Canada ranks 20th in world for gender equality: WEF

Office workers take a cigarette break in the morning light at the central business district area in Singapore October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su (SINGAPORE - Tags: SOCIETY) (REUTERS)

Canada is regaining lost ground when it comes to gender equality but has much room for improvement compared to other countries, says a new survey.

The World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Index report places Canada 20th among 136 countries studied. That’s up from 21st last year but down from 18th spot in 2011. In fact, Canada is back in the same spot it was in 2010. It ranked as low as 14th in 2006 and as high as 31st in 2008.

The best performers were the Nordic nations – Iceland in the top spot, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden – then the Philippines in 5th. A number of European countries ranked ahead of Canada, but those outside of the region include Nicaragua in 10th, Cuba in 15th and South Africa in 17th spot. For those keeping score between Canada and the U.S., America came in 23rd spot, up one from last year.

Of the 100 countries that have been part of the review since 2006, 85 per cent have seen increases since 2009, while 14 per cent are getting worse, according to the report.

“Countries will need to start thinking of human capital very differently – including how they integrate women into leadership roles. This shift in mindset and practice is not a goal for the future, it is an imperative today,” Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum stated.

“Countries and companies can be competitive only if they develop, attract and retain the best talent, both male and female,” the report states.

The index measures the gaps between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economics and politics.

Canada placed 9th for providing economic participation and opportunity for women (Norway was 1st) and ranked 42nd for political empowerment (Finland was 1st).

More women needed on Canada's boards

The report comes as gender equality issues continue to make headlines across Canada.

Last week, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), a global accounting profession organization, called on Canadian public companies to adopt a rule ensuring 30 per cent of their board members are women.

The ACCA cites its own recent report showing the so-called “30-per-cent rule” is widely accepted and has a positive impact on the bottom line of participating companies.

"Gender diversity creates more effective boards, reflecting a broader range of skills, experiences and perspectives," says the ACCA’s Suzanne Godbehere. "This is especially important as women gain financial power throughout the world. However, too many companies still aren't getting it."

The ACCA says women make up about 14.5 per cent of Canada’s 500 largest company boards. Still, that’s better than most countries. The World Bank says nearly 40 per cent of companies have no female directors.

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan recently said it wanted Ontario’s securities regulator to mandate public companies have at lease three women on their boards, which the ACCA supports.

A recent Ipsos-Reid study, commissioned by Randstad Canada, suggests women have some responsibility for not making advancements in the workforce. It says women worry too much about appearance and family status as factors holding them back, instead of what skills they have to move them up the ladder.

For example, the survey says 90 per cent of those surveyed belief their overall image, including how they look, have a significant impact on their career advancement. Three-in-five women said their biggest obstacle to getting ahead was balancing work and family.