For far too long, we’ve been hearing how much less money women make than men. While progress is being made, there is still a long way to go—if we look to the latest report from the 2022 World Economic Forum, post-pandemic, gender parity is not recovering. In fact, it will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap.
As crises are compounding, women’s workforce outcomes are suffering and the risk of global gender parity backsliding further intensifies. In this episode, Debra speaks with Katica Roy, a gender economist who highlights how policy today is mostly gender-ignorant, meaning it doesn’t apply the gender lens to determine how said policies impact men and women differently. As Katica explains, women’s participation in the labour market is good for the economy overall: excluding well educated and trained women from the workforce is a lost opportunity for economic growth. Listen in to learn what’s at stake and how we can build momentum towards greater gender parity that benefits us all.
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Why Gender Equity is Good for the Economy with Katica Roy
I’m here with a very special guest, Katica Roy, who is the Founder and CEO of Pipeline and a gender economist. We are going to all find out together what that means exactly. Welcome, Katica.
Thank you for having me.
I’m so excited to speak to you. I have been wanting to speak to an economist for quite some time, so this has come together nicely from my perspective. Before we get started with some of the specifics around gender and the economy, I would love to hear a little bit about your career story. It’s something that we like to dive into a little bit here on the show, especially for women to hear a bit about their career journey. How is it that you came to be a gender economist?
The first part is my family history. I am the daughter of an immigrant and a refugee. My mom was an immigrant. She was born on the isle Guernsey which is one of the channel isles of the United Kingdom, in 1939, the year that World War II began. In 1940, when France fell to the German army, Prime Minister Churchill doubted his ability to defend the channel isles, so he evacuated them. That included 5,000 children. One of which was my mother. She was eighteen months old, the youngest of five children, and separated from her four siblings and her mother. She was placed into an orphanage and adopted a year later. She would never see her own mother again.
She immigrated to the United States when she was 21 when she was emancipated for equality and opportunity where she would later meet my dad. I am also the daughter of a refugee. My father escaped from Hungary after the fall of the 1956 revolution in Hungary. His decision to escape was difficult not only because he’d be risking his life, but also the lives of his three daughters. My three oldest sisters were 3, 7 and 8 at the time. With the help of Hungarian freedom fighters, they walked across a minefield and cross the border into Austria.
Less than two months into their stay in the refugee camp, President Eisenhower sent Air Force One to bring 21 Hungarian refugees to the US on Christmas day 1956, and my father and sisters were on that plane. I’m the youngest of six kids. Three of us were born here in the United States. What I was raised with was the understanding of both the sacrifices that had been made for me to have the opportunities that I have, but also the opportunities that I had and the idea that one person in a position of power can make a difference. For my family, that was President Eisenhower. He said, “Not on my watch. This will not happen. These people matter.” That was a core part of why I founded Pipeline, which was to ensure that the men and women coming after me have more opportunities than I had.
That was one. The second piece is as I mentioned, I’m the youngest of 6 kids, 5 girls and 1 boy. All of the things that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for in her career are things that I saw play out in my family, my sisters and their lack of economic opportunity. For instance, their inability to get a credit card without a male co-signer or a business loan without a male co-signer. I saw those things play out and not only impact them but also their families.
Then the last part was my experience in the workforce. I’m of the generation of girls that were told that if we work hard and do well in school, we can be anything we want to be. I’m a Gen Xer. When we got to the workforce, it was like, “Wait a second.” I started working long before there was any conversation around gender equity. I was a Political Science major, so I did learn about women’s rights, etc.There is a generation of girls who were told that if they worked hard, they could be anything they wanted to be, and they believed that. Click To Tweet
When I was on maternity leave with my daughter, my boss was optimized, which is a fancy word for fired. A day after I got back, I was asked to take on a new team. I had a team I was managing, and then two weeks later, I was asked to take on the third team. That meant I had three teams that I was managing. My male colleague was asked to take on one additional team. He was one pay grade higher than I was and received additional compensation for that new team, and I received nothing.
I called HR and my new boss. I said, “This is a great opportunity for a breadwinner mom for a family of four. What do you want to do to make me whole in my compensation?” They didn’t say anything. It was two months of back and forth. My first job at a college was as a litigation paralegal. I thought there’s got to be something that makes this illegal.
I did my research and found the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which changed the statute of limitations for equal pay. I called HR and said, “This is a Lilly Ledbetter issue. Every time you pay me, the statute of limitations starts over. What do you want to do about it?” To their credit, they increased my pay, gave me back pay, and increased my level. It was at that moment that my journey to founding Pipeline began. Certainly, it was a story of success, but I wondered why did I have to research my rights to be treated equitably? That catalyzed ultimately what became Pipeline.
Thank goodness you did that. I’m always reminded that there are women out there that I feel like I owe gratitude to like Ruth Bader Ginsburg for example. It puts such a huge amount of pressure and stress on the individual to speak up, and quite frankly, most people won’t speak up.
It’s not some failing on their part. By definition, if you are experiencing inequity, you are not in a position of power.
It’s a status issue.
You risk retaliation and you also risk a threat to your economic security. I’m a breadwinner mom for a family of four. Those are all things that I take into consideration because it’s not only my economic security. It’s also my family.
Thank you for sharing that. That’s a fascinating journey. I would like to start off our conversation with something that has been on my mind. I would love to get your perspective on this. I have been thinking a lot about domestic labor that has been traditionally provided by women because we still divide labor along gender lines. That started a long time ago. We are still trying to work our way out of that model.
We have this tradition of most of the domestic, and I will lump into the caregiving types of labor, which fall traditionally to women. Even in the workplace, those types of roles are more female-dominated even when they are paid, which I would argue are very undervalued and underpaid in our economy. I could go on and on about it. I’m in Canada. You are in the US. What I’m curious about is if we were to think about the relative strengths of our economies and the wealth of our nations, how much of that can be attributed to the fact that women did so much labor for free? If not for free, it’s what I would call bargain basement rates.
You are talking about unpaid and then your paid caregiving roles. I will go into that. What’s interesting about that is it’s also a false narrative that women can choose to work. I want to address that, and then I will go into the numbers that you are asking about. In the United States, women are the breadwinners in 40% of US households with children under the age of eighteen.
Pipeline did research and we found that there are sixteen million breadwinner moms. They support 28 million children, and they have the largest gender pay gap in a cohort of women in the labor force. That’s $0.66 on the dollar. When you cut that by gender plus race and ethnicity, Black breadwinner moms have the largest gender pay gap of any women in the labor force. It’s $0.44 on the dollar. Black breadwinner moms support the majority of all Black children.
You have 40% of US households with children under the age of eighteen where moms are breadwinners, and an additional 31% where moms participate in the paid labor force. If you look at US families, the majority of moms are participating in the paid labour force. The idea that moms can choose not to work is not true when you look at the data. That’s an important piece that people don’t often realize. That’s one.
The second is when you look at the undervaluing of paid caregiving jobs like childcare, home healthcare, etc., I did some research here in the US. Part of President Biden’s Build Back Better, there are three pieces of it, but two particular pieces of it are around jobs. One was the American Jobs Plan and the other was the American Families Plan.
When I looked at the research and started to look at who would gain jobs and what they would pay, what I found was that in the American Jobs Plan, which was passed as the Infrastructure Bill, women would be slated to only gain about 23% of those jobs. Yet we had lost over 57% of the jobs during the pandemic.
It’s not only that there was a 34% gap in the jobs that we would gain, the other thing that I found is that the jobs in the American Jobs Plan with the Infrastructure Bill versus the American Families Plan, which was mostly caregiving jobs, even if you didn’t close the gender pay gap, they paid 1.7 times more than the caregiving jobs. They actually paid a living wage.
That’s just one pure example of how we undervalue women and caregiving roles in the United States and globally. That’s one piece. The other piece is that there was a lot of talk about this during the pandemic. We did some research and found that women’s unpaid labor increased by 153% during the pandemic. Annually, families’ wages would go down by about $65 billion if we didn’t do something to deal with unpaid labour.
If we zoom out a little bit as of the last jobs report in the United States, we have almost two jobs open for every person looking for a job. It makes a lot of sense for us to begin to invest in caregiving jobs and ensure full participation of women in the labor force because this idea that we can choose whether or not we pay for people is not true from an economic perspective. We can choose how we pay for people. We cannot choose whether or not we pay for them.
