Federal government announces $2.4 million investment in women’s organizations

Endowment to be distributed to five organizations to advance gender equality

Federal government announces $2.4 million investment in women’s organizations

The federal government will be donating a $2.4 million endowment to support five women’s organizations in the Davenport neighbourhood, as a part of the Department for Women and Gender Equality’s Capacity-building Fund.

Davenport MP Julie Dzerowicz, who presented the investment on May 3 on behalf of the Minister for Women and Gender Equality, said that its aims are to “help [women’s] organizations attract and retain talented leaders, to digitize critical data, to improve fundraising, and to ultimately support long-term planning through the availability of sustainable and predictable financial support.”

The press conference was hosted at Sistering, a drop-in centre for homeless or precariously housed women, which is set to receive $203,270 over five years as a part of the endowment.

Other organizations that will receive funding include the Dandelion Initiative, a project run by survivors of sexual assault and violence to tackle gender-based violence; South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC), which aims to assist South Asian women in increasing their economic, social, and political status; Working Women Community Centre (WWCC), which provides recently immigrated women with employment counselling; and COSTI Immigrant Services, an agency which assists immigrant communities with employment, settlement, educational, and social services. They will respectively receive $740,960, $230,457, $247,598, and $980,000.

Creating “a level playing field”

Speaking on the reasoning for the investment, Dzerowicz said that it aimed to create “long-term, systemic change to ensure progress continues and women advance.”

The particular organizations were chosen for their commitment to assisting women with diverse challenges and for furthering a “strong, viable, and inclusive women’s movement.” Ultimately, Dzerowicz says that the government hopes to help create a “level playing field for everyone.”

The Dandelion Initiative will use the funds it receives to develop its “Safer Spaces Ontario: Strengthening Survivor Centric Work” project. Viktoria Belle, the Executive Director and Founder of the initiative, said at the press conference that the investment “comes at a time when we have a great need to expand and strengthen our network of support for survivors.”

Sistering’s project is expected to help address the unique challenges that homeless and transient women in Toronto face by supporting the hiring of new staff and expanding its support network and services.

The SAWC’s project aims to strengthen its long-term structure and sustainability through strategic planning and communication strategies. Kripa Sekhar, the Executive Director of the centre, said that the funding will “definitely improve the lives of women because more people will know about what we do, and enhance our ability to envision what the future’s going to look like.” This is the first time the centre has received federal funding.

The WWCC’s grant will help expand its support network for newcomer women from Portugal, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. The funding will help further the WWCC’s work in helping women with language instruction, housing, and job training. Marcie Ponte, the Executive Director, expects the investment to “make a difference in the lives of many women throughout the Greater Toronto Area.”

The largest investment, nearing $1 million, goes to COSTI’s project. With the funding, Executive Director Mario Calla hopes to enhance their ability to identify and fill service gaps for diverse women who are experiencing gender-based violence.

The elusive diagnosis

Why aren't we talking about endometriosis?

The elusive diagnosis

“Are you drinking enough water?”

My family doctor clicked through something on her computer, occasionally peering at me through wire-rimmed glasses. I was in her office for the third time in several years, attempting to get a medical explanation for what she scribbled down as “dysmenorrhea” — severe cramps that hit up to a week before my period began and intensified during it, sometimes rendering me incapable of carrying out daily activities.

“Yes, about four litres a day,” I responded. These kinds of questions were typical. By this time, she had prescribed me a variety of painkillers, advised me to improve my diet, and speculated that I might be out of shape, despite my membership on the cross-country team. None of this had done anything for my pain, and that day, I was determined not to leave her office without an ultrasound referral.

My dad knows all too well what it’s like to get a call from me, asking him to come to where I am collapsed on the sidewalk mere minutes from my front door, cramps eating through my stomach. Once, my mother came home to find me crumpled on the floor, crushing pieces of homework in my hands to distract myself from the all-consuming pain. And yet, none of this compared to the time when I was 12 and passed out in a mall on the first day of my period, the ache radiating from my lower abdomen to dull the rest of my body. Somehow, despite all of this, I was worried that what I felt was merely a figment of my imagination, manageable if only I were stronger.

