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

9:15 a.m.

Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko

Currently the Ph.D. is typically followed by one or more post-doctoral fellowships in Canada, which are contract positions where Ph.D.s work in research labs, continuing to do research, and continuing to apply for tenure-track positions, which is what they're trained to do. In a tenure-track position, they would set up a research lab and study within their area of expertise.

Although, as I mentioned, a disproportionate number leave at all stages, women leave the post-doctoral level more than at any other stage. This is in part related to the corporatization of the universities. There was a 25% decrease in the number of tenure-track professors across Canada over a 10-year period, from 1999 to 2009. That is shocking because concurrently the numbers of students have been increasing and over that same time period, the ratio of students to full-time faculty increased by nearly 40%.

So instead universities have been hiring sessional professors who are contract Ph.D.s teaching, but those tenure-track professor positions are the positions that many of our young women in STEM are trained for. So having those tenure-track positions disappear means that many women don't have anywhere to go. If the research jobs continue to disappear, we're going to continue to lose a generation of STEM researchers, and that's probably going to affect young women disproportionately.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you very much.

In your estimation, are there things that the federal government can or should do to increase the participation of women and girls in STEM, and if so, what could our engagement look like?

9:15 a.m.

Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko

That's a good question. I think one thing is to continue to support programs in science promotion, and there are already a lot of great programs out there, so that support needs to continue.

I'm also going to turn to other countries that can help us explore this question. There's a great report by Simon Marginson that explores how different countries have been dealing with attracting women into STEM. The report states that France and Norway are two examples where equity legislation was enacted that encouraged the diversification of girls' professional choices. An important part of the strategy extended legislation to top-level appointments in academia and positions on decision-making bodies such as research councils. Important elements of this included procedural transparency, standardized selection procedures, widespread publishing of position advertisements, head-hunting qualified women, and monitoring gender-disaggregated data on hiring outcomes. They compare this to Canada, because they've had a greater increase in women in STEM compared to Canada, which hasn't enacted this type of legislation and hasn't been focusing on the topic quite as much.

So I think that's one area in this country where we can improve.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you very much.

Ms. Bakker, could you comment a little further on our fiscal and monetary policy here in Canada? Could it be used to advance the economic well-being of women, as far as you're concerned?

9:20 a.m.

Prof. Isabella Bakker

Absolutely. I think Janet already alluded to some dimensions of that.

I think what I was trying to suggest in my comments was that we need to rethink, adopt a different way of framing our fiscal and monetary policies to bring in the understanding that there are structure biases that unfold sometimes in a way that's not necessarily intentional.

In particular, given that the government has put so much emphasis on infrastructure spending over the next 10 years, I think it would be important to rethink social infrastructure investment as something that's productive to the economy, because essentially what you're doing with public sector investment is generating more resources directly. You're giving it to the people working in that social infrastructure sector, which means not only are you sustaining them today but also tomorrow. It could generate greater revenues for government as well as enhance the fiscal space I talked about, so I think that's a really important dimension to think about at the same time as you're debating physical infrastructure projects.

Secondly, as I tried to suggest, the idea that what goes on outside of the formal economy is something we should not really think about when we're formulating fiscal policy is, I think, false. It has been shown through research that it actually underestimates what the contribution of unpaid work or the voluntary sector is to both the private and the public sector. I think it's really important to think of time use in the unpaid sector as performing a useful function, because essentially it is creating labour for the formal sector. I think that conventional economists kind of assume that labour appears and do not think about what it takes to get that worker to their work site.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

We'll go to Mr. Johns, for seven minutes. Welcome to the committee.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you for your incredible leadership and for being here today. Your very important recommendations today will, hopefully, lead us to some successful decision-making.

One thing we haven't heard enough about is the gender wage gap that persists in all areas of the economy. I think we talked about the inequity that's happening. Where I live in British Columbia, two-thirds of the people who are earning minimum wage are women.

Janet, can you tell us what you think about whether the government should introduce federal pay equity legislation, and how to deal with this injustice, then maybe give me some thoughts on that?

9:20 a.m.

Co-Chair, Canadian Women's Health Network

Janet Currie

I definitely agree with that policy, but I would say also that one has to look at the placement of women in the economy. Getting back to Isabella's point, many women are involved in the care industries. When government restructurization and privatization occurred, provincial governments particularly divested themselves of their role in many of these services, which are education and health services primarily. This is where the bulk of women are employed, and these are low-wage sectors. The implication of that was that many women were put in part-time, contracted-out positions, without benefits.

