Monday, February 01, 2016

Women take to the skies (but we are not there yet)

I was struck by one item in particular on a recent episode of DNTO (Definitely Not The Opera) on CBC about inspiring Canadian women.
Judy Cameron was the first ever female Canadian airline pilot. She qualified back in 1978, in what seems in retrospect to be a different planet. As she explains, she was not like the many boys who wanted to fly planes almost soon as they could walk, and she tells the story of how she found her love of flying belatedly when a macho guy took her up in a plane and tried to scare her silly with barrel rolls and loop-the-loops. Far from being nauseated and petrified, Judy loved the experience, and therein discovered her vocation.
She enrolled in a pilot course, totally unfazed by the fact that she was the only woman, and she dealt with the testosterone-heavy atmosphere as best she could. In one story she tells, she responded to the ubiquitous girly pinups by pinning up a centrefold from the then-new (and quite shocking) Playgirl magazine, not noticing that the model happened to be one of the instructors at the air academy.
Once qualifed, though, actually getting an airline to take her seriously and offer her employment in the old boys network that ran the airlines in the 1970s proved to be even more difficult. Eventually, it was the staid and monolithic Air Canada, of all airlines, that was the one to take a chance on her. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Ms. Cameron retired recently, after 37 years with Air Canada, and there was a distinct catch in her voice as she related how she entered the terminal building after her final flight to an honour guard of 20 female Air Canada pilots, all following in her pioneering footsteps.
I was impressed with how unassuming and matter-of-fact this ground-breaking woman came across in the radio interview. She seemed like a genuinely pleasant and fun person, bursting with energy and full of the joys of life. She is clearly a strong personality, but does not present herself as a hard-nosed ball-crusher of a feminist.
The sting in the tail at the end of interview, though, was the disclosure that, nearly 40 years after Ms. Cameron's breakthrough, a mere 5% of Canadian pilots are women. I certainly don't remember ever being flown by a female captain or even co-pilot, which, given that there are no real physical barriers to women in such a profession, is perhaps surprising, even shocking. In comparison, politics, law and finance are positively awash with women.
All of which prompted me to take a quick look at a Status of Women Canada report on the representation and participation of women in the labour force. It is actually quite an eye-opener. Among other snippets:
  • women make up 47.3% of the labour force, up from 45.7% in 1999, and 37.1% in 1976;
  • 64.4% of women with children under the age of 3 were employed, up from 27.6% in1976;
  • the unemployment rate for women is 6.3%, lower than the 7% unemployment rate for men;
  • BUT... nearly 70% of part-time workers are women, a rate that has not changed significantly in the last few decades;
  • the average annual earnings of women has remained at about 71% that of men since the early 1990s, largely due to the prevalence of women in part-time jobs and lower-paid segments of the job market;
  • even looking at full-time employees only, women earned an average hourly wage of about 87% that of men, up from 77% in 1981;
  • women have sole ownership of about 14% of small businesses, and only 4% of medium-sized businesses;
  • just 15.9% of directors of the top FP500 companies are women, and 40% of FP500 companies had no women directors at all;
  • 27.1% of women are employed in the sales and service sector, 24.6% in business, finance and administration, and 16.8% in education, law, social, community and government services;
  • the percentage of healthcare and social assistance jobs held by women is 82%, compared to 12% of construction jobs, 19% of forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas jobs, and 30.5% of agricultural jobs;
  • and perhaps it comes as no surprise, but just 5% of skilled trades workers in Canada are women, and women account for a measly 2% of carpentry apprentices, and 1.9% of plumbing apprentices.
So, some things have improved (some dramatically so), but some have remained depressingly consistent. Either way, we are definitely not there yet. Plus ça change...

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