I did manage to obtain my referral that day and to schedule an ultrasound appointment. A few weeks later, I received the report: no abnormalities found. In some ways, perhaps testing positive for something — anything — would have presented me with a sense of relief, because it would mean that I wasn’t overreacting. But in many other ways, had the doctors found something, it could have been the beginning of a life structured around a chronic, incurable, and often misunderstood condition: endometriosis.

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California Los Angeles defines ‘endometriosis’ as a condition wherein “the tissue that makes up the uterine lining [in the womb] is present on other organs inside your body.” In other words, tissue from a woman’s uterus can crawl into her fallopian tubes, spread into her pelvic cavity, and even plant itself in her lungs. There, it builds up, breaks down, and bleeds just as normally-located uterine tissue does. Eventually, scar tissue develops to mesh internal organs together. Not all women with endometriosis suffer symptoms, but those who do report intense pain with or without their period and sometimes even during sex.

It’s difficult to understand the extent of the pain without experiencing it, but one woman who lives with the condition likened the sensation to being hit in the ovaries with an axe. Others have written that it feels “like my uterus is sitting on a bed of razor blades,” or “like someone is taking a cheese grater to my cervix.” On top of this, it comes with high rates of infertility; for women who want to have a child, their physical pain might be compounded by the emotional strain of being unable to reproduce.

FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

For a condition that one in 10 women live with, endometriosis is remarkably difficult to obtain a diagnosis for. Among those who are aware of its existence, this difficulty is notorious. For starters, the condition takes an average of eight years to be recognized by a physician. The reasons for this are various, grounded in both the medical and the social.

To begin with the medical, the condition’s symptoms are largely invisible; they’re also often misunderstood to be those of gastrointestinal, rather than reproductive, disorders. A laparoscopy, in which a tube probes the interior of the belly for out-of-place uterine tissue, is understood as the only definitive way to determine if a patient has endo. Due to the risks it carries as a surgical procedure, it’s recommended by physicians with caution.  

The barriers to diagnosing endometriosis are also incredibly social. Up until recently — and continuing today, depending on cultural context — strong taboos around discussing reproductive issues like fertility and menstruation have discouraged women from being open about their experiences. The consequences of this include reduced knowledge on the severity of symptoms, as well as increased difficulty for professionals to construct diagnoses. Compounding this is the physicians’ response to endometriosis symptoms. Suffering extreme period pain has been normalized to the extent that many health care providers won’t investigate it further. Instead, women are told to take painkillers — as I was — and to wait it out.

Beyond this, there’s a well-recognized trend demonstrating that health care professionals take women’s pain less seriously than men’s. Experts acknowledge that women endure and declare pain more frequently and of greater intensity, but they are less likely to receive sufficient treatment for symptoms. Researchers Diane Hoffmann and Anita Tarzian of the University of Maryland found that gender bias prompts physicians to dismiss a woman’s pain, unless there is an explicit, objective reason not to. In other words, women detailing their pain are perceived as sensitive or hysterical, and are at risk of having physical ailments attributed to psychiatric conditions.

At different intersections, this difficulty is only exacerbated. Endometriosis is perceived to be a white woman’s condition, and women of colour suffer the consequences of this. “The symptoms present the same way, but the complaints that women of color bring to a provider aren’t taken as seriously sometimes, and they aren’t properly diagnosed,” Oluwafunmilola Bada, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Howard University, told SELF Magazine.

Even if a diagnosis is obtained, there is no real cure for the condition as surgeries to remove the uterus and ovaries aren’t always effective, and pain can flare back up when temporary treatments are halted. Living with endometriosis is a daily affair that is drawn out over years. As sufferer and advocate Lara Parker put it, “chronic pain means chronic.” Living with a long-term condition, especially one that is so misunderstood, can bleed into all aspects of an individual’s life, with implications for their mental health, family, relationships, and career.

