While Canada was once considered a leader in women’s participation in the workforce during the 1990s and the early 2000s, the country has become stagnant, according to Marilee Reimer, a women and gender studies professor at St. Thomas University.
Reimer launched her new book Women and Careers: Transnational Studies in Public Policy and Employment Equity on Feb. 8 in the Rotunda in Brian Mulroney Hall.
The book is a collection of essays showing how the imbalance in education, training and the workforce contributes to the global inequality of women.
“You see that people are disadvantaged or marginalized in different ways,” Reimer said. “You get a comparative perspective.”
Women make up about five per cent of the labor force in federally run businesses in Canada. The amount of women in senior management positions has decreased, though Reimer said one of the factors might be the government’s reduction in the number of professionals hired.
“Canada was much more ahead 15 years ago and now we’ve been falling behind,” said Reimer.
“Women are much less likely to start their careers as early. They might start their family first and then go to university.”
For her research, Reimer interviewed 10 New Brunswick university students – seven students who are first-generation, meaning the first in their family to go to university, and three middle-class students – to compare their education and career paths. She discovered that middle-class students talked about their future careers with their families, but first-generation students didn’t consider going to university before starting a career. One first-generation student was pushed to apply after a friend paid for her tuition and enroled her in an English class.
Reimer also said students keep their debts in mind but also focus on finding the right career for them. Instead of working toward their honours, students often use job experience to help them get hired. Still, Reimer said debt forgiveness policies would help.
One chapter called “Gendered Choice in Post-Secondary Education – Math and Science or Liberal Arts? A Study of Women Students from Rural Newfoundland” was written by Monique Bourgeois, a former STU student. Bourgeois interviewed mature students in Newfoundland and found they were expected to follow the “traditional” role of a woman.
Reimer began collaborating with other researchers in 2015 after attending the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion conference in Tel Aviv, Israel. One of her inspirations was Susan Hodgett, who spoke about the European Union’s equity policy in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland was in an era of extreme violence in the 1990s because of the Protestant and Catholic divide. Protestant women in Belfast became politically involved and reached across the divide and some women helped with the peace resolution on Good Friday in 1998.
Hodgett has a chapter featured in Women and Careers called “Towards the Good Society: Expanding Women’s Capabilities through Community Education and European Social Policy in Northern Ireland.” The chapter inspired Reimer to look at the bigger issues.
Along with Hodgett’s chapter on Northern Ireland, Women and Careers focuses on China, Australia, Switzerland and Atlantic Canada.
“It’s not only women’s advancement in the rich countries,” Reimer said.
“It’s also how can women grow through community, economic development and education programs.”