I know here in Canada, the pandemic shone a light on the true value of good quality care and the lack of it that we had, especially elder care.
We have an issue too with the ‘Sandwich Generation’. I was part of the Sandwich Generation during the pandemic. For those who don’t know, the Sandwich Generation are folks who are both raising their kids and caring for their elderly parents. My mom had terminal cancer during the pandemic. She lived with us and we took care of her for the last eight months of her life. We have no infrastructure to deal with that at all.
It’s extremely challenging. We are now starting to realize that we don’t have a good structure, especially for elder care. For many people, it does often fall to women. I will speak for myself. I’m getting to the point where my kids are starting to launch and I’m thinking of freedom. Part of that freedom for me is to focus a little more on my career, and where I want to go next in my career. At the same time, my husband and I are approaching an age where our parents are going to start to need some care. It’s a lot of additional pressure on individuals and families.
It’s an economic cost. Think about it from your perspective. If you are not able to participate in the labour force to the full extent because you have to take time to take care of your children, we are losing out on your talent. We see this dynamic play out from an economic perspective. From a labour economics perspective, there are three key pieces. There’s education attainment, labour force participation, and wages.
In education attainment in the United States, women are 58% of all college graduates, but they are only 47% of the labour base. You’ve got a 9-point gap between educational attainment and participation in the labour force. That’s an issue because we have educated labour and they are not participating in the labour force, and we need them.
I often look at that from a slightly different lens. You are looking at it from the numbers perspective. I’m also thinking about it from the perspective of we need those different perspectives. We have a lot of urgent pressing problems to solve. We need a ton of innovation in all sectors of our economy.
If I think about the climate crisis alone, there are many other things that we could talk about, but with the amount of innovation we need, we need everybody at the table to participate in that. We are missing out on those talented and well-educated minds. Life would be better for all of us if we had more participation.
It’s an economic issue. In the United States, we could add $3.1 trillion to the US economy if we closed the gender gap in the US. That’s labour force participation, closing the gender pay gap, and then the mix of sectors that women work in. That’s to say nothing of the spillover effects that we would have from closing those issues.
For instance, in the United States, while we could add $512 billion to the US economy by closing the gender pay gap, closing the gender pay gap also closes the Social Security savings shortfall by a third. The reason is because most women come under that Social Security cap or the wages. There are spillover effects as well that we would benefit from. That’s not just about women. That’s good for everyone. Whether or not people care about gender equity or even believe it’s an issue, it’s a massive economic opportunity and it impacts everybody.
When you say it would add that much to the economy, can you deconstruct for us a little bit about what that means? How does it work? Is it because people have more money to spend in the economy?
There are different pieces of it. $1.7 trillion would be increasing women’s labour force participation. A little over $500 billion is closing the gender pay gap, and then the remainder is the sectors that women work in. We no longer have occupational segregation which is what we have in the United States. To give you a sense, from 1970 to 2016, women added $2 trillion to the US economy by increasing their labour force participation. We lost almost all of that progress during the pandemic. We were set back for 33 years in terms of labour force participation. We still have lost 29 years of progress in labor force participation. For all the fanfare about the positive jobs report on August 5th, it’s a drop in the bucket in terms of the trend that we need to see.
When we look broader and more socially, in order for women to participate more fully in the workforce like childcare, there are things that have to be in place.
It’s not true. It is very frustrating. That is this common narrative that we hear in the media. It’s about, “If we had high-quality affordable childcare and paid leave.” Yes, it helps but it is not a silver bullet. It goes back to the very first thing that we talked about, which is that moms are the breadwinners of 40% of US households with children.
There’s this myth of secondary income that women only work to pay for purses and shoes, and that our income is not to pay for things like housing, healthcare, food, insurance, transportation, and all the other things that families need. It’s simply not true. Seventy-one percent of American families with children under the age of eighteen rely on all or some portion of the mom’s earnings for their economic well-being. Yes, childcare and paid leave will help, but it is not a silver bullet. It does not look at the reality of what’s happening in the labor force which is during the pandemic, the majority of sectors and occupations that were impacted by the pandemic were female-dominated. That’s the first piece.
