Evidence of meeting #62 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was scientists.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko  Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science
Isabella Bakker  Distinguished Research Professor, York University, As an Individual
Janet Currie  Co-Chair, Canadian Women's Health Network
Danniele Livengood  Director, Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology
Margaret-Ann Armour  President of the Board, Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology
Tamara Franz-Odendaal  Professor and Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, Department of Biology, Mount Saint Vincent University, As an Individual

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

I don't normally get to do this. I'm going to call the meeting to order.

I'd like to welcome our witnesses today to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. We're studying the economic security of women.

Let's start with Larissa, and we'll work across that way. You have seven minutes.

8:45 a.m.

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

Thank you for inviting me here. I am Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko, and I am the founder and president of the Canadian Association for Girls in Science, CAGIS.

CAGIS is a national volunteer-run science club for girls aged seven to 16. Chapters hold monthly events for members during which we explore a variety of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM-related topics. During these events, we bring girls to the workplaces of women and men in STEM fields to get a behind-the-scenes view of STEM in action and do plenty of fun hands-on activities. These activities are based on inquiry, exploration, and experimentation in small group environments.

For example, in past events we've been engineers designing, building, and testing bridges in a wind tunnel; ecologists sampling plant communities in forests and fields; computer scientists programming code to have robots execute movements; and mechanics fixing cars. We initially emphasized that STEM is everywhere and related to everything. We have even challenged our members in the past to find topics that do not involve STEM, and we've used these to plan additional events such as the physics of figure skating and the chemistry of art conservation.

These events expose girls to a wide range of STEM topics and they build self-efficacy by having the girls themselves build, explore, and design rather than reading about it in a textbook. This hands-on approach to learning helps to consolidate knowledge and make associations that STEM is fun. Additionally, bringing girls to the workplaces of women and men in STEM fields helps to foster a sense of belonging within the lab or field environments and exposes girls to a diverse set of role models in STEM fields.

CAGIS has received many honours for its excellence in science promotion, including the NSERC Michael Smith Award for Science Promotion.

I founded CAGIS when I was nine years old because I noticed that girls in my class hated science. They dreaded science class and thought they weren't smart enough or the right fit for STEM fields despite having high grades. Instead, they wanted to be cheerleaders and pop stars. They also associated scientists with the typical Albert Einstein image, an old man with crazy white hair, a lab coat, and glasses.

These were very different perceptions and interests from my own. My mom is a research scientist, and my dad was an engineer, and we regularly used STEM to explore, experiment, and help answer my endless questions. As a result, I thought that STEM was fun, and I couldn't understand why my friends didn't share this perception.

I also started to notice inequities in my class. For example, one day my teacher asked a volunteer to help her set up an experiment from a science kit. Naturally, I volunteered. I had the exact same science kit at home, and I knew the experiment perfectly. However, my teacher told me, “No, Larissa, I need a boy to do this.”

I wanted to change my friends' and my teacher's perception of STEM and of scientists. I started by inviting women in STEM who were friends of my mom into my classroom to talk about their careers and do fun, hands-on activities with us. However, I realized that my friends at other schools had the same negative and stereotypical view of the sciences, so I decided to start a science club, the Canadian Association for Girls in Science.

Since our humble beginnings, we have spread to have chapters across the country, and we've reached thousands of girls. I'm proud to announce that we're currently celebrating our 25th anniversary.

I would like to say that the stereotypes I noticed during my childhood have disappeared, but sadly, they have not. I regularly go into science classes and ask children to close their eyes and imagine a scientist. When I ask them to describe what they see, the majority still describe the old white man with crazy hair, a lab coat, and glasses. He is often socially awkward and isolated. My experiences with children are consistent with research findings on children's perceptions of scientists. These stereotypical portrayals of scientists continue to permeate the media in a variety of forms, including characters on TV shows like The Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons, and even children's toys, which are becoming increasingly gender divided.

Media portrayals of scientists can influence students' interest in entering those fields. For example, female undergraduates who read an article that refutes stereotypes of computer scientists and states that the field is no longer dominated by male computer geeks express an increased interest in majoring in computer science. This is compared to women who read an article confirming the stereotypes, and women who read no article at all. Thus, media portrayals of scientists can influence interest in pursuing the sciences. Other research has demonstrated that watching videos profiling scientists improves school children's attitudes towards the sciences.

