Women and Work in B.C.: The Series

March 2, 2018
Denise Mullen

It has been well documented that educated, income-earning women are especially powerful catalysts for development because they tend to invest more of their money in their families’ health, education, and well-being than their male counterparts around the world. The countries most successful in narrowing gender equality gaps consistently achieve the strongest economic performance. There is clear evidence of a critical link between women’s roles in the economy and economic prosperity at the local, national and global levels.” The Global Gender Gap Report 2014, World Economic Forum

This introductory blog is one in a series highlighting the economic imperative of addressing gender equity issues across the full spectrum of market domains and organizational settings. The data are derived from a multi-year research project, which we will publish in April 2018. Update: The report, Women and Work: An Analysis of the Changing British Columbia Labour Market is available here.

Blog 1: Why the Gender Gap Matters
Blog 2: Who's In, Who's Out? The Participation Rate
Blog 3: The Part-Time Difference
Blog 4: Ms. Opportunity: The Link Between Education, Child Care, and Missed Opportunity
Blog 5: Women's Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment
Blog 6: The Rise of the Older Working Woman

Blog 1: Why The Gender Gap Matters

By Denise Mullen and Kristine St-Laurent

In both B.C. and Canada, the proportion of women aged 15 and over who participate in the labour force remains 9 percentage points below that of men.

Figure 1: B.C. Labour Force Participation Rates, 1976 to 2016
(>15 years old)

Source: CANSIM 282-0087.

Why does this matter? Because the data show that boosting women’s labour force participation can contribute to three desired outcomes: stronger economic growth, the narrowing of skills gaps, and reducing poverty, particularly for children. Women are the primary caregivers for children and adult dependents; they also continue to provide most of the unpaid work in our economy, which can limit their capacity to engage in paid work.

A 9 point participation rate gap might not seem like much at first, but consider this: a 2017 study by McKinsey notes that lowering barriers to women’s work in Canada could lead to potential GDP gains of $150 - $420 billion by 2026. Even the lower estimate represents a sizable addition to economic output.

In 2017, Canada ranked 16th out of 144 countries in the 2017 Gender Gap Index, an annual analysis of gender parity conducted by the World Economic Forum. Although our ranking has vacillated over the years, the upward trend line is encouraging — on average, a 7% improvement year over year since 2006.

While Canada performs better than many other countries, BCBC’s data-driven analysis suggests there is room for improvement to ensure the fullest opportunity for women to participate in and grow with the province’s economy. In this regard, the reasons for women’s non-participation in work matter. Women in B.C. today are better educated than at any other time in history, and yet the participation rate gap has stayed essentially constant for nearly three decades. This is a surprising outcome, given that higher education levels are normally associated with increased workforce participation and steady attachment to the labour market. Some but not all of the participation gap no doubt reflects the fact that women are still primarily responsible for looking after children and adult dependents.

Many B.C. employers are increasingly concerned about access to talent, and rightly so: over the next decade, the province’s economy is expected to have 917,000 job openings. Attracting more British Columbians into the workforce, especially educated women, could help to narrow the skills gap by up to 15%.[1]

In sum, women’s labour force participation is not simply a women’s issue. It is a broader business concern. A robust economy depends on taking advantage of skilled talent and expanding the productive work force. If women are opting out or not participating, this signals a lost opportunity. By understanding and acting to remove barriers to women’s participation, the economy will be stronger and more resilient. In the end, making the most efficient use of the potential labour force, in particular women, can make the difference between companies and countries that perform well and those that don’t.

[1] Projection from WorkBC. An assumption underlying this projection is that in an environment of strong labour demand and rising wages, more people will be drawn to work.

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