would say it would also be useful to think about grants and bursaries targeting women, because those grants and bursaries aren't going to come with the same tax that women bear because of the wage gap at the other end, when they are having to pay that back with a lower salary, with a lower offer of $60,000 instead of $89,000.
Within the trades I think simply because it's on the shop floor and you're out in the field. If you work for a hydro company you're in the middle of nowhere, so there are a lot of considerations around what that looks like as far as hostile goes.
We've had women who have said things that range from they're treated like their daughter, their sister, their niece, or whichever, and the men are very comforting, saying, “There, there, dear, it's all going to be good and fine.” That isn't necessarily seen as hostile, but it's a barrier that's a problem. We're talking about strong women who want to be in manufacturing, in the non-traditional trades. They're humping around wherever, and it's, “Oh please, dear, let me help”, that sort of thing. In those situations it's very much around trying to work with.... It's dangerous. To “educate” men is always scary because that's exactly what they're scared of—“Oh, we have to behave differently because you're a woman, and women want to come in, and that's all too much hard work.”
We run a focus group with men so it's about trying to change that integrally, and I think my colleagues here alluded to the same things. It's about educating men and educating women on how to interact with men. Let's admit that there's a two-way thing here. From a hostility point of view I think it's really about education. It's about supports and it's very much about reporting safely. Women ask, “If something is done what are the repercussions if I report that? Do I lose my job? Do I get scared? Do I get more hostility because it's a guy I'm reporting to?”
In Manitoba Hydro they have a woman HR representative dedicated to their women in the field, out wherever. They have a website for their women so that women have somebody designated at head office to be able to report issues to and she deals with that on their behalf. So that's a really good, promising practice there.