Additionally, visits from female scientists, reading articles about women in STEM, and teachers profiling women in STEM decrease stereotypic associations and improve attitudes toward women in STEM among female and male schoolchildren.

Role models are important. Providing children with a non-stereotyped and diverse role model in the sciences can influence perceptions of scientists and interest in pursuing STEM fields. Additional research indicates that hands-on activities, project-based science, co-operative learning, and mentoring programs that connect girls to scientists improve learning and attitudes toward STEM.

To summarize, hands-on activities, co-operative learning, project-based learning, and exposure to female role models in STEM fields have been shown to improve attitudes toward the sciences, increase girls' interest in STEM fields, and/or improve learning outcomes in STEM.

Although I didn't know it as a child, I simply designed a club that I thought would interest other girls. These are all elements that CAGIS uses in its approach, which has been very successful.

Why is it important to remove barriers and facilitate girls' interest in STEM?

Women remain under-represented in STEM occupations in Canada. This under-representation affects women's economic security. According to Statistics Canada, wages are higher on average in natural and applied sciences, fields in which women are under-represented, compared with those in health care and elementary and secondary education, fields in which women are overrepresented. Thus, facilitating women's access to STEM fields has the potential to improve women's economic development and security in Canada.

It's additionally important to remove barriers and facilitate girls' interest in STEM because we live in a knowledge-based society. In order for Canada to maximize its potential, we need the best and brightest working on innovative new ideas and continuing research and development. We cannot afford to exclude any sector of our society.

I have described some of the challenges involving gender-role stereotypes among children and how they affect girls' perception of STEM professionals and associated career aspects. I have also described a variety of evidence-based interventions that are successful at changing perceptions and facilitating STEM interest among girls and young women. Science promotion that utilizes these interventions needs to continue.

Childhood is where the problem begins, but there are several additional steps that young women must navigate before they're able to enter STEM careers. Systemic barriers continue at the post-secondary level. Following high school, youth interested in STEM careers enter college or university, depending on the field of interest. Following this, students go on to an apprenticeship, enter the workforce, or they continue their education with a master's degree or a Ph.D.

However, implicit stereotypes continue to affect women's opportunities. For example, in a study published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, science professors at large research institutions were give application materials from students applying to be lab managers. Each application was randomly given either a male or a female name. The male applicant was rated as more competent and more hireable than the female applicant, who was identical. The faculty additionally assigned a higher starting salary and more career mentoring to the male applicant.

I was expecting 10 minutes. I know it's seven minutes. I'll wrap this up here.

We need to continue the work in STEM, but the work has to be at all levels, from childhood all the way through to working women in STEM.

Thank you.

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thanks, Larissa.

I've been involved with the CAGIS group in my community.

8:50 a.m.

Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Yes.

We've done a Tour Des Trees bike ride. I also helped build a canoe, which was amazing.

Thank you for all the work you're doing.

8:50 a.m.

Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko

Thank you for your involvement with CAGIS Oakville.

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

We'll move on to Isabella.

8:50 a.m.

Professor Isabella Bakker Distinguished Research Professor, York University, As an Individual

Thank you, and good morning.

I would like to focus my remarks this morning on how we might rethink the current macroeconomic policy framework to facilitate the greater economic security of all women in Canada.

Macroeconomic policies are important because they impact how the whole economy works by shaping the availability and distribution of resources, including the level of demand, growth, employment, rates of taxation, and interest rates.

Macroeconomic policies, as currently practised, however, are not gender-neutral but rather gender-blind. They fail to recognize, first of all, that women's contributions to the economy are systematically underestimated, and, second, that there's an unpaid care economy, which falls largely on women's shoulders. Conventional macroeconomic households are assumed not to produce but to consume and to save. Household work is not costed since it does not earn income.

Bringing a gender perspective into macroeconomics therefore involves us seeing national output, that is, the creation of wealth, as the interaction of four sectors: the private, the public, the domestic, and the voluntary. Therefore an important dimension of gender-equitable macroeconomics is to integrate unpaid work into the formulation and evaluation of macroeconomic policies, recognizing it as using scarce resources such as time, and therefore regarding it as productive work that is necessary for other economic activities to take place.

