"Because it's 2015" that's the response newly sworn in Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau gave when a reporter asked why he'd chosen an equal number of men and women for his cabinet.
Gender parity was a promise Trudeau made on the campaign trail leading up to the election and it is a strong statement to make as he officially puts on the PM shoes. He is being heralded and criticized for the decsion for a couple of different reasons.
A lot of people are saying it's really not that big of a difference to see gender parity in our national political structure because Trudeau appointed just three more women then former Prime Minister Stephen Harper did in his last cabinet (he had 12 and fewer women were elected to the Conservatives). As National Post columnist Tasha Kheiriddin points out in "Harper’s nine years, Canada had two female environment ministers, two female health ministers, a female labour minister, public works minister and heritage minister.... In his last cabinet, Harper also named a woman to the national revenue, transport, social development, foreign affairs and consular services, western diversification, seniors’ and fisheries portfolios."
Like Kheiriddin, many people are saying with all the focus on the amount of women (and diversity itself) in the cabinet the actual merit of the members is being ignored, like Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former B.C. regional First Nations Chief and former provincial Crown prosecutor who is the first Indigenous person named the Minister of Justice. They also point to the numerous achievements of physician Carolyn Bennett who is now the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Although not Indigenous herself (read Pam Palmater's piece on why that's actually a good thing), she has been commended for her contributions to medicine, specifically women's, and will have an understanding of the numerous health and wellness issues facing the country's Indigenous population.
The merit of all of the new Cabinet ministers is clear from a former refugee to a decorated lieutenant-colonel with the Canadian Armed Forces, there are people across the board with experience and personal stories that reflect the diversity of the country rather than the multitude of lawyers we usually see.
But I disagree with Kheriddin that we shouldn't also celebrate that for the first time in Canadian history there is true gender parity in the cabinet.
I was speaking with a friend who said it would have been better if Trudeau just appointed 15 women and didn't make a big deal about it because then the focus would only be on their qualifications rather then, right now, with some asking whether they deserve the position or if it's just because they are female. That would be ideal but unfortunately that's not the society we live in.
A total of 88 women were elected to the House of Commons out of 338, that's up from 76 in 2011. That means the proportion of women MPs is only 26 per cent. Of the 184 Liberals appointed to office, 50 of them were female, that's about 27 per cent. According to Statistics Canada, women and girls make up just over half of Canada's population. In 2010, 17.2 million females accounted for 50.4 per cent of the total population. Clearly the amount of women elected doesn't parallel the amount of women in Canada.
A recent report by global executive search firm Rosenzweig & Company showed that more women in Canada were rising into the top paying jobs, unfortunately it's from a dismally small starting off point. The first year they did the study in 2006 women held only 4.6 per of the highest-paid positions in Canada’s top 100 listed companies. Now we have nearly doubled it but that mean's it's still only 8.5 per cent. The other 91.5 per cent of highest paid positions are held by men.
Obviously there's countries where it's much worse than Canada but Norway has 35.5 per cent female representation on the boards. After years of watching companies pass over possible female leadership, a new law in Germany means public boards will need to be 50 per cent female by 2018 and blue-chip companies like Mercedes and Siemens have until next year to meet the quota, "which will require women to make up 30 per cent of board members," according to the Globe & Mail. There's a similar quota law in France and they've already seen it hit 40 per cent. Women make up 22.8 per cent of those high paid board seats in the United Kingdom and in Australia it's 19.2 per cent. India has even surpassed us at 9.5 per cent.
So why aren't Canadian women in those positions? That's a good question since two in five business post-graduates are women and 81 per cent of female MBA grads seek corporate jobs following graduation. If they magically get a job in the sector they lag behind in pay because women with MBAs earn $8,167 per year less than their male colleagues in their first jobs after graduation. Bad news is, the pay gap just keeps growing as they enter their 30s and 40s. Many people argue with times changing that eventually businesses, politics, leadership, management (and all the other fields with pay gaps) will sort themselves out but clearly it's not happening fast enough, at least for me, a woman living in Canada. Without any rules or guarantees around quotas of women in most cases there just isn't much improvement when it comes to equality or equity.
Women are qualified, educated, and motivated but they aren't getting the positions because of "old dog" ideologies, assumptions that women will quit to become mothers, and probably just a fear of the vagina. I want to see women in the top jobs in our country at a more representative number to the amount of women that are actually living in Canada and I don't think I'm alone.
That Trudeau, who now sits in the top spot of our country, recognizes that it's ridiculous that in 2015 he needs to make a concerted and public effort to make sure there is gender parity then maybe other men (all 90 per cent of them) in top positions will see the value in their current and hopefully future female colleagues.
Next election do I hope that nobody has to make an promise that they will appoint female cabinet ministers? Of course I do. I want to live in a world where pointing out the huge gaps between men and women that still exist is actually a thing of the past. But it's not that world yet, so cheers to you Trudeau and hopefully the lessons have been learned and will stick.
A little side note as well for people who say that there doesn't need to be a stand alone ministry for the status of women, I think the statistics I just quoted (not to mention the slashes of funding into women's programs) show that maybe there does need to be a larger focus on closing the gender gap and helping our women, half the country's population, succeed so we all do.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada