Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Justin Trudeau tells Davos to call time on women's inequality

Justin Trudeau: 'Women do more part-time work, and more unpaid work, than men' Image: Jolanda Flubacher

Anna Bruce-Lockhart
Editorial Lead, World Economic Forum
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Gender Inequality

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Women were placed front and centre of the Prime Minister of Canada’s impassioned speech to Davos on Tuesday. To the assembled business leaders and heads of state, Justin Trudeau had a rousing, unequivocal message:

It’s time to put women first.

"I’m talking about hiring, promoting and retaining more women,” he said. "Not because it’s the right thing to do, or the nice thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do."

There’s firm evidence that women make companies – and countries – more profitable. A recent McKinsey report estimates that narrowing the gender gap in Canada could add $150 billion to the economy by 2026.

Citing this research, Trudeau argued that much of the economic growth experienced in Canada over the past decades was because of women joining the workforce. "But there is still so much room for improvement, and such enormous benefit to be had," he added.

To the CEOs present in Davos who may have already made equal pay a company policy, he offered a note of caution. Removing barriers for women in the workplace is not an easy fix; it’s something that takes “effort, leadership and a willingness to change the nature of work as we know it”.

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And ultimately the imbalance goes beyond the workplace. “Women do more part-time work, and more unpaid work, than men,” he said. “How do we address that?"

Luckily, he had a few suggestions:

Review your parental leave policies

"It’s time to take a serious look at parental leave and child care policies. We should be encouraging women – and men – to make the best decision for their family situation. In Canada, we’ve given parents more options for parental leave, and invested billions in affordable, high quality childcare."

Improve child benefit

"Last year, nearly 90% of single mom's receiving the Canada Child Benefit earned less than $60,000 and received about $9,000 in total benefits, tax-free. And let’s be clear: helping those families has been a key driver of Canada’s recent economic growth."

Promote women to senior positions

"You may remember that we introduced our country’s first gender-balanced Cabinet in 2015. The usual suspects complained. But guess what? Two years later, Chrystia Freeland and Maryam Monsef, who are here this week – along with their many female colleagues in Cabinet – are serving the country with great distinction, and have elevated the level of decision-making and debate for everyone in Cabinet and in government."

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Consider women-only recruitment quotas

"As corporate leaders, consider a gender-balanced board, or gender-balanced project teams. Anytime we’re looking for a new hire, we should be identifying women candidates at a rate equal to men. In Canada, when we look to fill appointments, we work to recruit people who reflect the true diversity of our country."

Be transparent on numbers

"We need to be accountable for our efforts in an open and transparent way. In fact, we are in the process of passing legislation that would require federally incorporated companies to disclose information about their diversity policies. For example, this would include the proportion of women on their boards and senior management."

Care for the caregivers

"We must understand that the responsibility for caring for the elderly or those who are ill is often women. So creating a caregiver programme that would help reduce the financial hardship of being away from work is an option."

Be sensitive to intersectionality

"And we have to recognize that aspects of intersectionality are always at play, and require special attention. Here’s an example: In 2016, among women who were newly appointed to the boards of Fortune 500 companies, 77% of them were white. Race, religion, sexuality, socioeconomic status – these are just a few of the ways that women are even further discriminated against."

Call time on sexual harassment

"Sexual harassment, for example – in business and in government – is a systemic problem and it is unacceptable. As leaders, we need to act to show that truly, time is up. We must each have a well-understood, established process in place to file allegations of workplace harassment. And when we receive those complaints, we must take them seriously. As women speak up, it is our responsibility to listen, and more importantly, to believe."

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