This means that the full picture of the economy requires us to collect data that includes time spent on unpaid work, and also to measure what might signal shifts in women's entry into and exit from labour markets, and resulting changes to women's income due to time spent on care.

Doing this would also allow us to identify what economists call a false economy, which is often the result of prevailing macroeconomic policies that focus on reductions in government spending. False economies offer short-term savings through cuts in social services, for example, that may yield increased costs to society and the economy down the road in terms of greater need for families to rely on social benefits, which end up costing the government more to fund. In other words, short-term budgetary savings may end up creating larger budgetary expenditures.

With these preliminary remarks, let me now turn to the role of the public sector in eliminating gender bias, and I'll briefly just cover two areas: government spending and tax policy.

In terms of government expenditure, a problem in the conventional macroeconomic model is that only certain kinds of investment are viewed as productive, whereas others, such as salaries for doctors, nurses, and teachers, are seen as current expenditures or means of boosting consumption.

A recent seven-country report cited by the World Economic Forum, which used two separate modelling exercises, found that government expenditure or government investment in social infrastructure, including education, health, and care work, will produce more bang for the buck than will physical infrastructure projects like bridges and highways. For example, in the U.S., research has shown that an investment of 2% of GDP in social infrastructure raises employment by about 3.4%, compared to 1.2% for similar investments in physical infrastructure. The economic logic behind these findings is that social infrastructure is much more labour intensive than is physical infrastructure. Care jobs are much more likely than construction jobs to employ women.

A gender-equitable macroeconomic policy needs to look at fiscal stimulus from those vantage points and determine the appropriate fiscal sustainability level of public investment, taking into account medium- and long-term benefits of such spending.

I know you've already heard from other witnesses about tax policy, so let me just end with some observations on maximizing fiscal space.

Fiscal space is defined by economists as the room in a government's budget that allows it to provide resources for a desired purpose without jeopardizing the sustainability of its financial position or the sustainability of the economy.

The current trend in tax policy that favours wealthier men, through increased consumption taxes, decreased rates for corporations and higher-income individuals, and comparatively low taxes on wealth and property, shrinks the fiscal space available for social investment.

For example, some preliminary research with my colleague from Osgoode Law School, Lisa Philipps, who is a tax expert, in which we used Statistics Canada LAD data on tax expenditures, shows that high-end tax expenditures, such as the stock option deduction, exacerbate gender inequality, since women form the majority of filers in the first seven deciles of the tax bracket, while men form the majority of high-income earners in deciles eight and above.

In order to actually know the impact of tax policy decisions not just on income deciles but on various groups of women and men, we need gender-responsive budgeting to guide fiscal policy decisions and to monitor public spending and taxation.

Budget 2017 was a start, but the gender statement had virtually nothing to say about taxation. We need a gender-based analysis of taxation as part of the government's continued review of tax policy. I believe this would significantly enhance a gender-equitable macroeconomic framework.

Thank you.

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

We'll now turn to Janet.

You have seven minutes.

9 a.m.

Janet Currie Co-Chair, Canadian Women's Health Network

Hi. My name is Janet Currie and I am representing the Canadian Women's Health Network, CWHN. It's a national network that has articulated women's health needs and has worked in partnership with Health Canada for many years around policy and program recommendations and implementation.

Our organization believes that health is a human right and that the greatest contributor to poor health is poverty. It is not simply a linear relationship but poverty affects many social determinants such as housing that also affect women's health. In addressing women's poverty through income tax related or other measures, we are concerned that the effects of poverty on health be considered as a very important related issue and that a very broad policy and program approach be used rather than simply economic measures.

I want to talk a little about the effects of poverty on health. As I said, they are both direct and indirect. Some of the direct effects of poverty on health are shortened life expectancy. Women who are poor live fewer years than women in middle- and upper-income brackets. Poverty exacerbates deaths and chronic disease from diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Poverty affects housing security. Women who are poor are frequently homeless or live in precarious, substandard housing that exposes them to poor ventilation, overcrowding, exposure to mould and vermin, and other factors that lead to a higher rate of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Poverty affects food security. In Canada, 22% of food bank users are single-parent families, most of which are women. With food insecurity comes malnutrition, lack of appropriate food nutrients, which ironically leads to obesity and predisposes women to higher rates of diabetes, which in turn predisposes them to higher rates of cardiac risk.