Endometriosis is slowly gaining ground in terms of awareness, which will hopefully prompt improvements in the way that it is addressed. Celebrities like Halsey and Tia Mowry have been vocal about their experiences; Girls Lena Dunham has also been transparent about her diagnosis. As a result, it’s not as obscure as it was 10 years ago. However, the persisting difficulty that women face when trying to have their pain understood, their health conditions recognized, and their symptoms managed can be incredibly damaging. It compromises their quality of life as well as the integrity of the health care system, which professes to serve everyone equally but far to go before this becomes evident in practice.

U of T leaders, Consul-General of Japan on the processes of “Mentoring Women Leaders”

Rotman hosts panel discussion on women as leaders in the workplace

U of T leaders, Consul-General of Japan on the processes of “Mentoring Women Leaders”

On International Women’s Day, the Faculty of Arts and Science and the Rotman Faculty of Management co-hosted “Mentoring Women Leaders,” a symposium featuring discussions on leadership, the value of mentoring, and the importance of building inclusive spaces for gender minorities.

In Rotman’s Desautels Hall, the event commenced with a keynote speech delivered by U of T Chancellor Rose Patten, followed by a panel discussion with three speakers: Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s Vice-President Human Resources & Equity; Rachel Silvey, the Richard Charles Lee Director of the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy; and Takako Ito, the Consul-General of Japan in Toronto.

In her speech, Patten said that the century that we have celebrated International Women’s Day has been a century of “opportunity to celebrate the central role that women have played internationally and in countries around the world in the advancement of peace and justice.”

What does good leadership actually look like?

Before mentorship comes leadership. Mentorship can only exist if leaders allow it to; mentorship can only operate effectively and as intended if leaders allow it to. Throughout her career, Patten noticed the flaws resulting from assuming that leadership is timeless. Context and conditions, she said, need to be recognized, understood, and translated into what is important for the given moment.

“Leadership is not timeless,” she said. “It has shelf-life.”

Hannah-Moffat added that women in leadership introduce the necessary diversity of perspectives to address the increasing complexity of today’s problems.

“Here at the University of Toronto, we recognize this, and we embody this, and we have a deep commitment to both equity and diversity, and inclusion,” she said.

According to U of T’s Employment Equity Report 2016-2017, 47 per cent of faculty and librarians and 66 per cent of its staff self-identify as women. According to Hannah-Moffat, the university’s employment equity rates are 29 per cent higher than the global average for labour markets for public institutions. “But that’s not good enough because we recognize that even though we’re good with equity in employment, we have to ensure that we retain our talent. And to retain we mentor and promote that talent.”

Intersectionality, and when ‘good’ is not good enough  

Hannah-Moffat spoke critically of the nuanced nature of promoting gender minorities in work.

“To think about women as a homogeneous category is highly problematic,” she said. Women’s diversity functions along race, sexuality, and literacy lines. “To be as excellent as we strive to be at this university, if we are to embody the principles of International Women’s Day, then we need to look beyond just women and to the complexities and nuances of what [this means].” To simply make room for women is not enough.

Ito spoke to her experience as Consul-General in noting Japan’s commitment to Womenomics, the notion that women’s development and economic strength are inexorably connected in today’s world.

She said that if women are without barriers and allowed the same economic participation as men, Japan could expect a 30 per cent increase in GDP. Similarly, Silvey commented on her research on care work — typically associated with women — and work that is often misunderstood and therefore overlooked. “Care work is essential to making everything else possible. It connects the formal and informal economies,” she said.  

Hannah-Moffat stressed that these issues do not end at walls of institutions and corporations. “Gender parity, diversity, and inclusion are not just women’s issues, not just work issues, and not just university issues,” she said. “They’re also economic, political, and social issues that impact all of us.”

