Today, the Government of Ontario announced the creation of Ontario’s Task Force on Women and the Economy. Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance, and Jane McKenna, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, announced the new Task Force with the Chair, Dr. Karin Schnarr. The purpose of this Task Force is to focus on “inclusive economic growth that will seek to address the unique and disproportionate economic barriers women face,” specifically in the post-COVID economy.
The Task Force will meet throughout the summer of 2021 and consider three areas of focus relating to women’s participation in economic growth:
- Supporting women as they enter and re-enter the workforce;
- Supporting women’s entrepreneurship; and
- Removing barriers for women to enter fields in which they are underrepresented, including the skilled trades and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
“As the Chair of OSPE’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, I am very happy to see that the government is taking steps in ensuring an inclusive economic recovery. We have been avid advocates of building a diverse and inclusive engineering sector across Canada. We have seen incremental progress made across industry, academia, and government, that is now being threatened by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the labour force participation of some segments of the population. This will not only impact the progress made towards a more equitable sector but also the future success of our economy.” – Angela Wojtyla, P.Eng., Chair, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.
We know that diversity and inclusion is tied to greater creativity, innovation, and productivity. As the world transitions into a new normal, Ontario cannot afford to fall behind, but must rather lead. To achieve this, it is imperative that we focus on attracting and retaining diverse talent back into the labour force.
Through this Task Force, we urge the government to implement policies that encourage the participation of under-represented groups in the labour market by:
Addressing the wage gap.
OSPE’s census analysis revealed that the wage gap between men and women working in engineering was 12% or $11,000 annually. Ontario has introduced robust legislation intended to tackle the gender wage gap through the Pay Equity Act, however, there is an insufficient accountability mechanism within this legislative tool. Further, the wage gap for other under-represented groups should also be assessed and mechanisms similar to those developed for gender, be introduced. The government must create accountable and enforceable tools to truly address this issue.
Reducing the burden of unpaid care.
Research shows that caregivers continue to face the brunt of responsibilities in Canadian homes and has been cited as one reason for women leaving the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since women’s inclusion in the workforce began during the last century, caregiving responsibilities now impacts all professionals regardless of gender – including engineering graduates and engineers – limiting career progression. Investing in access to affordable and quality childcare and eldercare could be an important factor in determining the participation, attachment, and retention of professionals in the labour market. Specifically, as the population of senior citizens is expected to double to 4.5 million in Canada by 2041, it is important that the government implement programs to support all caregivers.
Investing in robust labour market analysis.
In a data driven economy it is imperative that the provincial government continue to make investments in data collection, analysis, and evaluation. For the STEM sectors, most data pertaining to the unique experiences of equity seeking groups in the Canadian labour market focuses on gender. This remains consistent during the current crisis. It is therefore important to expand labour market analysis to be more inclusive and to ensure that reliable data is available to inform both private and public sector responses to the barriers impacting all underrepresented groups in engineering and other STEM professions.
Encouraging diverse and inclusive workplace practices.
Organizations must demonstrate a real commitment to diversity and inclusion through their workplace practices to access public funding. A revision of current funding frameworks to include specific measurable requirements for organizations seeking to access public funding should be included to ensure accountability. We encourage the government to look at workplace policies and practices, representation, commitment to inclusive design and/or diverse supply chains when determining eligibility.
We look forward to the work of this Task Force and to continuing to provide expertise and feedback to the Ontario Government to ensure a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive future for all.