You can see that it's not a very simple issue to address, because it's cumulative; it's multi-level, one thing leading to another.

Poverty is associated with high rates of depression. As you know, we have a depression epidemic in Canada. This concerns CWHN because women make up the highest proportion of those who are diagnosed as depressed. They are prescribed two-thirds of psychiatric drugs, which are very potent, have very potent side effects. Women who are depressed often cannot resource other services that might support them, such as therapy or community support services. So we are very concerned about the rates and the interrelationship of poverty on depression and anxiety.

Poverty exacerbates chronic diseases. An example is a woman who smokes. Poverty is associated with smoking among women; women smoke because they're very stressed and anxious. So poverty predisposes women to heart disease and lung cancer. If you add in food insecurity, you have a predisposition to diabetes and malnutrition. Suddenly you have a woman with one or two chronic diseases and these also have cumulative effects.

Poverty also restricts women's choices. Women who are poor often live in neighbourhoods that tend to be violent and may increase their risk of being involved in criminality and addictions. Poverty also limits women's choices in terms of getting the services they need in the community to improve their health, such as dentistry. In terms of other preventative services, women who are poor often do not access prenatal care or yearly Pap smears.

In terms of our recommendations, when we are addressing issues such as income security, while it is very important to take economic measures such as tax measures, and we certainly support those, we also think that we need to address the effects of poverty on health and take a social determinants approach to looking at poverty. This involves looking at government policies that are much broader than income-related policies, and I just want to say that this is a very good segue from Isabella's talk.

For example, as austerity measures began to be promulgated by governments, women bore the brunt. Women work in education and in health, and they were the first to be laid off. They are extremely vulnerable populations, so addressing this requires a labour policy. It requires policies that support contract workers. It requires some efforts to involve corporations in providing benefits to women who lack these benefits.

In closing, I would urge you to take a broader approach to income security.

If I could just say one more thing, we started with a description of the Canadian Women's Health Network. All the centres of excellence for women's health, including CWHN, were defunded in 2013 as a result of the federal government's austerity policies. I understand from Health Canada that they will not be replacing the women's division within Health Canada and they will not be opening up a women's contribution fund again, as the ministry of women's equality has done. I would suggest that to address income issues, this has to be a partnership with Health Canada, and I would really urge you to stress this to Health Canada, as we have done.

Thank you very much.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much.

We'll now turn to questions.

Ms. Ludwig, you are first.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Ludwig Liberal New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thanks to all of you for your very interesting presentations. There is definitely a link between all of them together.

I want to say that in looking at government policies as a whole, I think you've identified a key aspect of the unintended consequences in terms of how we don't often realize the structural biases that come into policies. The 2017 budget, Isabella, as you've mentioned, is certainly a good start. It's the first time that we've ever had a gender lens look into a budget. From talking with colleagues, I certainly know now that once you realize the impact on women in regard to policies, as a legislator, you cannot look back. Thank you.

I'm going to start off with Ms. Currie on the social determinants of health. So often, we hear people say that if you give someone free tuition, or if you just do this, why is it that they can't finish school.... I would like you to give us a bit more depth in terms of the social determinants of health, not only for women but also for the children they're raising, and for their communities.

9:05 a.m.

Co-Chair, Canadian Women's Health Network

Janet Currie

Well, I think poverty itself is a social determinant, and it relates to other social determinants, such as poor housing, living in poor neighbourhoods, a lack of child care, and a lack of home care for elderly parents. These all act in combination to limit women's choices and to make access to and use of income measures, which may be very positive, very difficult to do.

As an example, to follow up on what Isabella said, again, because of economic measures, women are burdened more and more with the care of family members—either sick children or parents. This has been a state responsibility that has been put on the backs of women. Tax measures, income support measures, and labour policies to support women in that role are fine, but if there's no home care, or no affordable home care.... Being affordable is one issue, but if there is no home care available, or if it has all been privatized.... This is the other issue: many services have been privatized.

