The Plague-Ground – One Way to Close the Power Gap

Four years ago, Robyn Doolittle wrote a series for the Globe and Mail called Unfounded. That word is stamped on sexual assault cases closed by police for lack of evidence.

After a 20-month investigation, Doolittle found that one in five reported cases were dismissed this way. Not surprisingly, a large number of them involved Indigenous women and prostitutes. Doolittle’s series created panic in police forces across the land who reviewed 37,272 cases, causing 400 to be reopened, including 23 cases in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Doolittle’s work was exhaustive and consequential. Today, we are more skeptical when a police force says claims by powerless women of sexual assault are unfounded.

So what are we to make of Robyn Doolittle’s latest investigative coup de grâce that started two and a half years ago and burst forth in Saturday’s Globe and Mail as The Power Gap?

As she wrote: “In an unprecedented analysis of hundreds of public sector salary records, The Globe has found that women continue to be outnumbered, outranked and out-earned by men not just at the very top, but on the way to the top and in the middle.”

Since nothing – pay equity, Charter rights, vast shifts in public opinion – has created equality for women in the workplace at any level, let’s hope Doolittle’s piece will do for them what Unfounded did for women who told police they’d been sexually assaulted.

While Unfounded was about a few thousand women, The Power Gap is about many millions of them. Most of the women in Unfounded were powerless. Many women in The Power Gap are powerful, if only because their salaries are above $100,000 a year and are posted publicly. Unfounded concerns physical violence and even murder. The Power Gap concerns opportunity, lifestyle and equity.

Sadly, I don’t think much will change.

Sure, we’ll all gaze in familiar shock at the charts that show a steady strangulation of opportunity for women the higher they rise in their careers. Some of us will say it’s just a matter of time. Yet the gender balance at the University of Toronto Medical School has been 60-40 in favour of women med students for many years now and has had absolutely no effect on the number of women running our hospitals and health care systems.

Or how about senior women architects? Or any senior Black or BIPOC women architects? At all? Anywhere? Please raise your hand.

I don’t think for a second that groups of men – board directors and C-suite leaders – meet over drinks and consciously and deliberately keep women out of power.

It just happens. But because the problem is complex, amorphous and largely in the hands of the people being asked to relinquish their power, this situation of institutionalized inequity will not change unless change is uncomfortable and forced from on high.

I have an idea.

Why not enforce quotas? Why not say that any management group of a public company, or a public institution like a university or a hospital with… …. oh, let’s pick a number – ….more than three members must have at least one woman?

God forbid, I’m not asking for equality for women here. I’m asking for half of half.

Actually, this isn’t my idea. It belongs to Germany’s coalition government who, in December and after five years of failing to persuade German companies to promote more senior women beyond the existing level of 12.8 per cent, imposed gender quotas on the nation’s C-suites.

But aren’t quotas inherently unfair, even if they’re used to reset an unfair situation into balance? Yes, they are. But the next question should be: do quotas skew the ‘natural market’ more than the problem they’re trying to solve?

When it comes to the overwhelming and intransigent lack of fairness between the power and money that men hold versus the power and money that women hold, well, they’re not even in the same arena.

If anything, we Canadians are world-beaters when it comes to using quotas to shore up something that’s near and dear to us: our very identity as Canadians.

I wrote about this in an op-ed in the Globe soon after Germany took fairness into its own hands. “Aren’t quotas un-Canadian?” I asked.  “Far from it. Quotas exist everywhere, from Canadian songs on the radio, to Canadian players in the CFL, to Canadian jobs building our new American fighter planes.”

So can we please open our minds to the possibility that something that seems to work at least tolerably in Canada and that people aren’t screaming is unfair and socialist and anti-talent, and see if it can work on a much bigger, much worse, much more deadening problem?

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8 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – One Way to Close the Power Gap”

  1. Still, in a way, is this behaviour just too entrenched, sort of like racism? There is now a female, person of mixed race in the second most powerful Position in the USA – will that change things in the long run any more than mandating quotas? Wouldn’t it be lovely to say yes!

    1. Well, we all thought having a Black person in the White House would make America less racist. Didn’t seem to work.

  2. Cue the “I think the best person for the job should get it, male or female!” chorus, as if that’s what’s been happening for the last many centuries. Heartily agree with you, Bob.

    1. Ian, my original Globe op ed piece drew all kinds of commentary along that line, i.e. merit should always be the sole criteria. I too am tired of it.

  3. Inequality at work stands on the shoulders of inequality at home – until it becomes socially acceptable for men to share child care or even – gasp – take years off to raise a family, this will remain an intractable problem.

    1. Well put, I say ! Even in Canada, where men can take paternity leave, a lot won’t — in fact, they don’t dare because of the Bay Street culture where they work.

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