Earlier this month, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives made national headlines when they released their annual report "The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada 2015."
This provocative report ranks Canada's 25 largest cities on the following five criteria: Economic Security, Education, Leadership, Health, and Personal Security.
Based on the CCPA methodology, the cities of Victoria (BC), Gatineau (QC) and Quebec City (QC) topped the list, with London (ON) being the highest ranking city in this province. In fact, cities in Quebec (with provincially-subsidized daycare and other generous family-friendly government policies) and cities elsewhere with high numbers of federal/provincial government workers did disproportionately well. This seems to suggest that women lucky enough to receive government-granted salaries or benefits have a distinct advantage over those who do not.
The fact that Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo (KCW) ranked dead last, suggesting that the region is the worst place in Canada for women to live and work, is a surprising result for us at Clear Path, an HR firm primarily staffed by women and based in that region.
Our reaction is more than sour grapes. KCW enjoys employment level and wage levels that are "significantly higher" than the national average. The area has an abundance of educational opportunities with two local universities and a community college, has a higher life expectancy than both the national and provincial average, and enjoys a crime rate significantly below the national average. There is definitely room for improvement in the current level of female representation in municipal politics (though both Cambridge and Waterloo have had female mayors for approximately 60% of the past 40 years).
Considering all this, we wanted to take a deeper look at the report's findings and the elements they used to create their rankings. As an HR firm, we also wanted to take a look at what it means to be the best (and worst) place for women and discover what business owners can do to make their workplaces a positive environment for their female team members. Here are some of our concerns and thoughts about the report's findings:
Why focus on the variance between women and men rather than actual outcomes?
The report's authors state they are focused "primarily on the gap between men and women, rather than their overall levels of well-being" in any of the five criteria. They did so "in order to measure the difference in access women and men have to the public goods available in their community, not the overall wealth of a community." But such an approach leads to some pretty dubious results.
For example, London, with the 2nd highest poverty level of all the 25 cities measured -- along with employment levels and wage levels below the national average -- is ranked 2nd highest for economic security for women due to the fact that men are even worse off in that city [with 20% of women vs. 22% of men living below the Low Income Measure].
Contrast that with KCW where employment and wage levels are "significantly higher" than the national average and poverty rates are only 11% for men and 16.5% for women, yet it places 21st out of 25 in the economic security category. Concern that the rate of poverty for women is much higher than men's is legitimate and deserves further attention, but suggesting that women are better off being in poorer communities like London seems questionable.
An HR perspective: The best way to improve the economic security of women in any community is to increase the number of people earning good incomes in permanent positions at companies that are thriving. Recent high profile company closures (Kellogg's, Heinz, Target, Caterpillar) along with significant downsizing and restructuring (Blackberry) have been devastating to many communities and resulted in economic insecurity for both men and women. Gaining an enterprise-wide commitment to innovation and profitability while balancing the needs of your workforce is key.
Wage gap should be a bigger focus:
The wage disparity between women and men across Canada is a serious issue that deserves more attention. Recent studies reveal Canada is falling behind other western countries on this measure and a recent high profile case at McMaster University revealed that female faculty made an average of $3,500 less than their male counterparts even after seniority, tenure, faculty and age were taken into account.
The fact that women working full-time in KCW earn only 69% of men's incomes is disturbing and falls well below the provincial average of 74%. Some of that gap may be explained by high numbers of people employed in the male-dominated technology industry. Other cities with large high-paying, male-dominated sectors like construction and oil & gas face similar wage gaps. Efforts to get more women into these sectors may eventually close the wage gap, but are currently not making much of a dent.
The report admits that high-ranking places like London and Victoria have a lower wage gap due to the fact that men's wages are below average, not necessarily because women are earning equitable wages.
It is worth noting that cities with high numbers of public sector workers (such as Gatineau, Ottawa, Quebec City, Victoria) have the lowest wage gaps. In particular, women in Ottawa and Gatineau earn 87% of what men earn. The public sector unions have made tremendous efforts to create transparent wage setting practices and achieve gender equality during the promotion process.
An HR perspective: It may not be economically feasible for most private sector organizations to match the wage levels and significant benefits/perks associated with public sector positions, but why not model their wage setting and equity practices? Being more transparent and increasing diversity in senior management positions will have a positive impact for all - but particularly for your female team members.
Health rankings should be based on better data:
Rankings in the Health category are disproportionately based upon self-reported Stats Canada survey data rather than measurable factors like life expectancy or even access to a family physician. Again, the rankings emphasize the variance between women's and men's responses on two questions: "Would you rate your health as very good or excellent?" and "Do you perceive that you have a high level of stress in your life?"
Those who work with statistics argue that self-reporting, subjective data often leads to widely unreliable results and that looking at small areas of geography (where the sample size might be quite small) rather than national/provincial results will lead to varying accuracy.
