What’s Changed and What Hasn’t for Canadian Women in the Workplace?

This article captures the independent research study of one of our current students and soon to be alumni – Ashton Paulitsch! She found this experience to be one of the best in the MBA program and similarly encourages other students to think outside of the courses offered to build their own learning opportunities. Here is her perspective working on Canada’s Best Employers for Women research project! 

When I first heard about the Canada’s Best Employers for Women research project, I knew I had to get involved. Not only would I receive MBA course credit for this independent research study, but I’d be mentored by the author of Canada’s Best Employers for Women, Alberta School of Business alumna Tema Frank, as well Dr. Jennifer Jennings, a celebrated entrepreneurship researcher and Alberta School of Business professor.

Growing up, my mother told me I could have anything I want in life, but just not at the same time. As I reflect back on my mother’s words, I can’t help but think that a young man may not have received the same advice about having to juggle the timing of your life ambitions. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to enter the full time Fast Track MBA program this year is because I am 26 years old and unfortunately, women like myself have to plan their career and family life accordingly—or so I thought.

My first month of the MBA program was incredibly enlightening. In my class alone, there were two women who had children under the age of three. They brought their children to group meetings, class socials and even case competition practices. I became friends with both of these women and thanked them for showing us that women can indeed excel in both their personal and professional lives. Their response was that they didn’t require any displays of gratitude. Rather, they said that in order for women to advance in the workplace, we’d have to support each other every step of the way. One small contribution I could make to this effort was to conduct secondary research for Canada’s Best Employers for Women and bring awareness to the inequity that still exists between men and women in the workplace.

In starting this research project, I read the original Canada’s Best Employers for Women book by Tema Frank and couldn’t believe how different the Canadian employment landscape was in the 1990s. I was merely a child back then and didn’t know how short maternity leaves were or that very few men worked part time or took paternal leave. I went into the secondary data collection phase thinking that the current status of Canadian women’s employment must be miles ahead of where we were back then. I guess I was optimistic because I hadn’t experienced a lot of workplace inequity in my career thus far, as I’ve worked mainly in the female-dominated non-profit sector.

In the secondary research phase, I was disillusioned to discover that not much has changed for Canadian women in the workplace. I read numerous recently published articles about how the wage gap isn’t closing fast enough, but my own research comparing the previous book from 1993 to now further confirmed that employment equity progress in Canada is slow. Another unexpected finding was that the overall number of full time employees for many of these Canadian organizations had sharply declined. Reasons for this could be attributed to mergers and acquisitions, which was a common finding in my research, or that the rapid advancement of technology was unfortunately replacing human workers. Another alarming finding was that women tended to be pooled in the bottom income quartiles for nearly every job category.

Take VIA Rail for instance. Their 2013 workforce equity report shows that the number of full time employees in 2013 was nearly half that of the 1993 figure. Although there were nearly 10% more women in full time roles at VIA Rail in 2013, a closer look at the data shows that there were 9% less females in senior manager roles in 2013 versus 1993 and 4% fewer women in middle or other manager roles. Another example is the Bank of Montreal. There were 12% less women in full time roles in 2013 than in 1993; however, there has been an increase of 24% women in senior manager roles since 1993.

Although the progress for women in Canadian workplaces hasn’t been as monumental as I expected, there are still some glimmers of hope. For example, the employment equity results from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation really stood out to me. According to their 2013 employment equity report, 46% of full time employees were women. As well, women in 2013 comprised 50% of the senior manager roles in the company, a sizeable increase from just 14% in 1993.

Canada’s Best Employers for Women aims to recognize employers who are advancing women’s success in the workplace. There are many best employers lists in North America, so how does the methodology or audience of Canada’s Best Employers for Women differ? First, it is free to participate in the Canada’s Best Employers for Women employer survey and all Canadian organizations with more than 50 employees are encouraged to apply. This means that workplaces of various sizes and types, including corporations, non-profits and governments, can be considered for inclusion in the list. Believe it or not, some of the other best employer lists I found had entry fees ranging from a few hundred dollars to over one thousand dollars! I appreciated how Canada’s Best Employers for Women author Tema Frank wanted to hear from the best of the best, not just employers who could afford it. Second, the list selection process doesn’t solely rely on employer-submitted information. Once shortlisted employers are chosen, on-site focus groups are arranged with female employees to uncover their perceptions too. This two-pronged approach helps to remove some bias and gives a well-rounded view of the organization. Lastly, the second Canada’s Best Employers for Women book has the benefit of being able to compare data from the first book to show what’s changed and what hasn’t for women’s employment in Canada over the last 20-plus years, which will definitely capture the interest of audiences across the country.

So far, everyone I’ve talked to is very interested in the second Canada’s Best Employers for Women book and I’ve been so proud to mention my involvement in this important research project. Tema Frank was an excellent mentor, giving constant feedback and support. I am so inspired by her entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to making an impact for women in business. I’m also grateful to Dr. Jennings for giving me the learning opportunity of a lifetime. Dr. Jennings’ own research on women entrepreneurs is world renowned and I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive faculty advisor and researcher role model. This independent research study was truly one of the highlights of my entire MBA experience.

I jumped at the opportunity to be part of Canada’s Best Employers for Women with the sincere hope that by the time I have daughters and granddaughters, a book like this won’t need to be written again. I wholeheartedly believe that Canada’s Best Employers for Women will inspire the current generation of Canadian working women to take action to ensure that the next generation won’t know what employment equity is. To learn more about the project, please visit www.facebook.com/bestemployersforwomen.

Ashton Paulitsch is a fast-track Alberta MBA Candidate ’16 with a specialization in sustainability and a background in marketing and communications. 

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