Women in Public Affairs Lead the Fight for Gender Equality in Canada
Intersectionality among the women in this sector means they’re both gamechangers and stakeholders
Be it lobbying for legislation, advocating for a specific organization, or communicating with stakeholders, women in public affairs have the power to change Canadian society. In 2017, the Canadian government announced $150 million in funding for grassroots women’s organizations, over the course of five years . This level of commitment from Ottawa wouldn’t have happened without pressure from women-led lobbying groups like MATCH International Women’s Fund and Nobel Women’s Initiative . When women have a seat at the table during these discussions, they can ensure that unique needs are acknowledged and adequate actions are taken to address them.
Some people may argue that increased representation in Parliament could achieve the same results, but that’s not necessarily true. Certainly, women have made major strides in Parliament – in 2019, 98 women MPs were elected across all parties . But this was only a 3% increase from 2015. And considering that women make up roughly 50% of Canada’s population , these MPs only account for 30% of Parliament.
This isn’t to say that it’s not important for more women to be in the room. In 2006, when the government cut funding to many women’s groups , women likely weren’t part of the discussions that preceded that ruling. Female representation in government can help protect funding and keep women’s issues top of mind. But female MPs simply being present won’t fix gender equality – they still face sexism , as is the case in many other workplaces. So, they can start the fight on the inside, but it’s women in public affairs who can fill in the gaps.
The intersectionality of women in public affairs
Women who work in public affairs are in a unique position – they conduct vital research, they take part in passionate advocacy, they shape and disseminate important messaging, and, in the process, they help shift public opinion and influence policy decisions. These women are societal gamechangers, but they’re also stakeholders. Not only are they working to achieve gender equality (among other goals), but they’re encountering many of the setbacks and roadblocks that they’re trying to help all women overcome. Their success doesn’t just mean success for other stakeholders; they’re making the world a better place for themselves, too.
Thus, these women know that tremendous work is still needed. A 2019 McKinsey report revealed that only three women are promoted to manager for every four men who ascend the ranks . 60% of women report experiencing microaggressions at work. And there are still numerous structural barriers and inequalities that slow or halt women’s progress in the workplace. These challenges are most vividly illustrated in the corporate world, but women encounter these difficulties in various parts of society.
The advocacy work of women in public affairs helps to level the playing field. For example, in May 2020, the Canadian government earmarked $15 million in additional funding for women entrepreneurs . This was an acknowledgement of the additional hardships women faced throughout the pandemic, as they juggled their businesses and the lopsided burden of childcare and domestic duties. Surely, without the nudging of the public affairs sector, this wouldn’t have been a governmental priority.
The business case for diversity
Women in public affairs demonstrate the importance of gender diversity in their work but also in their presence. More diverse organizations and governmental bodies can get more done. What they’ve communicated and modelled is that gender diversity isn’t just the right thing to do – there’s a significant business incentive as well.
Gender-balanced teams have higher KPIs, more engaged team members, better client retention, and higher profits and rates of growth . Women bring a wealth of experience, ideas, and perspectives – components no business can live without.
All in all, women in public affairs are tasked with conveying an important message, for all women and for themselves. We’ve seen progress in Parliament, with greater representation and dedicated funding for women’s initiatives. But there’s still work to do throughout society. These women are fighting for a future in which everyone has access to opportunities and no one is held back by discrimination. It’s a future that holds promise for stakeholders, for organizations, for the government, and for themselves.
1 Government of Canada. (June 9, 2017). Canada launches new Feminist International Assistance Policy. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2017/06/canada_launches_newfeministinternationalassistancepolicy.html
2 Nobel Women’s Initiative. (June 9, 2017). Canadian Government Announces $150 Million For Women’s Rights. Retrieved from: https://nobelwomensinitiative.org/canadian-government-announces-150-million-womens-rights/
3 Lao, David and Britneff, Beatrice. (October 23, 2019). Canada set a new record for most elected female MPs, but advocates expected more. Retrieved from: https://globalnews.ca/news/6069742/elections-female-women-parliament-record/
4 Catalyst. (August 19, 2020). Women in the Workforce – Canada: Quick Take. Retrieved from: https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-the-workforce-canada/
5 The Canadian Press. (October 4, 2006). Tories to cut off funding for women’s lobby groups. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/tories-to-cut-off-funding-for-women-s-lobby-groups-1.594392
6 Chatelaine. (September 13, 2019). What It’s Really Like To Be A Woman in Canadian Politics. Retrieved from: https://www.chatelaine.com/living/politics/woman-in-canadian-politics-2019/
7 McKinsey & Company. (June 4, 2019). The present and future of women at work in Canada. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/the-present-and-future-of-women-at-work-in-canada
8 Government of Canada. (May 16, 2020). Minister Ng announces more support for women entrepreneurs amid COVID-19. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/innovation-science-economic-development/news/2020/05/minister-ng-announces-more-support-for-women-entrepreneurs-amid-covid-19.html
9 Catalyst. (October 4, 2019). The Business Case for D&I: Ask Catalyst Express. Retrieved from: https://www.catalyst.org/research/business-case-resources/