Editorial: Looking back — and ahead — in an unprecedented year

I am woman. Hear me roar. It may seem a rather cliched way to open my first editorial for Benefits Canada, but it’s no exaggeration to say 2018 has been a watershed year for bringing attention to gender equality and diversity on a global scale. And whether we’re whispering, shouting or roaring, I believe we all have a duty to future generations to share our experiences and make our voices heard.

A few years ago, while working at a British pension and benefits magazine, I took a coffee meeting with a leading voice in the industry. I was training a new junior reporter at the time, so I brought him along to teach him about networking. Despite my years in the industry, the older, male executive didn’t address me or make eye contact with me for the whole hour, instead talking over me to my junior, a young man straight out of journalism school with just a few weeks of experience under his belt.

Read: Gender inequality in the workplace, retirement addressed in budget

I knew it wasn’t personal. The man worked in a male-dominated industry where outdated gender stereotypes were, and still are, very much alive. Years later, looking broadly at the Canadian workforce today, these same stereotypes are quantified in the following figures: for every dollar of hourly pay earned by a man working full time, a woman working full time earns about 88 cents; while women represented nearly half of the Canadian workforce in 2016, just a quarter of senior managers in the private sector were women; and just seven of the 249 companies listed on the S&P/TSX composite index in 2017 had a female chief executive officer.

It’s time for a fundamental change.

Fortunately, the federal government is warming up for the challenge. In its 2018 budget, it signalled its intention to focus on gender equality in the workplace. First, it will bring in pay equity legislation for federally regulated workplaces, representing some 1.2 million Canadian employees. The feds will draw on experience already gained in Ontario and Quebec, ensuring women and men receive the same pay for equal work.

Read: Canada’s gender pay gap could close by 2035: study

It’s a step in the right direction.

But while the idea of the gender pay gap sounds simple enough, fixing it is not at all straightforward. One of its root causes, for instance, lies in the difficulty of balancing work and family life, including the caregiving responsibilities that more often fall to women. Whether or not it’s actually acknowledged, taking time out of the workplace to raise children, or amending working hours to care for an aging parent, can hinder the progress of a woman’s career.

With an eye to this reality, the federal budget also introduced a new employment insurance parental sharing benefit, aimed at helping balance the caring responsibilities at home and providing women with the option to return to work sooner. The new benefit, which is expected to be available in June 2019, includes additional weeks of “use it or lose it” EI benefits when both parents agree to share the leave.

It’s an innovative idea that furthers the conversation.

Read: Budget offers details on new five-week leave for second parent

The government is also recognizing that barriers to women’s participation in the workplace are complex and slow to change. With that in mind, the feds are hosting a major symposium on women and the workplace in the spring of 2019.

Benefits Canada is getting there a bit sooner. Along with our parent company, TC Media Inc., we’re hosting our inaugural Women in the Financial Industry conference on Sept. 28, 2018. The event, which will bring together some of the leading lights of Canada’s financial industry to share their experiences, will also be a networking opportunity for women across the sector.

Tied in to that event, this month’s cover story takes a look at trailblazing women in the pension and benefits industry, exploring their career paths, and delving into their experiences and challenges on the way to the top of their fields. Many cited mentorship and sponsorship, particularly from other women, as key stepping stones in this journey. I feel very hopeful about the future knowing these women have each other’s backs.

Read: Women in Canada’s pension and benefits industry discuss career paths, pay equity and mentorship

And I hope to play my own part, as well, by telling more of these inspiring stories and highlighting more of these resounding voices in the magazine as I take over the helm.

Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.