2017 She-ERA Global Conference on Women and Entrepreneurship Hosted by Alibaba
The Honourable Bardish Chagger, PC, MP
Minister of Small Business and Tourism
July 10, 2017
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Thank you very much for that introduction.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege for me to be here with you today and take part in this fabulous conference on behalf of the Government of Canada and the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, whom we just heard from via video.
My sincerest appreciation to Mr. Jack Ma and to Alibaba for organizing this event.
I had a chance to speak with Jack just before this, and it is wonderful to be here to witness the world’s largest retailer recognize the great untapped potential women represent.
I arrived earlier this afternoon from Shanghai, where this morning I met with Ctrip, another Chinese e-commerce giant. I have to say that I was really impressed to see so many women on its leadership team as well.
Companies like Alibaba and Ctrip illustrate why we are here today.
We need to come together and work to advance women’s rights, women in entrepreneurship and women in high-profile positions—not just here in China or in Canada but also around the globe.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a real honour for me to speak alongside so many amazing speakers.
Throughout her amazing career, Lakshmi Puri has worked tirelessly to empower women around the globe, and she is truly inspiring.
The work of UN Women is impressive, and it continues to raise the bar for women and girls everywhere. Thank you.
Jim Yong Kim and the World Bank have done a fantastic job supporting and empowering women and girls.
I was proud to see Jim announce the creation of the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative this weekend at the G20 meeting in Germany.
We know that 70 percent of women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries do not have access to the financial support they need to meet their needs.
This fund will help change that. Thank you for listening and responding.
And I was especially proud to see Prime Minister Trudeau announce that Canada will be contributing $20 million to that very fund.
This investment is perfectly in line with Canada’s new feminist aid policy, which we announced earlier this year.
Through the new Feminist International Assistance Policy, within the next five years, we will devote 15 percent of all Canadian development assistance directly to gender equality, and we will make sure that at least 80 percent of our investments more broadly consider equality and empowerment as part of the work.
And, of course, we’ll be hearing soon from the iconic Vera Wang—yes, the Vera Wang. She is unparalleled in the world of fashion. Her famed career—and her incredible success—stands as an inspiration for many women and girls around the world.
Now, I have been invited today to speak about how we can close the economic gap between women and men.
Let’s first start by stating a clear fact: The economic gap is real. It is persistent. And in this day and age, we must not accept it.
Why? Because it’s 2017! Plain and simple.
I recognize it persists. And it’s most likely the result of three issues.
I personally would say these are all solvable challenges.
First of all, data shows that women have a lower participation rate in the labour force then men.
Obviously, there are many very good reasons for this, but the reality is that with fewer women working, the average wage for women will be affected.
Second, women are earning less than men for the same work. This is partly because of the kinds of jobs women have.
Yet it is also because women negotiate differently. They may feel that they are worth less than men. And we cannot ignore workplace traditions, which remain very masculine.
Third is culture. We cannot shy away from calling it as we see it. Look at the world we live in. It very much remains a world run by men.
For many women around the world, including in Canada, economic inequality is something we know but don’t always feel confident talking about.
In Canada, women earn an estimated 69 percent of what men do.
That’s not good enough. Canada can absolutely do better and Canada will do better.
Women represent so much untapped knowledge, expertise and economic potential.
And it’s not just women who would benefit from unlocking that potential. All of us—all of humanity and our planet—would benefit.
Consider the economic evidence. Closing the gap would mean greater consumer spending, which would mean more growth, greater savings and more well-paying jobs for the middle class.
The research supports this fact. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that if Canada were to take action to close our gender gap, by 2026 it would add $150 billion to our GDP, contributing to a 6 percent GDP growth rate.
Canada is just a fraction of the global potential. That same McKinsey report, citing a report it published in 2015, estimates that equality would add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.
Every region studied for the 2015 report could potentially see an increase in GDP of between 8 and 16 percent over the next decade.
And yet, we must be realistic.
We are still far from gender equality in employment and workplace culture. The treatment of women in the workplace is still so much different than it is for men.
I have experienced this myself.
In addition to being Canada’s Minister of Small Business and Tourism, I am also the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
I am responsible for managing the Government of Canada’s policy agenda through our legislative process.
And what makes my role so fascinating is that I am the first woman to ever hold this title.
It’s amazing to think that, as we’re celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation this year, up to now my job has only been held by men.
I became involved in politics when I was 13 years old. I come from a traditional family where women tend to run the household and raise children—and sometimes all this in addition to a full-time job.
But my father envisioned something different for my sister and me. My grandfather came to Canada in the early 1970s, and my father had been pulled out of school at around 15 to help support the family.
He committed to ensuring that we both graduated from university and that we were given the tools and resources needed to compete in a “man’s world.”
Politics is hard for women and—let’s be honest—hard in general. Our country has come a long way, but I would be lying if I said I haven’t been viewed differently by some people because I am a woman.
I give thanks to my family for empowering me and encouraging me to be the best I could be.
My father was my biggest supporter. He gave me the strength and confidence to pursue my dreams—dreams I didn’t even believe I could realize.
He taught me that no barrier was too high, or challenge too difficult, for any person to overcome.
Unfortunately, that is not quite the case for all women… yet!
And it affects how women participate in the workforce.
Currently, there are an estimated 800,000 women in Canada who are potentially left out of full participation in the labour force.
And when they do participate, women are often not able to fulfill their true potential.
In a survey, a quarter of Canadian women said they only work part-time in order to care for their children—most of them simply don’t have reliable or affordable access to childcare.
Only about 5 percent of Canadian men do the same.
Canadian women are employed primarily in the fields of teaching, nursing and social work; in clerical and administrative jobs; in sales; and in the service sector.