The second piece is that we have a lot of gender inequity in the labour force. We keep on confusing progress with equity. I will give you one example. The percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs that are women is 8%. I mentioned to you that women are 58% of all college graduates in the United States, 47% of the labour base and 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs. That’s what we need to fix. We want to both increase women’s labour force participation, and also reap the economic gains associated with that.
Hallelujah to that. We have talked a lot about that here on this show, and what gets in the way at every rung up that ladder. Another interesting stat that we dug into in an earlier episode was that based on 8%, 92% of people at that level are obviously men. The percentage of those that were White men over 6 feet tall, which is less than 5% of the US population, meets that description.
Something is going on here. You’re right. It’s the workplace. This is what frustrates me a lot too. Here in Canada, women are outpacing men in terms of education. They are graduating at higher rates even in more male-dominated spaces to some degree. The workplace is a place where we run into issues. I think of the lack of parental leave or the lack of ability for men to take parental leave as part of that problem, but there are all these other rungs to it.
The one thing I will tell you, and then I will answer your question, is I always feel like we should apologize to Canada. Canada and the US get lumped together in global rankings, as well as North America. You are ahead of us in terms of gender equity. Not only do you have equal pay, but you also have equitable pay. It is a law that is designed to deal with occupational segregation, that is equal pay for work of equal value, which is important. For instance, we deal with the wage differences between a parole officer and a social worker. Parole officers are more likely to be men, and social workers are more likely to be women. It’s largely the same job. You are leaps and bounds ahead of us. I sometimes feel like we should apologize for that.Canada always gets lumped together with the US in global rankings, but they are ahead in terms of gender equity. Click To Tweet
The other piece in terms of men is an important part. One of the things that I have talked about is not having paternity leave or maternity leave, but just having caregiver leave. We don’t need to assign a gender to it. If you look at that through the lens of gender equity, where gender equity is not a synonym for women’s rights, it’s women being half the conversation, and men being the other half of the conversation. It’s not because they have the majority of leadership positions but because gender inequity impacts men too. One of the places that we see that is in caregiving.
We know for instance that 48% of working dads would like to stay home with their kids, and why don’t they? It’s because of identity and isolation. Essentially, it’s the structure that we have built around what it means to be a man in our society. Identity is, “Who will I be?” Isolation is, “Who will I connect with?” We need to begin to deconstruct and change that so that we can have more equitable societies. If you look at some of the examples both in the US and Canada of your Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Secretary Pete here in the United States taking paternity leaves, we have seen some progress toward that, but we need to see a lot more.
It’s a gender equity issue for men that they are denied these opportunities in a way to be more present for their children if they have children, perhaps their elderly parents, as a spouse, or whoever in their life is important. It’s broadening that. There are a number of issues that come up that we label as women’s issues, but they are broader societal issues.
One example, I wrote a 2022 voting guide. We are in the midterms here in the United States. It takes fifteen campaign issues and applies a gender lens to them. It shows voters what they should be looking for in candidates’ platforms and asks them about it. In Canada, you have gender impact analysis and gender budget analysis, which is often referred to as gender mainstreaming. It’s a way to put every public policy through the gender lens to ensure that you are not having a negative impact on one gender or the other or non-binary for that effect. We don’t have that yet in the United States. The intent of my voting guide was to do that within the US.
One of those fifteen issues is healthcare. Healthcare, mental health in particular, does impact women but it’s largely a men’s issue. Men and boys in the United States are four times more likely to die from suicide. They account for 79% of all suicides. Their mental health declines substantially during the pandemic, and yet it’s not something we talk about as a men’s issue. It’s not something that we have systemically made access to in terms of mental health as part of healthcare, just like you would go to your doctor once a year to get your checkup. You should also have similar access to mental health, and also be covered under healthcare plans, but also enough mental health providers. These are important issues that we need to deal with if we want to reach gender equity.While it does impact women, healthcare and mental health is largely a men's issue. Click To Tweet
I 100% agree with that. There’s a mental health crisis going on in both our countries. This is impacting men, and we see that play out in a lot of different ways. Especially in the United States, we see that play out, unfortunately, in some very tragic ways. It is a broader health issue. This comes back to a lot of this idea of identity that we are raised with and that we inherit from our culture.