Those are the kinds of impediments that prevent women from taking advantage of what may be extremely positive measures. Also, as you say, poverty is multi-generational. Once women are impoverished, their children are impoverished, and many of the health effects, such as chronic infections, pass down to children. It's the weight of the burden, I guess, that I think social determinants cause.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Ludwig Liberal New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you.

My next question is for you, Ms. Bakker. Certainly, when you look at the area of volunteer work, when young people are encouraged to go out and get experience, it is often suggested that they get involved in volunteer work. When we look at the changes under the previous government regarding Statistics Canada and the long-form census, we can see that certainly that element of data has not been consistently collected.

I'm hopeful that with the renewal of the long-form census we can collect the information on volunteer work. I know that over the years, from the research that I've done.... I mean, where would we be today without the volunteerism in our communities and without the impact that it has in our economy? I thank you very much for bringing that up.

Do you have a suggestion in terms of tax policy? We might give a credit to volunteer work.

9:10 a.m.

Prof. Isabella Bakker

I don't have a specific suggestion regarding that. I think it's something that's important to look into. As I tried to make clear in my remarks, if the government is reviewing tax policy as it is, I think it's important to look at both dimensions—the distributional implications of a certain change in terms of offering a credit or taking away credits and also the overall level of revenue—because those two things work in tandem. I think it's very important, when we talk about economic security, that we keep in mind those two dimensions of changes in tax policy.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Ludwig Liberal New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you.

Larissa, thank you for your presentation. I could go on and on with questions, including how you ever started this as a nine-year-old. It's absolutely fantastic.

In terms of the work you are doing, you mentioned the negative stereotypes out there regarding women in science. Are there good examples or good portrayals that you could suggest to us—outside of yourself?

9:10 a.m.

Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko

Bringing videos of actual women scientists into schools and having visits from actual women scientists have both been very successful in terms of breaking stereotypes. I've noticed that there have been changes in the media over the past several years. Women are often being portrayed as scientists on TV shows. TV has been identified as one of the strongest areas that shift perceptions about scientists and the sciences.

It's not happening enough. There are still so many stereotypes out there. If we're talking about it particularly from the perspective of the media, which can shift children's perceptions so strongly, I think it's important that actual scientists be represented in the media. For example, on a lot of science shows they have actors playing scientists. When you have an actor playing a scientist as the host of the show, they're more likely to make a stereotypical representation, because an actual scientist knows what it actually means to be in the sciences.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Ludwig Liberal New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Okay. Thank you.

In terms of your association, it's your 25th anniversary. Do you have any data you've collected in terms of how many young girls have been impacted and how many people have been involved with your program over the last 25 years? As well, did you receive any funding for that?

9:10 a.m.

Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko

We have received funding over the years from NSERC on several occasions through their PromoScience grants. A number of companies have given smaller donations, and individuals have given smaller donations. We don't have formal data on the exact number of girls who have gone through. I wish we had been.... Actually, maybe we should apply for a grant to collect that. We do have all of our old databases and membership lists. We haven't counted up the exact numbers, so it's hard to give an exact estimate, but it's probably over 10,000.

As far as other data is concerned with respect to our program, we do regular surveys of our members to make sure we're in keeping with what interests them and to make sure we're hitting our landmarks.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you.

Ms. Harder, over to you.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you for being here and for giving us an opportunity to ask you questions and better understand this important topic.

Larissa, I'm wondering if you can talk to me a little bit about the factors you notice that would attract young women or girls to STEM. What would encourage a young person to pursue this?

9:15 a.m.

Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko

There's been a lot of research demonstrating that it's not actually a lack of interest among girls, it's the barriers they face as they move forward within STEM careers. A lot of the representations that I mentioned are big barriers.

It's been indicated that having more accurate role models who are from a diverse group maintains girls' interest in STEM and helps them foster a sense of belonging. Hands-on activities, co-operative learning environments, and project-based learning maintain their interest. A lot of outreach programs do these as well.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

At what point do you notice a shift away from the interest in science, because at the end of the day, we don't see a lot of women enter STEM as adults. I'm wondering when and why that switch takes place?

9:15 a.m.

Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko

It happens continually. It starts in childhood but it continues all the way up to the point that women are looking to enter STEM careers. The leakiest point of the pipeline is the post-doctoral fellowship.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

That's interesting.