It is perhaps unsurprising that women are more likely to rate themselves as having a high level of stress than men (23.7% vs. 22.3% nationally). This is one area where the city of Gatineau did poorly, with 31% of women vs. 15% of men rating themselves as highly stressed. KCW came in at 25% for women vs. 18% for men. It may be interesting to discover why there are such widely varying results, but the current lack of quality data makes that impossible.
An HR perspective: To truly encourage healthy outcomes for women, workplaces should take explicit steps to promote employee wellness, such as subsidizing gym memberships, hosting wellness sessions on different health-related topics, creating ergonomic workplaces, offering a sufficient paid sick days, and ensuring access to EAP programs. To tackle some of the specific stress-inducing factors that impact women, investigate family-friendly options like flexible work hours and on-site daycare if possible.
Education rankings too focused on trades training:
Even though KCW benefits from multiple local post-secondary institutions, there is less than a 1% gap in the percentage of women and men who have a university degree, and that female college graduates outpace their male counterparts 21% to 17%, KCW still ranked second last in the Education category.
This poor showing seems to be primarily due to the fact that men are more likely to have completed trades training or an apprenticeship (10% of men vs. 4% of women). It is encouraging to see that Conestoga College and local high schools are making a concerted effort to get women into the trades, but achieving parity in the near future may be a challenge. Ranking such a pro-education community so poorly based on this narrow measure seems inaccurate.
An HR perspective: Creating an environment of constant learning for your employees is critical for today's successful businesses. Helping employees develop new skills, including subsidizing the cost of tuition for those willing to take additional courses. Encouraging your female employees to expand their skill sets and become qualified for positions in management or typically male-dominated fields (like technology, construction, oil & gas) will truly make your business a great place for women to work.
We applaud any effort to examine the successes and challenges of women in their personal and professional lives. But next year we encourage the report's authors to review the criteria they used to determine their rankings, with a larger focus on true economic security, safety and health outcomes.
If you have any questions about your company's equitable compensation programs and hiring practices, please don't hesitate to contact Anna Aceto-Guerin at (519) 624-0800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We'd love to connect with you!
UPDATED version of a blog we first posted in 2014:
The Manitoba government is following through on its promise to rename the Civic Holiday as Terry Fox Day, in honour of the heroic Canadian who was actually born in Winnipeg in 1958 (his family moved to BC in 1966). Premier Greg Selinger hopes that this change will be picked up Canada-wide.
Considering the fact that Terry Fox continually is placed near the top of any list of Canadian heroes, there would likely be a high level of support for this change. This would be in addition to long-standing Terry Fox Run that raises funds for cancer research each year in September and is about to mark its 35th anniversary.
However, a closer look at this particular holiday might make a name change rather complicated. It also reveals a number of oddities related to the day.
Hodgepodge Across the Country:
First off, the holiday on the first Monday of August is not observed across the entire country. It is a statutory holiday in B.C. (known as "B.C. Day"), Saskatchewan (known as "Saskatchewan Day"), New Brunswick (known as "New Brunswick Day"), Northwest Territories (known as "Civic Holiday") and Nunavut (also known as "Civic Holiday").
The day is an optional holiday in Ontario (generally known as "Civic Holiday," though there are local naming variations), Alberta (known as "Heritage Day), Manitoba (currently known as "Civic Holiday"), Nova Scotia (known as "Natal Day"), and PEI.
The holiday is not generally observed in the provinces of Quebec, Newfoundland & Labrador, and the Yukon, at least not on that date. "Regatta Day" is celebrated in NL on the first Wednesday of August and "Discovery Day," commemorating the start of the Klondike Gold Rush, is celebrated on the third Monday of August in the Yukon.
If it's optional, why do businesses in Ontario observe it?
Although Ontario's Employment Standards Act does not require employers in provincially-regulated industries to give their workers a paid day off, it is definitely common practice to do so. Not offering the holiday would probably lead to employee frustration and decreased morale. For federally-regulated industries (such as trucking, air transport, telephone and cable systems), many observe the federal Remembrance Day holiday (November 11th) on the first Monday of August in order to give employees another summer long weekend.
What's in a name?
Did you know that the Civic Holiday in Ontario goes by many different names, depending on where you live? Here is a list of some of the local names:
Considering the historical significance of many of the local names for this holiday, do you think there would be resistance to renaming the day "Terry Fox Day?"
Questions for HR managers:
Regardless of the strange facts about this holiday, we hope everyone enjoys the long weekend!
Remember that if you have any questions about this or any other HR topic, you can contact us at (519) 624-0800 or email@example.com.
We'd love to connect with you!
It is true that business is not a sport.
But there are many parallels behind the coaching, training, motivating and learning involved in international sporting events, like the upcoming 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in Toronto, and the dynamics of today's successful workplaces.
Employers should model these techniques and practices in order to bring the best out of their employees, especially during the next month when inspiration may be running high.
What Can Employers Learn from Athletics and The Games?
Training can help develop "learning machines":
Many companies greatly undervalue the necessity of investing in ongoing training, resulting in a loss of skills and knowledge.