You brought up this idea of data. I read Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. It was the first time that I started to realize it’s important to get these numbers. If we don’t have the data, then we have this data gap. We do have this default of we have data, but it tends to mostly be about men and this assumption that we can apply the same thing to women. Where does data play into it for you? What numbers do we need to be looking at? Some people will say, “Why do we have to always make everything about men versus women?” Why is it important to desegregate based on gender?
I would first say it’s not about men versus women. That should never be the argument. We are all in this together. Men are not bad. Women are not good. That’s not the intent. Invisible Women is a great book about where women are missing in data models and their impact on us. I have had that personal experience because I have odd reactions to medicine. I have had to call the doctor. I know that medicines are not equitably tested on women so we end up having different reactions that are not recorded because we weren’t part of the original data set.
The issue and what Invisible Women is about and Canada’s gender budgeting and gender mainstreaming is that we often assume that policies and decisions are gender neutral, and they are not. They are gender ignorant. Some of the examples that we have seen closer to home are things like all the economic stimulus that was pumped into the economy in the United States during the economic fallout due to the pandemic was not gender lens.
For instance, there was a stimulus sent out for the number of adults and children in a given household. If you are a single mom with two kids, your expenses are not that much less than if you were a married couple with two children, and yet you got substantially less money. Couple that with the fact that you also then were earning $0.66 on the dollar of your male colleague. You had less money coming into your household before the pandemic, and therefore less savings to rely on in the economic downturn.
We have that. In the United States, we still have 513,000 women missing from the labour force as of the last jobs report. We have had record inflation in the United States. We know that the inflation rate for products that are marketed toward women versus men is twice that. Your gender impacts the prices that you are paying.
In the US, the Fed raising the rates has a predominantly negative impact on women, and that’s because we are deemed a higher credit risk simply because of our gender. It’s not true when you look at it through the data. We pay higher rates for things like mortgages and car loans. It’s a triple whammy. When we think that things are gender neutral, often they are not. They are gender ignorant and we are all paying for that.When you think that things are gender neutral, often they're not. They're gender ignorant, and everyone's paying for that. Click To Tweet
That’s an important point. The work you are doing is so important to bring this lens to it. To your point, a lot of people think, “I don’t see any blatant smoking guns here in terms of sexism.” This idea of being gender ignorant is an important one.
Before we wrap up, I’m curious to know this. For the average working person going into the workplace have got colleagues. Some are men, women or non-binary. We have got a whole mix of people in the workplace. We got multiple generations. If we are all wanting to work better together in a more equitable way, maybe start with women but it’s anybody, what do you want women in particular to know?
I would say women and men because men make up the majority of all leaders. It’s as important for them to be in that conversation. There are two things. The first is that we have focused on fixing women as the solution to gender equity. That’s essentially teaching them how to be in the labour force. Whether that’s applying for jobs, negotiating or ending the uptick in their speech. There are many different ways that we have done that. Women are not broken. The system is broken.
We have an inequitable by default system. What we need is an equitable-by-design system. Which is exactly the company that I founded, Pipeline. That’s what we are designed to do. When companies have Pipeline, they run all of their people’s decisions through our system to ensure that there’s not any inequity and catch it before those decisions are made, which is a very different decision-making model. We see companies increase equity by 67% in their first three months on the platform. It’s a huge catapult.
Couple that with the fact that we started with research. We did research across 4,000 companies in 29 countries. What we found was that for every 10% increase in intersectional gender equity, so gender plus race, ethnicity and age, there’s a 1% to 2% increase in revenue. Equity is not just the right thing to do. It’s a massive economic opportunity. For CEOs, their number one job is to maximize shareholder value. Ensuring equity within their company is an important lever for them to return value to their shareholders.
This has been an amazing conversation. I cannot thank you enough for doing it. Is there anything else you want to say before we wrap?
This is great. I don’t know if there’s anything else that I would add. I think that we are at a moment in the United States, as well as globally, where we are reckoning with what it means to be an equitable society.