I would say we need to again take a more holistic approach, not only in terms of wage equity but in terms of policies and programs that either lead women to or support women in full employment, or support benefit packages for women who are in contract positions. Again, education and health care sectors are fundamental to our economy, and women have been and are working in them more, as well as more and more on a volunteer basis. I would say we need to be strengthening the employment areas where women are overrepresented and providing not only income support measures but policy measures that support a living wage and more self-sufficiency and decision-making among women.

9:25 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Under Quebec's universal child care we saw an increase in the number of women in the workforce by 70,000 people in 2008.

Isabella, you talked a lot about rethinking our monetary policies and investments, and rethinking our social investments.

I would like to hear you elaborate a little more about where you would like to see those investments go, as well as the importance of ensuring women have access to affordable, quality child care so they can re-enter the workforce.

9:25 a.m.

Prof. Isabella Bakker

Well, I'm sure, as many other witnesses have testified, that's key, and it really underscores all different groups of women having an equal footing with men in the labour market. I think it's very key to bring in some kind of affordable day care. We have a situation in Toronto where people are spending $30,000 or $40,000 a year, and the second income is virtually going towards child care.

In terms of bringing more women into the workforce, I just saw some very interesting comments last week from Janet Yellen in the United States, who is the chair of the Fed down there. She made a comment about how, precisely, women face those kinds of child care barriers and other responsibilities, and it's stopping them from participating in the labour force. She estimated that, if women in the U.S. were participating at the same rate as men, it would raise the GDP of the U.S. by 5%. I think it makes good economic sense to bring women in and hopefully bring them into better jobs.

Also, what I was trying to suggest is that social infrastructure investment in health, education, and care sectors is really a job multiplier. It's a greater job multiplier than physical infrastructure. I think it also enhances fiscal space, and you can target it in a very gender-specific way by targeting, for example, the care sector.

9:25 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Isabella, you mentioned that the current taxation models are not gender-neutral because they favour the wealthy, the majority of whom are men. A previous witness in this committee also testified that Canada's UN gender ranking fell from number one in the world to number 25 in part because of Canada's unfair taxation policy.

You cited the stock option loopholes in particular. What changes would you like to see in the taxation policy in budget 2017 to better reflect the needs of women?

9:25 a.m.

Prof. Isabella Bakker

That's an important question. Yes, I believe that was Professor Lahey who you heard from on that.

I think, in terms of the stock option, from the preliminary research my colleague and I are doing using the StatsCan raw data, we found that men were 6.5 times more likely to take up that option precisely because of the way in which they are situated in terms of the tax and income deciles.

I think there needs to be a general review of all tax expenditures. I know that's a thorny issue, but I think it has to be done, not just from the perspective of income deciles, but also from the perspective of men versus women. There have been a lot of very interesting studies recently that have shown, especially at the top end, what is happening in terms of tax expenditures reinforcing their economic position. There has been nothing done on men versus women, so that's what we're starting to do.

I would say it's very important for the government to be doing that because the government has the resources through Statistics Canada and through Finance to really start using a gendered lens as well as an income lens when they are making decisions about tax policy.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Janet, you talked about the budget cuts for women's organizations and partnering organizations with government and the impact of that. Can you talk about that?

9:30 a.m.

Co-Chair, Canadian Women's Health Network

Janet Currie

Well, in the cases of the centres of excellence for women's health, there is no independent voice that is able to work in partnership with government agencies and the community to support an analysis of women's health issues. For example, one of the last projects we did looked at girls and women in terms of alcoholism, particularly the impact of alcohol on young women and the role of the corporate sector in encouraging the use of alcohol by women. Again, that is related to poverty, because indigenous populations are being targeted particularly.

There are women's health voices, of course. Many of them are supported by the pharmaceutical companies, or to some degree they're funded by pharmaceutical companies, so we are concerned that there is a real loss of an independent voice on women's health in Canada.

Really, the budget for all the women's centres of excellence was very limited.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

I'm sorry but that's your time.

We're now going to Ms. Vandenbeld.

May 16th, 2017 / 9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I want to thank all of the panellists for their interventions. My first question is specifically to Larissa, although if the other witnesses would like to answer as well, they can.

