Past Yellen and Lagarde, women still have a long way to go

Posted on in Equality Debates – From paycheques to career opportunities, big gaps remain between the sexes.
Dec 06 2013.   David Olive

The second wave of feminism, succeeding a first wave that won women the right to vote, marks its 50th anniversary this year. The 1963 publication ofThe Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan triggered one of history’s greatest advances in civility.

In describing the widespread angst of university-educated homemakers for whom there was no place in the “man’s world” of decision-making in business, the professions, government and almost everywhere outside the grocery aisle, “The Feminine Mystiquewas like an earthquake,” writes Gail Collins in her superb history of second-wave feminism, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (2009).

Given the near-hibernation of the women’s movement in the past several decades, is it fair to say that Friedan and her thousands of determined collaborators in communities across North America succeeded in their goal of gender equality of opportunity?

Today, the world’s two major economic institutions — the International Monetary Fund (Christine Lagarde) and the U.S. Federal Reserve Board (Janet Yellen) — are headed by women, an unthinkable turn of events in 1963.

Angela Merkel, head of the world’s fourth-largest economy, is giving Otto von Bismarck, founder of the modern Germany, a run for the title of that country’s greatest chancellor as she spearheads the rescue of a Europe stricken by economic crisis. Closer to home, women premiers oversee 88 per cent of Canada’s population and more than 90 per cent of Canadian GDP.

But that progress has not migrated to federal politics, where women account for just under one-quarter of MPs in a country that has yet to elect a woman prime minister.

And women today head very few large Canadian companies that aren’t branch plants of foreign enterprises (a post that equates with plant manager).

The oddity of that is all the more pronounced given the obvious competence of Linda Hasenfratz at the multi-billion-dollar multinational auto-parts maker Linamar Inc. of Guelph, Ont. CEO Monique Leroux has expanded Quebec-based Desjardins Group into the biggest credit-union association on the continent.

Moya Greene’s track record of eking out profits in the Internet Age at Canada Post Corp. saw her poached to run the 497-year-old Royal Mail PLC. And at the former Toronto Stock Exchange — one of Canada’s ultimate old boys’ clubs — then-CEO Barbara Stymiest unified Canada’s equity markets into a TSX Group Inc. so successful it has had to resist takeover blandishments from Nasdaq and the London Stock Exchange.

The story is the same in the U.S., where it took an ailing Xerox Corp.’s first woman CEO, Anne Mulcahy, to finally rescue that company after two decades of flirtation with market irrelevance and insolvency. Yet fewer than a dozen Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

A sense of accomplishment in gender equality has so thoroughly settled over men and women outside Scandinavia that you’d think genuine equality had actually been achieved. Which requires one to be unaware of certain facts:

  • Canada ranks a dismal 20th among the best countries to be a woman, based on equality gaps in the four core factors of economics, health, education and political participation. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) latest, 2013, report on global gender equality, Canadian women lag their counterparts in Iceland (1), New Zealand (7), the Netherlands (13), Germany (14) and Britain (18). Arguably worse, Canada’s ranking in gender equality has fallen, from a peak of 14th in 2006, the first year the Davos, Switzerland-based WEF surveyed gender gaps in 133 countries.
  • The pace of closing the gender gap has been so incredibly slow that, by the estimate of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in an April 2013 report, it would take Canadian women 228 years to catch up with men on those four core factors. “I won’t be alive to see it close and neither will my children or my grandchildren,” says CCPA researcher Kate McInturff, author of the report. In political participation, the gender gap will close in 392 years, or in 2404, at the current rate of progress.
  • According to the U.S. National Women’s Law Center, a typical full-time working woman is made to forfeit $443,360 over 40 years due to women still earning, on average, just 71 cents for every dollar paid men for work of equal value. To close that gap, a woman would have to work 12 years longer than her male counterpart at the same job.

A 2005 report by the Royal Bank of Canada estimated that the gender gap in pay represents $126 billion in lost income for Canadian women. Given inflation and compensation increases in the eight years since, that figure would be much higher today.

  • The gender gap is actually higher for women with university or college degrees than high school diplomas, according to both the CCPA calculations and a report this month by Catalyst Canada, the advocacy group that has long championed women’s advancement in business. Catalyst calculates that women MBAs earn roughly 10 per cent less than male counterparts in their first job out of school, a gap that widens thereafter. “If this was an isolated thing, if there’s just a salary gap right out of school, that’s one thing,” Catalyst executive director Alex Johnston told Star reporter Dana Flavelleearlier this week. “But it’s the first of many gaps we find over time” in salary, promotion, who gets the highest-profile corporate assignments, and international postings.

This is a moral issue, of course. But practically, it has been and continues to be a drag on human progress to deny half the population full participation in society. It’s like recruiting a hockey team and then permanently benching half the players the entire season.

The second wave of feminism went out quietly, on the public assumption that the giant progress achieved was sufficient, and would build on itself thereafter.

It hasn’t.

Before the passion went out of it, the second wave of feminism was at times strident and off-putting to both men and women. But the point of it was simple fairness, akin to the Reform Party’s founding motto that “The West wants in.” In that sense, everyone’s a feminist who sees our prosperity tied to exploiting the gifts of all those who possess them, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity and so on.

At a minimum, our continued gender discrimination shows a profound lack of respect, arguably the core value of Canadians. Which is why Rebecca West, the British writer, still has for me the best working definition of feminism: “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

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This entry was posted on Saturday, December 7th, 2013 at 8:39 pm and is filed under Equality Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Past Yellen and Lagarde, women still have a long way to go”

  1. Nice to see the collection here.


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