It’s driving a lot of the work that I’m doing too. It’s important work. If you ever decide to expand Pipeline into Canada, please do call me.
We are having conversations about it so you stay in touch.
Please do. Thank you so much.
Thanks for having me.
I’m back here with lisa to talk a little bit about this conversation we had with Katica Roy. Some interesting statistics. lisa, we know that there are some differences between the US and Canada, but I have to say that to Katica’s point, we might be better off in some ways. We still have a long way to go in other ways. What are some of the things that landed with you in that conversation?
What a remarkable background that Katica brings and the lived experience which can inform one’s professional and/or political perspective. The fact that she shared the backstory of her family and her sisters, enriched the conversation. I was glad to hear that. I come back to this thing often in which we call things that are about humane practices. We called them feminists. In this case, feminist economics.
I wanted to talk a little bit about that before we talk about the interview. When you think about the difference between mainstream economics and feminist economics, the key difference is that in mainstream economics, we count on the economy, the wealth of the nation, and paid labour. We are talking about the gross domestic product and measures only paid work. Typically and historically, men have been the ones who were the breadwinners, and women in traditional roles were the ones doing the unpaid labour.
Unpaid labour, and I’m sure many in our audience can identify with this, women are creating new labourers. We call them children, but women are raising children. They are maintaining the other adult workers in their house through daily care. Also, the care of those who are unable to work. Not only the young but maybe the sick, the disabled, and the elderly. Women are also typically responsible for maintaining networks, relationships, and community. They are volunteering time at school and perhaps community groups, and doing quite a bit not only in caring for other people but there are a lot of things like laundry, shopping and cooking.
I’m not talking about the ’50s housewife here. The reason I say that is that during the pandemic, it has been measured that women’s domestic labor went up 150%. This is more than doubling. I’m not talking about things that happened in the past. We are living in a situation in which women are still contributing unpaid labour.
The reason I raise this to talk about mainstream economics and feminist economics is feminist economics are not about women wanting to take over, or women saying, “Our way of doing the economy is better than men’s way.” It’s about equitably counting everything that goes into creating the products of a society.
As you said to me when we were talking about this, it’s contributing to the wealth of a nation. It’s contributing to an educated populace and citizens who are informed and healthy. The fact that we don’t count it is a problem. Feminist economics is not about changing the whole world and putting women on top. It’s about the equitable understanding of all the labour that goes into creating a healthy economy.
It’s such an important point. I want to understand this even deeper than I do. You mentioned the 1950s as a model, which wasn’t that long ago. If we think about women’s participation around that time, it was probably around the 30% mark. That would be in very specific types of roles for the most part earning far less than men.
Their labour participation drastically changed depending on the age group that you look at for women. Before marriage and children, it would be higher, and then much less so. If you think about that time and then go backwards in time. I’m curious to understand better how much of the wealth of our two nations have been built on domestic labour that women have provided for free. I’m thinking specifically of the US and Canada but it’s relevant everywhere.
I called them bargain basement rates because we are still undervaluing all the work that women are doing. I have a couple of mindsets about that because I get a little pissed off that in 2022 right now, we are still talking about how much more of that work women do. I get aggravated by that. Part of me thinks, “I get it, but why are we still doing that?”
I’m married. I have two teenage boys and I am going out of my way to make sure that the division of labour in our home gets equally divided. I don’t want to send two young men out into the world thinking that women do everything or moms do everything. I would be doing the world a disservice. I have a bit of a reaction to that, but I understand it is the reality.
Not only does that mean women are less able to participate in the paid workforce because of that additional labour. There’s also this misunderstanding. We are not looking at numbers that are valid and real when they don’t account for the fact of where our economy has been built on. If I go back to that 1950s model, part of the reason why a man could go out and work a very long day, maybe even entertain a client in the evening, or bring his boss back to the house for dinner because someone was at home taking care of everything else. That’s what made that possible.
Now we live in a world that’s very different where everybody has got to go out and work. Most people don’t have someone at home taking care of everything else. No wonder everybody is complaining about stress and exhaustion because it’s not doable. The way we work hasn’t changed to accommodate that. I have probably gone off on a bit of a tangent there, but I don’t know how that lands with you.
