Thank you very much.
I would like to also acknowledge Melodie. We met in May 2016 at the national conference of CCWESTT, the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk about the private member's bill C-243. My comments are based on discussions and exchanges, I should say, with professional women who are part of two organizations: the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology, and the International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists, which I am the president-elect of. I should say that in both organizations we have discussed these issues, especially in an era when women are taking a greater role in the job market.
I want to make three key points today. The first one will be on women in the new innovation agenda, the second is protecting expecting women, and the third is the need for a national strategy.
Regarding women in the new innovation agenda, in Canada women remain an important, unexploited workforce. Here are just a few numbers to illustrate this. While women in the entire workforce represent 47%, most of the trade jobs are in the fields of hairdressing, retail, or hospitality. In natural sciences and engineering they only represent 21.9%. However, it is important to note that only 10.5% of practising engineers are women and 9% of women apprenticeship program graduates complete a male-dominated skilled trade. When we look at trades such as welding and transportation, the numbers drop to 6.5% and, in construction, to 3.5%. Overall registration of women in non-traditional apprenticeship programs is a meagre 14.2%. Clearly, women are highly under-represented in many of these fields.
When we look at that, women can play a critical role in the new Canada innovation and skills plan that was delivered in the federal budget this year, but this cannot happen if they are not entirely supported, especially regarding when they are expecting.
As mentioned in the World Economic Forum's “Global Gender Gap Report”:
People and their talents are among the core drivers of sustainable, long-term economic growth.
It is, therefore, clear that as women roughly represent 50% of the Canadian population, they have to be part of this plan. The mining sector alone expects to require more than 75,000 new workers by 2021. But there are many obstacles, and maternity and maternal care are among the main factors contributing to women leaving fields such as engineering and sciences.
My second point relates to protecting expecting women. In general, working and expecting women are often exposed to various stresses due to their work environment and their pregnancy conditions. I think Melodie really expressed very well this condition.
One of the main challenges that women face is the upcoming financial burden, especially if they are single mothers or in a single-income family, which I was—and I was back to work two months after giving birth. When a woman is working in an environment that can be dangerous for her or the unborn, there is a need for better protection. How will she manage if she cannot continue working and if there is no financial support?
While the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination related to pregnancy, the situation is not simple. As stated in the pregnancy and human rights in the workplace policy and best practices of the Canadian Human Rights Commission:
Pregnancy in the workplace is a fundamental human rights issue of equality of opportunity between women and men. Women should not suffer negative consequences in the workplace simply because they are pregnant....
Employers have a legal obligation to accommodate pregnancy-related needs unless the accommodation will cause undue hardship.
However, this does not help when the employer cannot accommodate a pregnant worker. On one side the employee has the right to fully contribute to the workforce, but on the other hand, when health and safety is important in these conditions, there is a need to support the expecting woman.
In Canada, under the current laws and regulations, and until recently, it was difficult for an expecting woman to stop working under these conditions—except in Quebec, where it's a different situation. The move to allow women to claim EI for 12 weeks under the 2017 federal budget, or 15 weeks under Bill C-243 before giving birth, instead of the eight current weeks, will already help a lot of women who are experiencing the stress of pregnancy at work. However, this will not completely solve the challenges of those who are dealing with dangerous conditions, like Melodie, or even in my case when I was doing genetics research in a lab. Adding some flexibility to be able to, for example, take part of these 17 weeks after birth and transfer them to the period before birth could significantly reduce the burden and help remove the gap when there is one. However, this is not the only challenge that needs to be addressed.
There are already very good examples that demonstrate the capacity of the industry to support women in the workplace. This is mainly from specific industries. For example, Rio Tinto Coal Australia supports work-from-home arrangements as part of its flexible working policy. The Spanish firm Iberdrola, producer and distributor of electricity, gas and renewable energy, supports maternity and equal opportunities and offers various options and arrangements that not only help women but also promote them in their jobs and leadership.
That brings me to this very point: the need for a national strategy. We need to ensure that Canada is positioned advantageously in a system that is fair for all classes of society. There are many more barriers that currently stop women from fully participating in the workforce, especially in the fields of science, engineering, trades, and technology. They include the hiring process, workplace respect—as harassment and bullying are still more rampant than people believe—work-family conflict due to inflexibility of work hours, and more. In engineering, workplace climate and culture is one of the main factors causing women to leave the workforce. The recent report by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum also demonstrates the need to change the culture in the workplace due to discrimination. What will be important in the new strategy is to ensure that the low-income earners in particular are not unfairly treated, especially when they have a hard time meeting their needs, including those of their unborn.