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Though women and girls make up more than half of Canada’s population, they’re underrepresented when it comes to leadership in business, politics, science and other areas. And that discrepancy costs all of us, regardless of gender.

TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT

Let’s look at government, for starters. Only 91 of the 337 seats in Canada’s House of Commons were filled by women in the last election, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. That works out to some 27 per cent of the seats. Yet there’s evidence that lack of elected representation trickles down into all areas, including laws that affect the lives of women and girls, but also those of boys and men. How? More voices offer a wider range of perspectives, which leads to better solutions for everyone.

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Having a greater number of women in politics will also encourage more girls to pursue all types of big dreams, as they’ll have role models. Authors of an article published in the journal Science noted proof of this – in India. A law was introduced there in 1993 that mandated a certain percentage of women on some village councils. After just two elections in those villages, the aspiration gender gap (meaning, the difference between each gender group’s hopes and expectations) closed by nearly a third.

LEAVING MONEY ON THE TABLE

In the corporate world, there is a major gap when it comes to gender and leadership roles in Canada, according to this McKinsey Global Institute report released in 2017. Their survey of 69 Canadian companies representing more than 500,000 employees revealed only 25 per cent of vice-presidents and 15 per cent of CEOs are women, whereas some 45 per cent of all entry-level employees are women. Not too surprising? Consider this: McKinsey also found that moving the needle on gender equality in the Canadian workplace would have major financial benefits, adding $150-billion to the total value of goods and services produced in our country by 2026.

BARRIERS TO CHANGE

So, what stops women from reaching the top? It’s a combination of both conscious and unconscious bias against women and girls, who are given signals throughout their lives that they don’t measure up to their male counterparts – for example, when girls are called “bossy” for the same behaviour lauded in boys as “assertive.” As diversity advocate Verna Myers says, “Biases are the stories we make up about people before we know who they actually are.” So, having more women in leadership roles will help counter that.

But there are also structural roadblocks. For example, women who have children may be held back from the workforce because the cost of child care is too high. In Canada, child care costs are a whopping 32 per cent of a Canadian family’s net income, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. That creates a barrier to entry during the child-rearing years, when many people are advancing their careers.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Lisa Lisson, president of FedEx Canada, says companies can create leadership opportunities for women.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

1. Read this opinion piece written for CBC by Lisa Lisson, FedEx Canada’s first female president, about how companies can create leadership opportunities for women. She says: “Companies need to formalize the process of sponsorship by rewarding senior management for identifying top talent and ensuring they have the opportunity to work on key projects. One initiative I’ve personally undertaken is to choose an up-and-comer to serve as my strategic adviser for two years.”

  • Which qualities come to mind when you think of a leader? Are those qualities biased toward one gender or another? 
  • What does Ms. Lisson mean by sponsorship versus mentorship? Why might one be more effective than the other in terms of increasing the number of women leaders?

2. Ever heard of “vocal fry?” Read this article and then discuss:

  • Are there aspects of society that are set up in a way that tells men and boys the way they do things is the “right” way?

What can we do to reduce gender bias at school and work? Is there anything we are already doing that has helped to effect change?

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Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

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