Issue 2: Leadership, Political, Business and Boards, Glass Ceiling

Women’s representation in all spheres of leadership is important to increasing a diversity of experience, perspectives, opinions, and accurately representing constituents.

The representation of all genders in the decision making process will impact other areas of policy by adequately addressing the needs and wants of all Canadians, regardless of gender.

When women represent a minimum of 30% of decision making roles, the gender influence of decision making essentially disappears for both men and women involved.

The more equity in women elected and appointed to such positions, the more decisions are made and more frequently reach consensus in decision making.

Canada ranks 62nd in women’s representation in politics and still has not achieved a critical mass (30%) in gender parity in its federal and most of its provincial/territorial governments.

Women remain underrepresented in leadership positions in politics, business, and on boards.

Minority and immigrant women in Canada face several barriers to achieving leadership positions in Canada.

  • Diversity Leads study states:
  • “women account for 51.7% of the population of selected areas in Greater Montreal, only 31.2% of senior leaders were women” and,
  • “the gap in representation is even greater for female visible minorities, who account for 11.5% in the general population but only represent 1.9% of the leaders analyzed in this study”.

Political Representation

  • Equal representation in the political sphere and in other decision making roles serves as a role model for young women aspiring to be leaders. If gender parity is a priority of the Governments and of constituents, this will influence the gender parity in all spectrums and will have a positive impact on future policies related to gendered issues.

This is a global issue: The Inter-Parliamentary Union reports that less than 24% of elected officials across the world are women.

The adverse effects of entering public life represent one of the greatest barriers to women entering politics:

  • Women are often scrutinized on the campaign trail in ways in which their male counterparts are not.
  • Their private and personal histories are often placed at the forefront of their campaigns,
  • their ability to parent or bare children while in office is challenged,
  • their physical appearance is put under fire,
  • their ability to perform leadership tasks and roles is questioned

Gendered scrutiny would continue after earning their seat. Female elected officials and their families are often the target of violent and/or sexual attacks in person, through postal mail, and online.  Many women report refraining from or retiring from politics for these reasons.

Representation in politics matters. It sends a signal about the value of individuals and groups and their capacity to make a difference. The underrepresentation of women in politics also raises questions about the quality of our democracy and opportunities for equality in our society. While women in and out of politics are diverse, the research has shown that the presence of women in politics is associated with more attention to policy areas that disproportionately affect the lives of women.

The Canadian Context

The gender influence of decision making is vastly decreased as more women are added to political spheres, boards, and court benches. An argument against gender parity that gender plays a role in how decisions are made. However, research shows that these differences decrease if not disappear when at least 30% of decision makers are women.

Politics is often more consensus based and collaborative when more women enter politics. Indigenous women face different barriers and political structures than other women in Canada.  In 2015 a record number of Indigenous Canadians were elected to the House of Commons (10 were elected, including three women); but underrepresentation remains a problem at all levels of government.

Traditional Indigenous communities were based on a matriarchal structure. This was reversed under the Indian Act through the implementation of an elected Chief and Band Council which included the colonial ideology of male dominated power structures and excluded women from political positions.

In 1951, Indigenous women were awarded the privilege and right to run for positions on Band Councils. Equal Voice reports that female leadership on Band and Treaty Councils is very low. However, Band Councils are not an equal-power level of government to municipal, provincial, and federal governments.

Most First Nation laws derive their authority from the Indian Act and not from the First Nation and therefore sometimes lack legitimacy in the eyes of the general population and First Nations people in general.

Judicial Representation

Belleau and Johnson 2008 study found as more women were added to the Supreme Court of Canada, levels of dissent were more evenly dispersed among colleagues. This proves that increasing the number of women on the bench decreases any gendered differences in decision making.

While female justices did dissent and write concurring opinions more often than their male colleagues, they did not vote in the same ways or concur for the same reasons as their female colleagues. This shows an individual rather than gendered difference in opinion.

Female representation in judicial decision making serves to provide the most just interpretation of the law as possible, as a consensus made from a difference in opinion brings together the varying opinions of judges of various dynamics and perspectives (i.e. gender, political, regional, age differences).

