Faculty Forum - Featured Post Posted on Friday, November 06, 2015

What Canada Can Teach Us About Gender Equality

Shyama Venkateswar Distinguished Lecturer, Hunter College and Director, Public Policy Program, Roosevelt House

Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has made it his priority to bring greater gender diversity to the Canadian government by appointing 15 women to his 30-person cabinet, including native and foreign-born women. Asked why he had paid attention to this issue, he simply replied, “Because it’s 2015.”

In the United States, while women have made great strides in terms of educational achievements and rates of work outside the home, their representation in leadership positions is still woefully inadequate. Women make up only 20 percent of Congress and about 15 percent of C-suite executives.

A new study by the global consulting firm McKinsey, Women in the Workplace 2015, presents a comprehensive view of the state of women in corporate America today. Here are some key findings. At the current rate at which women are promoted in the business world, it will take at least 25 years to win equality at the senior VP level and more than 100 years at the C-suite level. The problem, which is similar to the lack of women in political leadership roles, is that there is not a robust pipeline of women receiving the critical opportunities to make it to the top positions. Women are severely underrepresented at every level of the corporate structure – from entry-level positions through manager-level roles, and from senior VP to the executive offices. Women are disproportionately represented in staff roles – HR and legal – and not enough in “line” roles – positions with profit/loss responsibilities and handling core operations – that will carry them to top leadership opportunities. This stark disparity is at the crux of why women’s path to senior positions is severely limited. Women are almost 4 times more likely than men to view their gender as a barrier to leadership.

The recommendations that the report makes are commonsense. Companies need to reevaluate their metrics for gender diversity. They should look more closely at numbers in the employee pipeline, at promotion rates, compensation patterns, and track reasons for attrition. Gender diversity is a priority that needs to come right from the top. Taking a bold step like Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet appointments is impressive. Perhaps the United States needs to look to its northern neighbor for 21st century lessons in gender equality.


Shyama Venkateswar is Director of the Public Policy Program at Roosevelt House and Distinguished Lecturer at Hunter College. In this capacity, she leads the Public Policy Program’s undergraduate curriculum, teaches the senior Capstone Seminar, co-manages faculty initiatives, works closely with city & state agencies for student internships, manages adjuncts, and directs a scholars program funded by the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women. She is a regular columnist for Roosevelt House’s website on a variety of national and global policy issues on conflict resolution, food security, women’s leadership, criminal justice reform, among others. She has almost twenty years of experience in research, policy and advocacy focusing on social justice issues, both in the U.S. and globally. Before coming to Hunter College, she worked at the National Council for Research on Women (NCRW), where she served as Director of Research & Programs, and helped provide the vision and strategic direction for the Council’s policy agenda on economic security for low-income women, diversity in higher education and the corporate arena, women’s leadership, and ending global violence against women. She is co-author of two NCRW reports, Caring for Our Nation’s Future; and The Challenge and the Charge: Strategies for Retaining and Advancing Women of Color in addition to numerous commentary and opinion pieces on poverty, job creation, peace-building, and immigrant rights published in The Miami Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Asia Times, The Indian Express, and the Chicago Sun-Times. She has given Congressional briefings, and presented her research findings to academic, policy, advocacy and corporate audiences. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University and is a graduate of Smith College.