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Barrie is worst large city in Canada for women: Study

Barrie ranks 26th out of 26 largest cities in Canada for the gender gap, according to study released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released a study ranking the 26 largest cities in Canada for the gender gap.

Coming in last place was the City of Barrie.

“I’m a fan of evidence-based research and, according to the data they collected, we land at No. 26. But do I think Barrie is the worst city for women? I, personally, don’t feel that,” said Ward 6 Coun. Natalie Harris when reached by BarrieToday for an interview this week. “It broke my heart to see that Barrie was in last place, but I think we need to look at the data. In those five categories, how can we improve?”

The categories used for the purposes of the study were economic security (Barrie ranked 24th), education (26th), health (18th), leadership (19th) and security (11th).

“It’s a totally limited view of what Barrie is, and the positives well outweigh the negatives, in my opinion,” said Harris.

Harris is the sole woman on Barrie’s city council for the 2018-22 term. Prior to her role as city councillor, she worked as a Simcoe County advanced-care paramedic, and recalls experiencing some sexism in that position while out in the field.

“Sometimes there were barriers with patients who thought that I wasn’t going to be able to do the job physically. That was really disheartening sometimes,” she said. “I was hired like everyone else because I passed the physical testing.”

“There’s lots of female paramedics that are in the service now, and I love that,” Harris said.

While Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman doesn’t think the characterization of the city is fair, he notes that there clearly is work to be done.

“It is surprising, and I’m not sure how we could score in the middle of the pack on some statistics and still end up lowest overall. But the statistics don’t lie, so I take this seriously,” he said.

Lehman points to part of the study that indicates that first place (taken by Kingston, Ont.) and last place are only separated by seven per cent.

“A small change in one number would put us near the top. That said, it’s a very embarrassing headline and we should look ourselves in the mirror and ask why our numbers are lower,” he said.

In the economic security section of the study, it notes that roughly seven in 10 female workers aged 15 to 64 hold full-time jobs in Barrie, which is under the national average (74.8 per cent). By contrast, an above-average proportion of male workers in this age group are employed full time (90.6 per cent compared to 88.5 per cent nationally).

These differences in employment rates translate into lower-than-average earnings for women and higher-than-average earnings for men. In 2016, women in Barrie brought home $28,250, roughly $16,000 less per year than men, resulting in a large earnings gap.

“Given that Barrie has one of the highest rates of families with children in our population, this may speak to the fact that women often do so much more unpaid work supporting children and their households,” Lehman said. “But it may also speak to barriers in employment and career advancement which continue to exist.

“It encouraging to see we have one of the lowest rates of poverty in Canada, but really discouraging that women experience that more than men,” he added.

Overall, Lehman said he thinks the study doesn’t quite paint the whole picture and points to many women across the community that hold leadership roles, including Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood, president and CEO of Georgian College MaryLynn West-Moynes, president and CEO of Royal Victoria Health Centre Janice Skot, and former city CAO Carla Ladd.

“I’m guessing there are very few cities in Canada where all the top jobs in the public sector were held by women at the same time,” Lehman said.

According to the study, Barrie also has one of the lowest rates of female STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates at 6.7 per cent.

However, Lehman says this statistic might be pointing to a trend that’s bigger than just Barrie.

“I would note that Kitchener-Waterloo is also listed as having a large gender gap in STEM grads – I think that points to a systemic problem of not enough girls feeling that STEM education is their path, when they are teenagers making choices about college or university,” he said.

Lisa Banks, vice-president of external relations and enrolment at Georgian College, agrees with Lehman that when girls aren’t encouraged toward STEM at a younger age, it can have a ripple effect into college enrolment.

“That one kind of hurt,” Banks said with a laugh. “I’m not sure what the source was. Young girls do tend to opt out of pursuing science and math when they get to Grade 9 and when they do that, they reduce their opportunity to pursue all kinds of post-secondary programming.”

Banks also has concerns around what programs the study looked at when considering enrolment.

“STEM is a broad category. Did they include the health and wellness programs? There’s nursing, paramedics to occupational therapists to PSWs (personal support workers), and that’s just the health and wellness side. There’s also engineering, environmental and architectural,” she said.

Banks says that, since 2016, Georgian has seen 20 per cent growth in female enrolment in these programs.

“In fairness, the majority of students in these programs are male. But the good news is, we’re seeing more women come into them,” said Banks.

Overall, Banks was surprised by the results of the study.

“It’s not my experience,” she said. “When I look at Georgian and our composition, about 62 per cent of our employee base are female and this translates into our senior leadership team as well.”

In meeting with her constituents, Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin has seen instances where Barrie could do better. She said that she recently met with a local woman who works in the video-game sector.

“Internationally, she is very praised, but locally it’s been difficult for her to break through into that field. These sorts of individuals who do really well in their sectors but can’t succeed locally are having to leave the area because there just isn’t support,” Khanjin said. “Unfortunately, that’s happening and none of us like to see that kind of brain drain happening locally.”

Within her own work life, Khanjin said she hasn’t seen a difference in the ways men and women are treated within the Progressive Conservative caucus.

“I don’t feel that my voice is any less loud than a male (colleague). In our caucus, our youngest member is 23, our oldest member is 83," she said. "We have a lot of women who are ministers or parliamentary assistants and we have people of all backgrounds. When getting my constituents issues to the forefront, I haven’t noticed any differences or preferential treatment. 

“When meeting some constituents, I imagine there may be some adjustment to having a representative who is a female," Khanjin added. "But the service is there.”

Khanjin says that women need to take some of the responsibility by pushing their way into spaces where they may have not, in the past, felt welcome.

“I said at International Women’s Day, the world is not filled with wallflowers,” Khanjin said. “Women need to speak up and speak up a bit louder. The onus is on us.

“There’s often times in board-room settings where a female colleague will whisper something and then a male colleague will say it out loud. Why would you let that moment and that opportunity pass you by?” Khanjin added. “If you have strong convictions and you have a strong opinion, you can’t just sit back and be a wallflower.”

Khanjin says she makes a point to make time to speak to local high school students regularly to hopefully inspire them to lead.

“I’m very passionate about talking with young people. Sometimes people say, ‘Why is she talking to all these young people? They can’t vote for her',” she said. “It’s not about the selfishness of only speaking to people who are voting age. It’s to inspire the next generation of leaders.”

To read the full study from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, click here.

Top 10 large cities in Canada to be a woman in 2019

  1. Kingston, Ont.
  2. St. John's, NL
  3. Victoria, B.C.
  4. Hamilton, Ont.
  5. Vancouver, B.C.
  6. Ottawa, Ont.
  7. Sherbrooke, Que.
  8. Toronto, Ont.
  9. Greater Sudbury, Ont.
  10. Gatineau, Que.

Source: The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in 2019, Katharine Scott

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering County of Simcoe matters, education and features.
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