Is the federal budget really good for women? Manitoba professionals weigh in

Is the federal budget really good for women? Manitoba professionals weigh in

A gender-based federal budget is a move in the right direction, but women in Manitoba’s business, trade and technology sectors say it’s tough to tell if it will create meaningful change.

“I think it’s a good step,” Maureen Kilgour, an associate professor of business at the University of Winnipeg. “There’s been countries that have been doing it for the past 20 years so Canada, with a feminist prime minister, we’re a bit late to the game.”

The 2018 federal spending plan unveiled in Ottawa on Tuesday aims to strengthen the economy and offset an aging population by attracting more women into the workforce. The Liberals allocated money for new parental leave benefits, gender equality and anti-harassment initiatives and promised legislation to promote pay equity.

Kilgour, who conducts research in the area of global governance, business and human rights, with a focus on gender equality, said the budget is likely to have little influence on whether women plan to work.

“This is more of a messaging budget rather than putting money in women’s pockets,” she said. “I don’t see anything in this budget that will move women en masse, who aren’t already working, to go to work.”  

Maureen Kilgour is an associate professor of business at the University of Winnipeg.

Maureen Kilgour, an associate professor of business at the University of Winnipeg, said the budget is likely to have little influence on whether women plan to work. (CBC)

When it comes to legislating pay equity, Kilgour said it will only affect federally regulated employers and there is no new money attached to it.

“To put it in perspective, Manitoba had the same legislation in the 1980s,” she said. “We found wage discrimination in the public sector workforce but there was no money to make reparations, so the information was useful but we weren’t able to close the gap the way we wanted to.”

When it comes to the Liberals’ plan to create five weeks of “use or lose it” parental leave for the non-birth parent, Kilgour said it may shift some of the parenting burden but there are no new supports for when parents return to work. 

“We still have a problem with daycare,” Kilgour said. “You can say that you want women to go back to work all you want but if you don’t have a place for the children to go even after the six weeks of secondary parent leave it’s still going to be a problem.” 

She said she supports the funding to combat gender-base violence. The budget adds $86 million over five years to a gender-based violence prevention program. It also commits $10 million to create a new national RCMP unit devoted to reviewing sexual assault cases that were deemed by investigators to be “unfounded.”

Government only part of the solution

Nusraat Masood, a Winnipeg-based engineer who heads WISE Kinetic Energy — an outreach program promoting science, technology and engineering to young girls and visible minorities — is encouraged by the emphasis on women in the budget but she’s not convinced it will achieve the intended results. 

“I don’t think it’s, alone, enough,” Masood said. “I think the business community, industry, employers, have to also play a part of this and that’s what remains to be seen.”

Masood said it’s important to look at how many employers offer parental and maternity leave top-ups, flexible schedules and even part-time work as a means to attract and retain women.

“[For] a lot of women in science, technology and math fields, it’s all or nothing. It’s either I work full-time or I don’t work at all,” Masood said. “If we want more girls to enter [science, technology, engineering and math] fields, trades, business whatever — professional fields — then I think we need to offer more flexibilty.”

Plus for women in trades: business owner

Lori Garet, owner of North Perimeter Construction in Headingley, Man., praised the federal government’s approach, especially for changing the landscape in traditionally male-dominated sectors. 

“I am thrilled about the money they are putting toward the apprenticeship programs for women,” Garet said. “Women are just so underrepresented in the trades and I kind of feel they’re a completely untapped resource.”

According to the budget, women make up 11 per cent of new enrolments in Red Seal skilled trades. To boost representation, the Liberals have committed $19.9 million over five years to pilot an Apprenticeship Incentive Grant for Women. The plan would see women receive a grant of $3,000 for each of their first two years of training in Red Seal skilled trades.

The government is also allocating $46 million over five years for pre-apprenticeship programs aimed at underrepresented groups, such as a women, to explore careers in the trades.

Another noteworthy commitment in Garet’s eyes is a new strategy for female entrepreneurs. According to the budget, it will be focused on skills, access to mentorship and networking opportunities. The government also plans to increase the participation of women-owned small and medium businesses in federal procurement. 

In terms of additional parental leave, Garet said she can’t see additional time specifically for spouses making a difference.

“It’s great if everybody’s earning the same amount of money,” she said. “The reason is that women are the ones staying home more is because they earn less and they can’t afford to live off 55 per cent of their husband’s salary.”

In male-dominated industries, she says there is still work to be done to shift culture and attitudes — the budget is only a small piece of the puzzle.

​Meanwhile, Kilgour said she is hopeful the federal gender-based budget will signal to other decision-makers that these issues of gender equality need to be taken seriously.

“The government has made commitments that hopefully people can use to hold them accountable,” Kilgour said.  

Published at Wed, 28 Feb 2018 19:59:28 -0500