I completely agree and I’m going to do a little side stroll. Maybe everyone is not talking about quiet quitting. I saw somebody on social media who said, “It’s not quiet quitting. It’s doing the job you were paid to do, and not the 70,000 other things that are about building your career in an organization that can let you go on a whim anyway.”
What strikes me in this whole conversation, and it’s part of the interview you had with Katica but you and I have been talking about this for a period of time, is that wouldn’t everybody want to live in a prosperous society? Wouldn’t everybody want to be able to have luxurious public spaces? Wouldn’t everybody want to feel safe walking down the street? Wouldn’t everybody’s families want their daughters and sons to have the same opportunities?
Why are we fighting so strongly against principles that are humane and just, and about equality and belonging? In this day and age, we know better, and yet all these obstacles continue to remain in place. Think what you will or if you want to call it a controversy of Lisa LaFlamme in CTV, and whether or not she was let go for being an older woman with gray hair.
We don’t know the complete backstory, but the fact that this story resonates as much as it does tells me that this is what people are still experiencing in this day and age. After I read an article, I love to read the comments. When you read the comments on this article and how many people resonate with this particular story, it is generally speaking that women who are powerful, older and have found a way in spite of all the obstacles to grow in their careers seem somehow to be a threat.
The thing that baffles me the most in this is that if our population is at least half women, don’t parents out there or fathers out there want their daughters to have the kinds of roles, gravitas and smarts of a Lisa LaFlamme? Why are we so intimidated and threatened by women who managed to survive and achieve in this world? It boggles the mind.
Katica did give a fair number of statistics for the US and did speak to some of the relative differences. I will throw a couple of quick things out there. This is specific to Canada.
Women still only represent 23% of Canadian board directors. It’s creeping up but very slowly, and less than 20% of executive officer roles. That’s for women. The statistics are significantly less for Black, indigenous women, and visible minorities. We also talked a little bit about education and the idea that we have a lot of well-educated women who aren’t participating in the labour market to the full extent that they can. Katica was able to put some numbers around what that means in terms of missed opportunity when we don’t have women fully participating, and how much that would benefit the economy.
Interestingly, this one piece that I read says that Canada stands out, specifically given its highly educated female population. Canada is a leader amongst advanced economy nations for gender parity and educational attainment but lags behind peers in women’s economic participation and opportunity for political empowerment. This means highly educated talent in Canada is being underutilized. It’s a problem we cannot afford to ignore.
You and I aren’t mathematicians and economists. It’s hard to get your mind around what that means in terms of missed opportunities. There’s also a lot of research to show that at an organizational level, not just the big picture economy level, organizations that do have more women in leadership roles, female representation on boards, and so forth do better. They have higher revenue.
This is the messaging that Katica wants to make sure we get out there. This is good for companies to do this. She reiterated what you and I have talked about many times. It’s that this is a systemic issue. This is about, specifically, White men being very largely over-represented. I’m not suggesting that it’s consciously intentional, but the system is now designed to perpetuate that. It is perpetuating it. We have to work hard to now change that system. It takes a lot of intentional efforts and focus to somehow change this thing that’s churning away already. What is that Law of Physics, “Things in motion tend to stay in motion,” or something like that?
With that intentional effort and focus comes a backlash. That’s a little bit about what you referred to as this backlash of, “Why do we have to talk about gender all the time? Why do we have to have quotas?” We have this big problem and if you have a better solution to fix it, we are all ears. It does need to be resolved for all of the reasons that we are talking about. The issue isn’t with minorities and it isn’t with women. It’s with the system.
One of the things Katica said was that we confuse progress with equity. I thought that was interesting because if you want to look back at the ’70s to now of what we would think of progress for women being more involved in politics, women make up this minute 8% of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs.
Some of the data that she shared around are of women’s and mothers’ greater participation in the workforce. Much of this has evaporated with the pandemic. Some scholars or academics are saying that when we look at the effect of the pandemic, it is possible and we will only know with time that we will have lost a decade of women’s progress.