Businesses & Nonprofits Board Representation

Catalyst, an organization working toward bettering professional workspaces for women created The Catalyst Accord 2022, which calls on Canadian Boards of Directors and CEOs to “pledge to accelerate the advancement of women in business” by “increasing the percentage of women on boards and in executive positions to 30% or greater by 2022”.

Little is being done for the low number of women in these leadership positions. The vast majority of organizations do not have goals of increasing their traditionally low rates. This is coupled by a lack of investment in recruiting female directors.

Key Stakeholders

Who are the decision makers?

Political parties are responsible for ensuring candidates are representative of their constituents by encouraging women and ethnic and cultural minorities to seek candidacy in their area.

New Democratic Party of Canada

Liberal Party of Canada

  • In 2016, The Party accepted a policy resolution to research, consult, and enact electoral reform
  • A study conducted by the Inter-parliamentary Union in 2012 found that women won 14% of contested seats on average in first-past-the-post elections. It is argued that constituents voting for individuals rather than parties, as seen in this system, most often vote for the “safe” or “mainstream” candidate.

Provincial New Democratic Party in BC

  • BC NDP has a policy of reserving vacant held seats for women or other equity seeking groups
  • In the 2013 election, five of the six candidates running for the NDP in vacant-held seats were women.
  • In 2017, women were nominated in five of seven NDP vacant held seats

The Bloc Quebecois

  • Promised to reverse funding cuts to women’s groups and to enact federal pay equity policy.

The Green Party of Canada

Conservative Party

Provincial/Territorial Party

Other Key Players

Gender Decision Makers representation

  • A dedication to gender parity in Government and the Judiciary will have a positive impact on future policies related to gender issues. The representation of all genders in the decision making process will impact other areas of policy

Human Resources Representatives:

  • Human Resources agents are responsible for coordinating staffing including; hiring, promoting, changes in pay, employee benefits, and addressing employee complaints. Human Resources personnel have direct input in the pay distribution of employees and promotion of employees. Human Resources personnel should be mindful of the competencies of all employees, male and female, and be aware of the ratio of promotions between all genders.


  • Unions are responsible for representing the best interests of their members. Unions advocate on behalf of employees to management to ensure contractual requirements are met and to resolve workplace issues.
  • Unions are also responsible for responding to issues including discrimination laws.
  • Unions play a crucial role in observing promotion and pay patterns and to ensure there is no gender or ethnic discrimination

Reports and Background Information from Parliament of Canada

The House of Commons Procedure Committee

Government Committees are multi-partisan committees appointed to address specific issues in greater depth than is possible in the House of Commons.

  • The committee released a mandate letter in 2016 which outlined dedication to making parliament more family friendly
  • This committee recommended that House Leaders refrained from holding recorded divisions any later than post-question period on Thursday afternoons and early preparation of the House calendar so families could better plan around weekend and school-break time off to be with their families in their home jurisdictions.

Library of Parliament (LOP)

The Library of Parliament (LOP) is a non-partisan body which provides Parliamentarians with research and analysis services and delivers public education programs on the role and traditions of Parliament.

Gender Sensitive Parliaments: Advancements in the Workplace.

Girls and Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

Women’s Representation on Corporate Boards in Canada

What is being done now?

In 2014 A Plan to Promote More Women on Canadian Boards set a goal to increase women’s representation on boards to 30% by 2019.  

On January 1, 2015, the so-called “comply or exchange” regulations came into effect, requiring companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange to disclose the number of women both on their boards and holding executive positions.

Initially adopted in seven provinces and all territories the rules have now also been adopted in Alberta. has been adopted by most provincial security commissions.

  • In Alberta, the government set out to proactively achieve equality on the boards, commissions, and agencies it appoints. They report that parity was achieved in the fall in 2017.  
  • The Government of New Brunswick committed to achieving gender parity by appointing more women to executive positions in provincial agencies, boards, and commissions. From 2014 to 2017, 57% of such appointments were of female candidates, indicating progress is being made.
  • New Brunswick has also legislated changes, including additional funding allocation for the per-vote funding parties receive when running women. Parties will see 50% more funding per-vote for female candidates, which will encourage parties to run female candidates and to run them in winnable riding

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