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The present and future of women at work in Canada

The future of the Canadian economy holds opportunities for women but to capture them, women will need to successfully reskill and transition.

As questions about the future of work loom, Canada stands at a crossroads. Automation and technological advances pose unprecedented opportunities and challenges to workers across Canada’s economy. Both men and women will need to navigate a wide-scale workforce transition, moving from lower-wage and lower-skilled to higher-wage and higher-skilled jobs. For women, who already face inequalities in the workplace, this transition will be pivotal. Building on the McKinsey Global Institute’s 2017 research, The present and future of women at work in Canada looks at how well women and men in Canada are positioned for future jobs and examines existing gender inequalities in the workplace more closely. It also proposes a practical road map for organizations to follow in progressing toward achieving gender equality in the workplace today and in the future.

Commitment to gender equality is strong among Canadian organizations, but a leaky talent pipeline still exists

Today, commitment to gender equality is stronger than ever within Canadian organizations. Four of five Canadian organizations consider gender diversity a priority, and half of them have articulated a business case for gender diversity, a threefold increase since our 2017 survey. However, change remains slow, and a leaky talent pipeline is still the reality. Although women and men now make up an equal split at the entry level, and women’s representation across the talent pipeline has increased by two percentage points since 2017, women still face challenges in advancement and everyday discrimination at work. Only three women are promoted to manager for every four men who receive the promotion, and almost 60 percent of women report having experienced some form of microaggression at work. These findings are based on a survey of more than one hundred Canadian organizations across all industries, which collectively employ more than half a million workers.

Automation and the future of work present an inflection point for Canada’s progress toward gender equality

Our research suggests that Canada is now at an inflection point, with an opportunity to narrow the gender gap: if between 8 to 30 percent of women (or one to three million women) can successfully transition across occupations to high-demand parts of the economy, they could maintain or even modestly increase their share of employment by one to two percentage points by 2030. However, if structural barriers and existing inequalities in the workplace prevent women from making these transitions and acquiring the skills needed to stay in the workforce, women could fall further behind, and gender inequality at work will persist.

In Canada, 24 percent of currently employed women could be at risk of their jobs being displaced by automation, compared with 28 percent of men. Women are also relatively well positioned to capture jobs in certain high-growth sectors—such as healthcare, where women account for 81 percent of employees. On the surface, this paints a positive picture for women—but they could also face more hurdles in navigating these transitions, presented by gender inequalities in today’s workplace, the wage gap in existing occupations and sectors, and the double burden of unpaid care work. Supporting women in navigating these transitions could ensure that progress toward gender equality is not undermined.

Equal commitment and action are needed to tackle the challenges of gender inequality—today and tomorrow

Solving both the challenges of today and tomorrow requires intention, commitment, and persistence. Leading organizations act across all five of the organization-level dimensions and view their progress as a journey. Beyond the workplace, organizations could consider focusing on three priorities to prepare the workforce of the future (exhibit). By highlighting the challenges that confront working women—and by proposing a set of practices that could drive change—this report aims to motivate organizations in private, public, and not-for-profit sectors to translate good intentions into concrete actions and work together toward gender equality in the present and in the future.

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Download The present and future of women at work in Canada, the full report on which this article is based (PDF–11MB).

About the author(s)

Geneviève Bonin is a partner in McKinsey’s Toronto office; Sandrine Devillard is a senior partner in the Montreal office; and Anu Madgavkar is a partner with the McKinsey Global Institute and a partner in the Mumbai office.

The authors wish to thank Mekala Krishnan, Marissa Ng, Tina Pan, and Han Zhang for their contributions to this article.

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