In order to help create an environment of continual growth, you should invest in your employees through the training that matters most to their staff. As employees pick up on important new skills, confidence and engagement will soar.
While watching the Games, your team members may come to understand that the Pan Am athletes are "learning machines." The hours of studying, practicing and long sessions with coaches and mentors may inspire employees’ work ethic and the concept that excellence does not develop without great effort.
The Games may also remind employees that athletes allow themselves to be "coachable." Most people will only accept the amount of coaching or training that their egos will allow. Pan Am Game athletes need to be open to coaching in order to achieve. Employees may be inspired by the Games to accept the same level of coaching from their leaders in management.
Inspire, don’t always criticize:
Sir Alex Ferguson, the famous coach of the UK football (soccer) team Manchester United, shared his thoughts on criticism when he stated, “Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. For a player, for any human being, there is nothing better than hearing ‘well done.’ Those are the two best words ever invented.”
This advice can also be applied to business! In the working world, if your team is working in a “do it or else” atmosphere, chances are your employees may have already disengaged. Inspiring employees with a positive message rather than trying to whip teams into action is more likely to lead to a motivated, engaged staff. With this in mind, employees may be inspired to strive beyond ‘good’ to ‘great.’ For an average employee, to be classified as 'very good' may be something to be proud of, but for great employees it’s a motivator to do better.
Lead by example and be self-aware:
Joe Girardi, the 500-game-winning manager of baseball's New York Yankees said that whether you are managing rookies or stars, “you have to lead by example. You ask players to be prepared mentally and physically, so you [also] have to be prepared.”
Part of being a great leader (whether a coach or supervisor) is inspiring people to push themselves, and in turn the organization, to greatness. To do this however, a good leader will show them the way by doing it themselves.
A good place to start is in the honest acknowledgement of your own weaknesses and strengths. When a leader is honest about his or her own capabilities, it encourages staff to adopt the same attitude, resulting in a workforce with complementary expertise. It is also crucial that you understand and acknowledge your own biases and attitudes. The better a leader understands these pitfalls, the better they can adjust to avoid poor decisions.
Believe in your employees and your ability to coach them:
If you are having doubts about an employee’s potential, chances are that employee has already picked up on your concern through your body language and approach. This in turn may negatively affect motivation, confidence and engagement. You should demonstrate belief by listening, praising effort and spreading credit fairly. Even constructive criticism and feedback can be framed in an encouraging way. By fostering this intentional positivity, you can help team members to discover that with enough effort they could accomplish amazing things.
Super Bowl-winning legendary coach, Bill Walsh articulated this concept eloquently when he explained that, “The difference between winning and losing is the bottom 25% of your people. Most coaches can deliver the top 75%, but the last 25% only blossom in the orchestration of skill.”
Reward the success and effort of your stars:
Never forget to acknowledge, reward and celebrate when your employees push themselves to achieve great things! You don't necessarily have to hand out gold medals, but that leaving things unsaid is a crucial mistake.
People like to their efforts to be appreciated, especially if they result in the successful completion of a goal. Even if the goal is fully realized, if you are seeing behaviour that you want to continue, you should encourage it!
Employees aren't always looking for financial compensation either (though it certainly doesn't hurt). Publicly acknowledging their success in a timely manner (not six months later) in front of fellow team members and perhaps the entire company, is a great way to drive up morale and loyalty.
The Pan Am Games can remind employers on the importance of pushing employees to be continuously great, which may mean movement within a company. Athletes are consistently great because their actions are congruent with their thoughts; they have a clear mental picture of what they want, why they want it and how they will move closer to their target. Employers should adopt the same approach with their workers. The results may surprise you.
Does your company go for gold in employee engagement? Contact one of Clear Path’s consultants for advice on best practices for employee engagement, morale and commitment.
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What is your hometown? My parents liked to move around a lot. Growing up we lived in Ottawa, Stouffville, and eventually Scarborough.
What is your alma mater? University of Western Ontario with a degree in Sociology.
What is a fun fact about you? I was in the 1983 Stephen King movie "Dead Zone." My entire Grade 7 class played the students in Christopher Walken's character's classroom. It was fun.
Dog or cat person? Definitely dog
What would you pick for your last meal? Surf and Turf - good steak, good lobster.
Favourite movies: Love Actually, Without a Clue, Murder on the Orient Express, all the Star Wars films
TV shows you never want to miss: Major Crimes, all the Law & Order franchises, Rizzoli & Isles, and The Big Bang Theory (obviously)
This month, our spotlight is on Office Administrator Jennifer Larsen.
This blog post is part of an ongoing series where we feature one of Clear Path's incredible team members and help you get to know them a bit better.
Favourite writer: Agatha Christie
What is your greatest extravagance? Shoes and purses
What do you consider your greatest achievement? My kids and my marriage
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being away with my family, doesn't matter where, doing something fun
What is your personal motto? Live each day like it's your last. Also, I like to live by the Golden Rule...
You can get in touch with Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (519) 624-0800 xt. 142.
Other entries in our Spotlight Series:
We'd love to connect with you!
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