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Evidence of meeting #37 for Status of Women in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was youth.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Nancy Southern  President and Chief Executive Officer, ATCO Group
Elyse Allan  President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada
Bertha Mo  Manager, Counselling Program, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization
Ashley Julian  Member, Youth Council, Assembly of First Nations

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, ATCO Group

Nancy Southern

Well, as you may or may not know, our company is quite diversified. We have manufacturing. We make industrial workforce housing for remote sites around the world. We have power generation, electricity transmission and distribution, gas transmission and distribution, mid-streaming of gas products, and logistics around the world.

There isn't any job I can imagine that wouldn't be suitable for a woman today. It doesn't matter whether it's working for us in Afghanistan, or working in Iqaluit providing fuel, or working in Chile or Australia or Fort McMurray. Every single one of the jobs we have today can be taken by a woman.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Thank you. I'm glad to hear that.

Ms. Allan, would you say the same thing, that the economic prospects for girls in your line of work in your company, GE, would be equal for girls and boys?

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada

Elyse Allan

Yes, it is, very much, and—

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Thank you.

Sorry, go ahead.

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada

Elyse Allan

That's all right. I was going to say we welcome them all applying.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

That's great. I'd like to ask both of you this. How should girls be prepared and trained in order to participate in those business lines? You touched on, of course, education and situational leadership, but specifically what can be done by this department? What would you say this study should recommend that we can do as a government, through Status of Women Canada, to help girls be prepared and trained in order to go into businesses such as yours?

Ms. Southern.

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, ATCO Group

Nancy Southern

I think I'm saying again what I was trying to say earlier. I believe it's educating young women, saying, “You can do it. You have all the capabilities. There is nothing that should stop you.” We could do that with our public programming and advertising. We talk to kids about not taking drugs. We can tell women that they are capable and there's a whole world of opportunities available to them. I think it really boils down to just developing and creating and sustaining self-esteem and confidence.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Thank you.

Ms. Allan.

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada

Elyse Allan

I would just look through the programs that currently exist and those that are focusing in any way around the education side at the federal level. For example, we were talking about the national science strategy and how it was focusing on building science in grades K through 12. Where might there be opportunities for that to make sure it is not biased in one gender towards the other, but actually focusing on encouraging girls equally with boys to continue to go through the sciences?

I think equally important are skilled trades. I appreciate that some of this is provincial versus federal, but in the areas of the apprenticeship programs, there are some wonderful programs throughout Europe that do an excellent job of integrating into the earlier years, starting in perhaps grade eight or nine, an interest in skilled trades for both genders and getting them involved with the sciences. So do we make sure that girls are equally aware of apprenticeship programs and opportunities as boys? Are there any inherent biases in any of our programs we maybe need to be sensitive to?

For me, it's very much around education. We talked quite a bit about the sciences, but equally so, and maybe even more so, there are many girls who want to work in what we would have called the trades, with their hands, in shop. They have those interests. How do we encourage it and provide the tools and the skills training for them to do it?

Similarly, for people who might be losing their jobs, what types of retraining programs do we have available so that women who might be out of work or whose husbands have lost their jobs could enter the workforce and perhaps learn some of these trades and go into trades areas? Those would be areas I would suggest you look at.

May 30th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

That's just a fantastic answer. You made me think about the small-arms museum in my riding, which in World War II employed almost exclusively women. As you can imagine, they were the only ones left behind. So when the munitions and arms had to be made and the men had all gone to war, the women were the ones who were left. When they came back the women didn't want to stop working there, so they didn't. It's a great story. There are still women in my neighbourhood today who worked there in the forties and then in the fifties and sixties. You're right, they worked with their hands. When it had to be done and the work was there, it was the women who did it.

Anyway, it just reminded me of that, so thank you for that.

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada

Elyse Allan

We've forgotten that.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Yes, I know. It's true, we have.

If I might ask you both a slightly more personal question, what are the challenges you face as a woman leading a major business organization?

Ms. Southern.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Go ahead very quickly.

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, ATCO Group

Nancy Southern

Okay, it will be very quick.

Initial lack of respect would be the biggest challenge.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

You mean overcoming it right at the beginning.

Does Ms. Allan have a short answer?

Ms. Allan, I don't know if you can answer that quickly, but the chair will allow you to if you can.

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada

Elyse Allan

Let me support Nancy's response, because I think when you come in as the CEO it's hard to get that initial respect that you're equal to the men. You might have a different approach, but you can make decisions in the same way, and there are multiple approaches...sometimes a woman's style is equal on balance.

Thank you.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you very much, Ms. Allan.

Ms. Ambler's time is up. We will now move on to Ms. Sgro.

You have seven minutes.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Ms. Southern and Ms. Allan, it's great to see both of you.

Elyse, it's always nice to see you and to hear your voice and your excellent comments. Thank you for that. We very much appreciate the guidance you're giving the committee, which is coming from the perspectives of two very successful and very respected women. Welcome to our committee today.

Elyse, what was it that got you into the line of work you're in? Who encouraged you, and what made you decide? Did you know you were getting into an area that was so predominantly male when you made that decision?

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada

Elyse Allan

The answer to the last question is no. I don't think I thought much about it back at the time, Judy. I originally was actually interested in pre-med. I was always interested in biology and life sciences, moved towards pre-med, and then learned about health economics and actually made the transition from sort of pre-med and a strong interest in health care. I learned that I loved the economic side of the equation, and one rolled into the other. After I learned that I enjoyed economics and kind of commerce, actually the interface of economics and public policy, I decided maybe I should look at this beyond health care. That's when I went back to business school and started with GE actually right after business school because of the breadth of their careers.

In retrospect now, 30 years later, maybe I missed my calling as an engineer. I guess there is still time to do that. But I did learn that I loved the stuff. I love the interface of business and technology, and quite honestly, my role now in public policy. It's been a wonderful career.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Did you have anyone initially encouraging you, Elyse?

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada

Elyse Allan

I guess it was my early science teachers. I loved the sciences. When I think back to even middle school, junior high school, there was a strong interest from science teachers. They saw my interest and passion.

Quite honestly, I wasn't always the best math student. I'll be the first to put it out that physics wasn't my first love. But that said, I found there were many places you could enjoy technology and science, which is what I found I liked. Professors helped me, and teachers helped me carve the path that kept me successful, which of course helped me to want to keep going and also helped me to find where my passion and interest were, which I would say is still in the sciences.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

I find it very interesting, Elyse, when you mention that, because some of our other witnesses here at the committee have indicated that it's really important to get young women interested very early on, in grade three, four, or five, especially if they get the right teacher who encourages that, which is exactly what happened to you.

4:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada

Elyse Allan

We've worked with Actua for many years. I must say we've learned through their mentoring program as well as their young girls science program. They have statistics that actually show how working with a lot of the younger girls helps them to develop a passion that helps them overcome some of the hurdles. When you like it and love it, then when it gets tough you're motivated to get through those difficult times. That's what they are finding through their science programs for girls in early ages and their entry programs.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

They were a very impressive organization when they came before the committee.

Ms. Southern, what was it that encouraged you to end up pursuing an area of work that is in a predominantly male world?

4:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, ATCO Group

Nancy Southern

As you know, I do have a little different circumstance. Interestingly enough, it was my father who really encouraged me. I didn't initially have an inclination towards leadership. I always liked commerce. I was always very keen to explore the world of commerce and of creating value and creating products and being able to actually sell and commercialize them. That was always a keen interest of mine. But it was my father who encouraged me to develop leadership skills and who actually provided me with the confidence that I could do this.