I’m sure the same is true in many countries around the world.
To be clear: these are all very worthy careers and we could use more men in them!
The reality is, however, that the salaries for these jobs are lower than for corporate management, science, finance, law or engineering jobs.
And there’s a shortage of women in these higher-paying jobs. In Canada, women represent just over 18 percent of the engineering workforce.
By comparison, women make up more than 84 percent of the workforce in the health care and social assistance sector.
When we consider immigrant women and Indigenous women, even young women, there’s even more work ahead of us.
The labour force participation rate of immigrant women who come to Canada from around the world is typically lower than that of Canadian-born women.
Also, Indigenous Canadian women participate in the workforce at much lower rates than non-Indigenous women.
And these women are much more likely to work in the female-dominated and generally lower-paying professions and industries that I mentioned earlier.
In addition to working to increase the number of women in leadership and professional positions, one of my priorities as Minister of Small Business and Tourism is to promote and increase entrepreneurship, particularly among under-represented groups such as women, Indigenous women and youth.
We have a lot of work to do on this front as well.
Women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises contributed an estimated $160 billion in economic activity in 2014.
Yet only about 16 percent of Canada’s SMEs are majority-owned by women.
Despite expressing a desire to expand, women are typically less likely to scale up their businesses.
Part of their challenge is accessing financing.
Another is having easy access to mentors and resources. Often, those tools are not readily available to women.
It’s not that these women don’t want to grow; it’s that the environment has not enabled them to.
But we in Canada are trying to change that by making strategic investments to create the conditions for success for everyone, especially women.
Research from one of Canada’s largest banks—the Royal Bank of Canada—estimates that if the number of Canadian women-owned firms were to increase as little as 10 percent over the next 10 years, it could mean $50 billion more in economic activity in Canada only.
So what do we do?
Women have come a long way, but we haven’t come all the way.
And there is clearly a role for governments, the private sector and civil society to show leadership.
Prime Minister Trudeau is a committed feminist. This is not just a policy agenda for him. It goes to his core as a politician; as an elected official; as a son, a husband and the father of three children—one daughter and two sons; and, most importantly, as a Canadian.
In March of this year, we put forward Canada’s first federal budget that incorporated gender-based analysis.
We considered our budget through the lens of its effect—its impact—on women and girls.
We recognized that women traditionally play a much different role than men at home, at work, in our schools and in our society.
And we took steps to address the precise barriers that make it harder for women and girls to dream of a career, train for a career or access the resources to build their career.
This includes our new Canada Child Benefit, which provides a tax-free, monthly payment to families to help them with the costs of raising children. This helps make it just a bit easier for these hard-working families.
We are also expanding the number of childcare spaces available, supporting flexible working arrangements and rolling out an inclusive national housing strategy, among other actions.
These measures will help ease some of the traditional challenges women face, better enabling them to explore career options.
We are also trying to match women and girls with the jobs of the future by encouraging them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or STEM as it’s known—as well as in the skilled trades. And we are working to introduce elementary students to coding.
We want women, especially the next generation of young women, to have the skills they need to find meaningful work in the high-productivity and generally high-paying industries of the future.
More than that, however, we want to see women leading the next generation of companies.
To aid in this, last September we introduced amendments to several federal laws with the goal of promoting diversity in senior management roles and on boards of publicly traded corporations.
Because we believe companies can become better managed, better governed and better guided through diversity.
And evidence backs us up.
Research shows that corporations with boards composed of directors from varied backgrounds have a 53 percent higher return on shareholder investment than less diverse ones.
In general, research shows that businesses with one or more women on their board grow more quickly than those without women on the board and that they deliver better-than-average returns for investors.
And, according to a study last year, organizations with women comprising 30 percent or more of their leadership team could add up to 6 percentage points to their net profit margin.
Maximizing the potential of our full workforce means higher growth, faster expansion and higher profits.
In our last election, we had a slogan: Add women, change politics.
I think it’s also fair to say: Add women, grow the economy.
Adding women to politics has already made a difference.
In Canada, our Cabinet has thirty positions, fifteen of which are held by women.
This wasn’t an accident. Prime Minister Trudeau has made it clear that Canada must lead by example and that we consider diversity and inclusion to be core values of our country and of our government.
We believe that to govern effectively, the Government should reflect the diversity of Canada and represent all Canadians.
And Canada’s commitment to gender equality is reflected in our actions on the world stage.
Internationally, we’re working to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, one of which is to promote gender equality and empower women.
And we’ll continue to work with the international community to improve outcomes for women fleeing conflict and insecurity.
We also need to do everything we can to ensure that the benefits of trade are more widely and equitably shared.
That is why Canada is pursuing a progressive trade agenda with our partners at home and around the world.
Progressive trade means ensuring that all segments of society can take advantage of the opportunities that flow from trade and investment, with a particular focus on women, Indigenous peoples and youth—all combined with small and medium-sized businesses.
This is not just the right thing to do for economic growth and prosperity; it’s the necessary and essential thing to do.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Government of Canada takes the issue of economic inequality among women very seriously. And as you have heard, we are working to address it.
I am proud to be here today to address a like-minded group who shares the same priorities and values when it comes to supporting and empowering women and girls.
It is only by working together that we can ensure that women all over the world can reap the benefits and rewards of sustainable and inclusive growth.
It is only by working together that we can map out a more equitable and economically rewarding future—for Canadian women, for Chinese women and for all women around the world.
We owe it to them. And we owe it to our daughters, nieces, sisters, mothers, grandmothers.
I’m up for the challenge, and I hope you are too. I sincerely look forward to working with you.
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