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

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

That is your time. Thank you very much.

We're going to turn to Ms. Harder for seven minutes.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

My first question here is for Ms. Livengood.

In 2013, you received some funding to run a three-year mentorship program. The mentorship program was entitled Make Possible: Together We Create Opportunity. Can you expand on what was accomplished during that time?

That time is coming to an end now. Clearly, mentorship has been identified as a very key factor in encouraging women and girls to enter STEM and entrepreneurship, and in giving them the support that is necessary to be successful in these fields. I'm curious as to what has been accomplished in those three years.

10:15 a.m.

Director, Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology

Danniele Livengood

We still refer to Make Possible as being in beta form. We're still making upgrades to the platform. Essentially we have over 800 members on the platform ranging from high school students all the way up to CEOs, and not just in Canada; we have a few international members as well.

With the platform, we hope to create a very open and supportive collaboration space in which people can trade skills. We really found that people didn't want to set up a super-formal mentorship like, “I'm your mentor, and you're my mentee, and you're committed.” They didn't want that. They wanted to be able to find people who would help them foster the skills they were trying to build. We ended up basing our structure around this and allowing people to share skills by finding people with those skills or offering to share skills.

This also removed a barrier that we often see, which is that people of a certain age or skills ability think that they can't be mentored and they can only be mentors, that they can only teach; they can't learn. Social media or optimizing your website are things that some of the older generation were looking to learn, but often there wasn't a venue for them. We found that our platform was a good way to connect people based on skills and take out some of those other biases, like age or level of education, so people could connect and support each other.

The platform also really focuses on visibility, providing those role models. If you're looking for a woman in STEM or a man who's supportive—we do have a lot of men on there as well—then you know they're there, and they're available to talk. They want to talk. I've had countless coffees just chatting with people through the platform. Really it's focused on making connections and building skills.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

As the funding for this program comes to an end, would you say that it's necessary to renew that funding going forward in order to be able to provide this program, or would you say that there are some changes that are needed that would be more effective?

10:20 a.m.

Director, Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology

Danniele Livengood

Renewing the funding is something that obviously would be helpful. We could make improvements to the platform with our own budget and investment over a number of years, but obviously a further investment on a larger scale would allow us to make those improvements faster, roll it out further, and have it be a bit more stable. It's still in beta. We still don't consider it a final product, so additional funding would obviously benefit the program.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Ms. Armour, you said that 29% of women with science degrees are now working in the field as opposed to 52% of men with science degrees. I'm interested in this comparison. Why would you say only 29% of women as opposed to 52% of men work in the field in which they have a degree, within the science departments?

10:20 a.m.

President of the Board, Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology

Margaret-Ann Armour

I think many of the women who got science and engineering degrees, in either natural and applied sciences, probably started working in the industry in which they have their degree, but gradually felt that they were not comfortable there, that they were not progressing, that they wanted to move to something else, so that 29% largely reflects those people who have moved from the industry in which they were initially educated into something different. That's a concern.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Would you say that a lot of that simply has to do with biases that are communicated to women as well as social barriers that are put in place that prevent them from upward mobility?

10:20 a.m.

President of the Board, Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology

Margaret-Ann Armour

That's certainly part of it. A large part is the culture of the workplace, where women feel uncomfortable. We keep hearing from women. In fact, one group of women asked us to have a workshop on navigating the politics of the workplace. I'll never forget that first one I went to. There was a group of about 30 women, actually from one company, and the trust built very quickly, and it was suggested that nothing that was said in the room would go outside of the room. So stories were told, and at the end of the day, the women said, “Oh my goodness—it's not me. It's the workplace.” They had realized that there were many people feeling the same effects of the workplace—the harassment and the put-downs. A a lot of the time they're not intentional; they're just intended to be fun, but that's not what they are. Many of them are indeed, of course, serious harassment. The culture is important.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Ms. Armour, one of the challenges I have as a legislator, listening to the various testimonies that we've heard around this committee table, is that I see so much of the challenge lying in the attitudes of those in the workplace, particularly the men in the workplace, in the way they treat their female colleagues. This is a matter of the heart or a matter of the intellect—I think both—as well as your emotional and psychological capacity. That is not something that can necessarily be legislated.

As legislators at the federal level, what can we do to close this gap between men and women in the workplace when it comes to STEM?

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

It's going to have to be a very short answer. I don't want to have to cut you off again.

10:25 a.m.

President of the Board, Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology

Margaret-Ann Armour

All right, thank you.

I think that talking about these issues is one of the most important things that legislators can do, making people aware of the culture, the systemic biases, the unconscious.... I keep coming back to this.

Also, it's allowing groups like ours to work with the women and men who are the decision-makers in the companies, to try to change that culture and get the advocates.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much.

We'll now turn to Mr. Johns, for seven minutes.

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

I have a question for Ms. Livengood.

You mentioned the need for child care to remove barriers for women, as well as improving parental leave policies.

Do you support a “use it or lose it” policy of parental leave for the second parent? Previous witnesses, including some from the OECD, have recommended “use it or lose it” to encourage men to participate in child care.

