Gender gap: Women still fall short of men in the workforce and health care system

CALGARY — Recent studies show the gender gap in various sectors and institutions is still prevalent. Whether it’s in the workforce or the health care system, men make up the majority or the institutions are still very much geared towards supporting them.

An ATB financial report shows that in the workforce in this province, the percentage of women participating in the workforce is still lower than men, with women at 63 per cent and men at 74 per cent. The study also found women are less likely than men to be self-employed or to work in the private sector.

Filomena May, who has been a wealth advisor in Calgary for 18 years, said when she started out in the industry, there were only five per cent of women in the field.

“I’d walk in a conference and I’d be looking around and wondering OK, where is everybody else? Now we’ve increase to 15 per cent in my type of role,” she said.

“We still have a ways to go but we’re definitely excited about inspiring women to be doing more of this because it’s a great career.”

May, who currently operates her own business with Raymond James, said the company she started out with wasn’t just male-dominated and competitive, there was not a lot of support for new moms.

“Even being a top producer at the time I wasn’t given accounts because I was told I just had a young child,” she said.

Dr. Pallavi Banerjee, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Calgary, said child care work is one of the biggest impediments that women still face in the labour market.

“Care work needs to be work that’s recognized and not just as work that’s done on the side lines or that’s devalued,” said Dr. Banerjee.

“I think the full responsibility really falls on our institutions and our structures and the government in having social safety nets for women to take off work because clearly that’s not changing.”

Dr. Banerjee said beyond the gender gap, the pay gap between men and women is concerning. She says a recent University of Ottawa report shows a significant pay gap between male and female college grads. In the first year it’s almost 12 per cent and the gap grows to 28 per cent over five years.

HEALTH CARE DISPARITIES

Beyond the workforce, disparities are also prevalent in the health care system. The Alberta Women’s Health Foundation launched a new campaign on International Women’s Day to fund medical research that looks specifically at women’s health. The foundation said there is a lack of research and information that is leading to skewed and often disastrous outcomes for women seeking care. The group said 300 Alberta women are sent home from the hospital because signs of heart attacks are missed and present differently in men and women.

Cynthia Culhane, a mother of four, is part of that statistic.

“You have to fight for your health, because no one cares as much as you do, at the same time the advocacy is such an important part of this,” she said.

PUSHING FOR CHANGE

Whether it’s advocacy in health care, the workforce or any other sector, speaking out and pushing for change is the game changer. May said in addition to her busy work schedule, she spends time mentoring young women at the University of Calgary to help change the culture and try to close the gender gap.

“I think we’ve come a long way and we have a long way to go but the mindset is changing around it,” said May.

“I think as women we bring a whole different level to the work force and why not take advantage of our own unique gifts in working together and collaborating with men?”

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