What are we waiting for to reach equity? Why do we have to go, “This is a little bit better than it used to be.” Let’s make one frigging shot. Let’s make it a whole hell of a lot better. We know how to do this. Part of my frustration around all of this is when we point to one person and say, “If they made it,” whether it’s Oprah as a Black woman in the United States, or thinking back to Obama as the first Black male president, or some woman who has achieved something, we know we are there. We are already there, but we cannot look to people who are one-offs in the world. We have to create opportunities for everyone. It’s deeply frustrating to me that we are relying on progress, and progress can evaporate. What we need is we know what’s wrong.
Here’s another thing that I was reading and I will dig up the reference. When you look at organizational change initiatives, those that are led by women are not only more successful but also the change is instilled for a longer period of time and results in better profits for in-for-profit companies. There’s so much data on women and leadership, and yet why do we only have this 8% of CEOs of the Fortune 500? Don’t the shareholders want more money?
It’s such a mystery. What that reinforces is the importance of getting the data and looking at gender when we look at data. I brought this point up in the conversation, and she had a great way of saying it. She said, “We think gender neutral, but it’s gender ignorant.” It’s this idea of, “We are going to ignore gender. The best way to be unbiased is to just don’t look at that. We are fair. We are going to be fair.” It’s not working because we have systemic issues that are difficult to understand. People have ingrained biases that they are not even consciously aware of, and we also don’t have the data.
It has only been in the past couple of years that I have started to understand and appreciate how very important it is to look at it through a gender lens so that we can start to understand what you just said. That’s interesting information that goes against what a lot of assumptions would be. People would assume neutrality or even that maybe women wouldn’t be as good at it because they had less practice or something like that.
This idea of being gender neutral sometimes comes from a place of not wanting to be biased, but we have to understand that we do need to desegregate that information and dissect it, and that’s where we are going to hopefully be able to convince organizations and leaders that this is an important point. Wherever we can point to bottom-line results, that’s more likely to get attention.
A couple of other points from your conversation. One is that there’s the myth of secondary income. The one income pays for everything that you need, and then the other one is for the fluff. In this inflationary period that we are living in, even income families are using food banks. I’m not talking about the poorest of the poor here. We are starting to see these effects with the middle class, even to relatively well-paying. We are talking about a few steps up of minimum wage. Families are not able to keep up.
The other line about women can choose to work. Either we are going to be at home in our slippers eating bonbons or out of the goodness of our hearts, we are going to go into the workplace. That’s not true. Women who work spend money. They are the primary decision-makers about household spending, and they also keep the economy going by virtue of having money to spend. Every time I hear, “We still have work to do,” part of me is like, “I’m so tired of saying, ‘We still have work to do.’” Yet, what can I say? I have to say it. We still have work to do.
With that in mind, our work is wanting to support women and share their stories. We both do career coaching and leadership coaching. We do facilitation in organizations. You and I and many other people out there are looking for ways to help make positive change both for individuals as they go on their own career and leadership journey, and also within organizations.
We want to see the right people get into leadership roles. By right, I don’t mean the right color or the right gender. We have an over-representation issue. That means clearly that not the best people are getting into leadership. I’m not a mathematician, but the math doesn’t work out. I’m putting that out there as an invitation to anyone in our audience who have a story to share or wants help with any of those things to please do. We would love to hear from you. Reach out to us. This is something that obviously we are passionate about. We are doing our little part to change the world.
It’s a little part but it’s one thread and a rich tapestry of many people who are helping move this forward. To get a hold of us, WorkRevolutionPodcast.com, you can reach us there. You can get all our episodes. All our episodes are also available as blogs. If you’d like to read along or you would prefer reading them every once in a while, please reach us there. We are both on social media and LinkedIn. The invitation is wide open. Please reach out to us. We would love to hear your stories. As Debra said, help everyone play their part in changing things for the better.
Thank you, everyone.
- Invisible Women
About Katica Roy
Katica Roy is a gender economist, former Global 500 global executive, programmer, data scientist, and the CEO and founder of award-winning SaaS company, Pipeline. CNN, CBS, Bloomberg, Cheddar, MarketWatch, and Yahoo Finance have sought Katica for her sharp and unconventional take on the day’s headlines. Katica’s articles have garnered more than 2.9 billion impressions, and she was named a LinkedIn Top Influencer for gender equity in 2022.
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