10:25 a.m.

Director, Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology

Danniele Livengood

I do believe it is a good choice to pursue the “use it or lose it”, just because so many don't use it.

If we make it more normal that fathers take leave, that they're involved in the child-rearing process, then it will no longer be a risk that young women employees carry. It will be a risk that all employees carry. They all will take leave. They all will support their families. It will just be something that is inherent with having employees rather than being a risk that women carry by themselves.

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Thank you.

Ms. Armour, I live in a community in the Alberni Valley on Vancouver Island where one-third of the children are living in poverty. In fact, we have a teenage pregnancy rate that's 300% above the provincial average in B.C. as a result. It's really a crisis situation.

You noted that women need economic security in order to leave situations of domestic violence. We have high domestic violence in our community. Local shelters have noted that when women leave an abuser, they often move into poverty, which sometimes forces them to return to a situation of violence.

Do you agree with a paid domestic leave policy, so that women have time to leave abuse while being economically supported?

10:25 a.m.

President of the Board, Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology

Margaret-Ann Armour

Very strongly, yes.

I think one of the worst things that can happen to a woman is not being able to leave an abusive relationship because there's nothing for her to do. So having some means of support while she leaves that relationship....

Also, it's reflected in the support that women have in their initial education, seeing people within the community who've been able to go on and get a good-paying job. What a wonderful role model that person is, especially if it's someone within the community who people can identify with.

So yes to support for leaving a relationship that is abusive, but it's also looking forward to providing some means of education that will lead to financial stability for the woman.

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Thank you.

Ms. Franz-Odendaal, you spoke to the challenges you faced as a mother while doing your post-doctoral work. I'm concerned that these issues are not limited to one sector only. Budget 2017 increased the amount of time that women can take parental leave, but stretched the existing benefits over a longer period.

Do you think that the federal government should do more to ensure that all women have access to maternal leave that provides sufficient benefits?

10:25 a.m.

Prof. Tamara Franz-Odendaal

Yes, absolutely. I think that's a very important move to make.

There are far too many women who have been forced to go back to work and are having to find child care for their infant.

Child care is another huge barrier in Nova Scotia. My daughter was on a wait-list when I was three months pregnant, and she only got in to day care when she was two years old. Some of the placements were that long.

It's incredibly stressful not to have that maternity leave coverage.

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Thank you.

Ms. Livengood, living in British Columbia we both know that the housing situation is terrible. Certainly on Vancouver Island we're now feeling the spillover from Vancouver. The lack of affordable housing often means that women are not able to leave shelters when they are ready. Women who don't have access to housing are often faced with the decision of taking themselves and their children into poverty or returning to an abuser. What kinds of investments would you suggest seeing in affordable housing to address this issue, and how urgent is it?

10:30 a.m.

Director, Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology

Danniele Livengood

As you said, in British Columbia, especially in the Lower Mainland, we're seeing that housing crunch. I think investments in affordable housing are really important. The crackdown on empty rental space by Vancouver has been very useful.

I would say, especially in the spirit of the study we're discussing today, we need to empower women across Canada but also in B.C. to make a living wage that will support the kind of housing the market has available, through some of the things we talked about, such as decreasing biases in hiring and promotion and ensuring they can make the wage they require to live. I think the living wage campaign here in B.C. is really effective in showing that to have a two-parent, two-child home you have to make about double the minimum wage to afford to live in the Lower Mainland, and that's not even in Vancouver proper.

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

That's great.

The equity hiring of women and indigenous individuals during the construction of the Vancouver Island highway was a great success story, being able to boost the number of women employed in infrastructure projects. Do you think this model could be applied elsewhere?

10:30 a.m.

Director, Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology

Danniele Livengood

Absolutely. I think quotas can be useful, and they can be problematic. If you address the kinds of job postings you're putting together and seeing who is being attracted to them, as well as how you're evaluating—blind hiring, removing identifiers that people have biases against, such as names or places of education—then you don't necessarily have to have a quota. As long as your applicant pools are representative of Canadian culture and diversity then quotas are less needed, but sometimes they are a necessary step to seeing that the talent is out there.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you, and that's your time.

We'll now turn to Mr. Fraser for seven minutes.

May 16th, 2017 / 10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Ms. Livengood, I have a lot of questions I would like to get through. If we could keep the answers tight it would be very helpful.

One of the things you talked about at length was access to opportunities in different professions that are typically dominated by men. I was a lawyer before I got into politics, and I saw this first-hand. I was unintentionally the direct beneficiary of the old boy's club, so to speak. There were partners at the firm who saw themselves in me. We'd meet casually; they'd give me a file, and it really helped with the partnership track. Coming out of law school it was probably fifty-fifty men and women who were hired for articling positions; at the partnership level it was at least three-quarters men, seven or eight years later in their career.

We talked a little about the “comply or explain” thing we could do to get more gender-balanced representation on corporate boards. Are there other measures we can take in the private sector to help create opportunities, formally or informally, for women to advance at that mid-level and senior portions of their career?