March 15, 2024

Investing in women must start with investing in good data

It has long been evident that a more equitable and prosperous society relies on the full economic participation of women across the entire labour market, and that there are great economic benefits to everyone’s participation.

From higher wages to better-performing companies and improved living standards, gender equity—or lack thereof—can be the difference between a thriving and lagging economy. Indeed, the Gender Disparity Index demonstrates how legal and regulatory frameworks can affect the economic prosperity of women.

For Canada, women’s full economic participation has the potential to add a cumulative $150 billion to the country’s economy over the next decade.

In Alberta, we have an opportunity to add up to six per cent to our GDP by advancing women in the workforce and in leadership positions—that’s equivalent to more than $20 billion. Think of that as a boost of more than $12,000 per household.

However, while Alberta is making progress, we’re short of realizing our potential. What’s worse, we don’t know how far we’ve come or how much further there is to go because we lack important data—a gap we identified when joining forces during Women’s History Month to provide an update on women’s economic participation across Alberta and Canada.

The latest statistics show that in Canada, women account for less than 34 per cent of leadership roles, putting us well behind the U.S. and Mexico, and many European countries. In Alberta, that number dips to 17.5 per cent.

While those numbers grab attention, the challenge is that the data behind those numbers is incomplete—and outdated.

One of the first rules of business is measure what matters, because what gets measured gets delivered. And while we can get broad data on women’s labour force participation, and even some on representation in management roles, very little of this information is detailed, reliable or regularly reported.

Statistics Canada no longer tracks the representation of women on boards or those in officer positions. The last report was released in 2020, making our information about women on boards more than four years old. Provincially in 2022, the Alberta government set aside $15 million to better research and understand the province’s labour market over three years, but has yet to take advantage of better understanding outcomes for women.

With old or non-existent data, we don’t know how well we are progressing. Gender data scarcity is not merely a statistical inconvenience, it has real-world implications.

For instance, without comprehensive and disaggregated data, we will continue to struggle to monitor progress for women and miss opportunities for development. Or the unique experiences, challenges and achievements of women in the workforce will remain obscured by the lack of trend data. Worse still, decisions made by policymakers may inadvertently exacerbate gender disparities.

Almost everyone agrees, where there is a real barrier or issue, we should knock it down. But we can only do that if we have good information on where those barriers are.

There are reasons for optimism, however. We have rich evidence that provides hope for the progress of gender equity in business, politics, economics and more. Women lead some of Alberta’s largest natural resource companies, manufacturing companies, technology unicorns and more. Innovative women have led Alberta’s top universities, and our highest offices of government.

Alberta is a province built on grit and determination. We are leaders of industry, stewards of our natural resources and vibrant entrepreneurs that thrive on innovation, advancement and impact. As we continue to diversify our economy, let’s not lose sight of the critical role that women and gender diversity, particularly in leadership, can play. This depends on access to reliable, accurate and up-to-date data that can be used to advance policy, celebrate milestones and achievements, and break down barriers.

Let our province be known for accelerating women in leadership and setting a new standard of gender diversity throughout our country.

Good data informs good decisions. While we have much to build upon, the road ahead is foggy. Good data that is updated, robust and inclusive is the sunshine that lifts the fog from the roads.

Without good data, we risk decelerating progress.

Nuvyn Peters is the CEO of Axis Connects and Adam Legge is the President of the Business Council of Alberta.

As appeared in the Calgary Herald.

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