women in the canadian workplace   


Women in the Canadian Workplace

Canadian women have played an increasingly important role in the fabric of Canadian workplaces. Today, women make up almost 50% of the workforce and in some provinces have a much lower rate of unemployment over men. Women are more educated, they are more likely to be working multiple jobs and yet they are still earning less money than men.

Since 1976 there has been a great deal of growth in women’s labour force participation. In 1976, 47% of women 20 to 64 years of age who were either married or living in a commonlaw relationship participated in the labour market. By 2009, the corresponding percentage had risen to 76%.

What hasn’t seen as great an increase is the role that women play in boardroom, executive level positions or the c-suite as it is known. Currently, women hold only an estimated 0.32 per cent of senior management roles. Canada is by no means alone in this sad fact.

The World Economic Forum produces an annual Global Gender Gap study, where it studies four key pillars of female equality. Those four being educational attainment, economic participation (labour), political influence and overall health – all of which are weighted and judged to produce a ranking.

Canada sits 21st on this list, behind countries like Iceland, Norway, Nicaragua as well as Cuba and the UK.3

For executive engagement, one study suggests that Norway leads the world with 35% of non-executive women directors. This may be because Norway passed a law ordering that at least 40% of boardroom seats be held by women.
Women continue to face the same gendered stereotyping that has been perpetrated for the past century, women are still paid less than men and our own study has found that women find that the fact they may go on maternity leave is hindering their career progression.

The news isn’t all bad though, for the first time in history Canada has six female premieres; with Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, Quebec’s Pauline Marois, British Columbia’s Christy Clark, Alberta’s Alison Redford, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Kathy Dunderdale and Nunavut’s Eva Aariak.

Also notable is Canada’s Supreme Court, as it holds three female jurists, including its Chief Justice, Beverly McLachlin.

Provincial Snapshot

British Columbia

Women currently make up 47% of BC’s workforce, with an unemployment rate of 5.8%.
In BC since 1991, women have represented an increase in almost all managerial occupations, especially in fields like public administration where they hold over half (51% of the positions. Other fields the increases have been slower such as government and senior management officials who have only seen an increase of 14% from 91 to 2006 (27% to 41% occupation).


In Alberta, women make have a very low unemployment rate of 4.7%, unfortunately there is still a large average wage gap of an average of $6.04 per hour. The difference in the average hourly wage between men and women was the smallest in Health Care and Social Assistance, at $0.69; and the highest in Professional Scientific & Technical Services, at $10.34.


Saskatchewan too has a low rate of female unemployment at 4.9%, Saskatchewan is a prime example of the rapid expansion of female employment in the past three decades, with over 100,000 additional women becoming employed. An interesting point of difference here is that women were more likely to be multiple job holders, with 9.5% of women working more than one job while only 7.0% of men did the same.


As with the other western provinces, Manitoba has a relatively low female unemployment rate of 5.4%. Manitoba has one of the highest rates of provincial female elected representatives in the country with 28% of the members of Manitoba’s legislative assembly being women. Women also make up 44% of the province’s senior management roles in the public service.


Ontario has one of the highest rates of female unemployment with 7.3%, but this is representative of the whole of Ontario, with women faring better than men who’s employment rate is at 8.2%. This may be in part be due to a rise in female ownership of small and medium sized enterprises (SME), with an increase of 18% since 1996. In Canada it is estimated that women make up 47% of SME ownership to one degree or another.


Quebec’s female unemployment rate is similar to Ontario’s, with 7.0% of women and 8.5% of men being unemployed. This difference may be because of Quebec’s success Child Care benefit program that reduces the cost of daycare programs to $7 a day per child. It has been estimated that this alone by 2008 added about 70,000 more women with young children to the workforce, or a 3.8% increase.

Nova Scotia

Of the Atlantic provinces, Nova Scotia has the lowest rate of female unemployment with 7.8% of the provinces women working. While employment is relatively high the incomes in rural Nova Scotia are among the lowest in Canada with 14% of men and 24% of women who worked full time the entire year earned less than $20,000.

New Brunswick

New Brunswick has one of the greatest disparities between men and women unemployment, but not in the way you’d expect. Of the province’s population 8.3% of women are unemployed, while 12.1% of men are without jobs. Women’s participation in the work force has increased a great deal over the past 30 years, while men’s participation has declined. In 2011, 59% of New Brunswick females 15 years and over were employed or seeking employment, up from 39% in 1976.


Like New Brunswick PEI has strong difference in male and female unemployment 9.7% of women and 12.9% of men are unemployed. This may be buoyed by the fact much of the male population performs seasonal labour. PEI’s women work fewer hours per week than men, averaging 36.5 hours, compared to men’s 45.5 hours.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rate of female unemployment in the country at 11%. While women make up 50% of the total workforce in the province, in some sectors that number is staggeringly low, such as the trades, transportation and heavy equipment operations where women only make up 7% of those employed.

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