Just last week the Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan announced a new government policy regarding Canada research chairs, federal funding for research, that said that within two years universities will have to have diversity policies. In fact they have to have the policy by December, and then within two years they need to reach targets in terms of the number of women and other equity-seeking groups that are receiving research funding. Right now we know that for women it's about 30% of the just over 1,600 posts that are available. For other equity-seeking groups it's 1% for indigenous women, 1% for women with disabilities, and I believe about 15% for visible minorities. You spoke about Norway and France and other countries that have legislation in this regard. Do you think essentially forcing universities to meet actual hard targets or face losing their funding is going to make a difference?

9:30 a.m.

Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko

I think it will, but if the number of tenure-track positions continues to decrease, it will still have a limited impact, because the number of jobs available for young scientists in general is still decreasing compared to the number of scientists who are graduating. In many fields there is no industry for scientists. The place where scientific research occurs is within the university. I think that's a great piece of legislation, but I think there has to be something that is a better connector between the post-doctoral fellowship or the Ph.D. and the point of getting a tenure-track position.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Is there a role for the federal government in that regard, perhaps from the international examples that you gave?

9:30 a.m.

Founder and President, Canadian Association for Girls in Science

Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko

I would like to see better federal oversight of universities, because if the number of tenure-track positions has been increasing, perhaps the federal government could legislate that the funding be contingent upon having a certain proportion of students to full-time faculty, or something along those lines. Additionally, there are several countries in Europe that have national education strategies and they track the number of students entering different programs compared to the number of jobs that are expected thereafter. Canada doesn't have anything like that, but there is also a lower youth unemployment rate in those countries. I would also like to see Canada with some sort of federal education strategy whereby it can better track the number of students going into different fields in relation to the jobs that are available for them.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Do the other witnesses want to comment on that?

9:35 a.m.

Co-Chair, Canadian Women's Health Network

Janet Currie

I think it is a structural problem at the university level. Ironically I'm a Ph.D. student now. I'm working in the faculty of medicine, and I certainly have observed among my fellow Ph.D. students real questioning and a sense of despair around what their future will be. Many Ph.D.s are working as sessional instructors, which is a very good option for the university, but these are dead-end jobs and they're very poorly paid. I think some kind of policy and pressures need to be put on the university to support women going into tenure-track positions. I think it's related to the corporatization of the university as well. It's a complex issue, but certainly I do see it, among my fellow students, as being a big problem.

9:35 a.m.

Prof. Isabella Bakker

I agree with the other two witnesses, and I would just add that I think, from the perspective of my own university, there are two things that are interesting in terms of the Canada research chairs, CRCs. We have very few, and that's because the funding model is based on the research monies that a university is able to raise. We don't have a medical school and we've just recently gotten an engineering school. The other kind of gatekeeper I've seen is the way in which research is interpreted and encouraged. Oftentimes, for example, research that's feminist—for example, I do feminist economics—is disparaged by the economists; they don't see it as research. That kind of validation of credentials in research is really important, and there has to be an openness to diversity of voices in research. I think that's one of the gatekeepers.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I'll continue with Ms. Bakker. I'm a York University alumni in history, not in the sciences. Although I joined the science club in grade 10, I lost interest over the course of my high school years, probably due to the socialization that you mentioned, Larissa.

You mentioned tax policy and the need for a gender lens. We did a study here in this committee on gender-based analysis, and it was very evident that when you put on a gender-based analysis, you do see the links in ways that may not always be evident. I know this was the first time ever that there was a gender lens put on the budget. One of the challenges was the lack of desegregated data, the fact that it was very difficult to actually measure some of the things in order to be able to do that analysis. Where do you see the gaps? What would be ways that the federal government could ensure that we can even do the GBA on the budget or on tax policy to be able to have the data to do that?

9:35 a.m.

Prof. Isabella Bakker

I see the difficulty in some areas in terms of data, but I think there are always ways in which to maybe get around that a bit by doing approximations. For example, if one has a sense of the number of women versus men employed in a sector, one can do some approximations that way. It would also be important for the government to actually see how much money it is putting into the gender equality goal. It's not just what Status of Women is being funded, which I think is $27 million, but to maybe introduce something like a gender equality marker, which is what the OECD has for tracking overseas development aid.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

That's your time, I'm sorry.

We're going to go to Mr. Warawa for our last five-minute round.