The importance of mentorship    

Patten referenced the opportunity to uncover both weaknesses and hidden strengths for both mentors and mentees. It is this self-awareness that paves way for better leadership with the ability to adjust and adapt.  

When asked about the most meaningful experiences of working with their respective mentors, the panelists spoke of gaining perspective, accepting and understanding one’s own mistakes, and the strength in battling the numerous challenges they faced while simultaneously accepting what is not within their own control.

Gender issues as we understand them today are confined within physical spaces. But as the panelists note, the impacts of good leadership and mentorship go beyond our university and our workplace.

Positive mentorship allows women to make a difference on a global scale.  

 

In the corporate world, the gender wage gap is closing all too slowly

Businesses should do more to address problems of gender parity in the workplace

In the corporate world, the gender wage gap is closing all too slowly

Gender diversity is much more than an issue of social justice — it’s strategic. It can be very difficult to assemble the best talent at an organization without drawing from a complete talent pool that is equally representative of men and women.

But countries like Canada have a long way to go in achieving gender equality in the workplace. Canada holds the seventh largest wage gap of the 35 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Sarah Kaplan, the Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, called the gender wage gap “outrageous” and stated that “we’re kind of stuck,” acknowledging that the problem is not disappearing anytime soon.

On a larger scale, the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 170 years for the gender wage gap to close. A 2015 report entitled “Women in the Workplace,” created by global consulting firm McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, estimates 100 years for equal representation in the senior executive suite, or C-suite.

A diverse management will produce a diverse array of ideas for business decision-making processes, which is correlated with enhanced financial performance. Based on a study completed last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a multinational professional services firm, Canada would experience an approximated $105-billion growth in Gross Domestic Product by closing the wage gap and increasing female participation in the workforce.

A common explanation presented for the wage gap — and used to combat the idea of enforcing gender parity policies — is that women leave the workforce for personal reasons and are unable to progress to senior positions as a result. This is largely a misconception; McKinsey & Company senior partner Eric Kutcher states in a podcast that women have a greater likelihood of remaining with their firms than men.

The role of societal pressures in determining a woman’s career trajectory also cannot be understated. Women in business often encounter difficulties when attempting to juggle family and work life, and competing obligations can result in a hit to their professional careers.

Examining gender parity in line roles compared to staff roles also brings this to light. It is possible that societal pressures create limitations that result in women taking on roles that are more flexible, but less likely to lead to the C-suite. Line employees have authority over achieving the organization’s main goals, whereas staff employees provide line employees with special assistance and expertise. The McKinsey study found that although the gender differences between these positions are initially immaterial, over time, more women end up holding staff roles that limit access to senior leadership positions.

There is clearly a gap between what firms say they want to accomplish and what is actually being done. Kutcher estimates approximately 75 per cent of human resources representatives list diversity as a top priority for their companies, though only about a third of CEOs and approximately 20 per cent of managers at lower levels do the same. Since the reporting structure within workplaces is scaffolded to give more senior managers decision-making power, there is a risk that gender diversity policies will be implemented at lower rates.

Fortunately, even though progress may be slow, there are initiatives that go beyond lip service by setting quantifiable measures. PwC has set a goal to make half of its new partners women by 2020. On International Women’s Day this year, Iceland announced that it would require organizations with over 25 employees to prove they provide equal pay regardless of gender, sexuality, or nationality — the first country in the world to do so.

Many firms also participate in Rotman’s Initiative for Women in Business, which offers programs for women at different authoritative levels. The Emerging Leaders program, for example, assists women in middle management levels to learn skills that will help them progress into more senior roles.

Firms should also provide more mechanisms to enforce their policies by setting quantifiable goals and holding themselves to a greater degree of accountability. In 2015, only 14 per cent of the companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange employed a formal policy to increase female representation on boards, as recommended by securities regulators. In fact, most of these firms neglected to incorporate gender diversity policies altogether.

The path to closing the gender wage gap and increasing workforce gender diversity requires initiatives by both governments and businesses. Meanwhile, it is important for students to be aware of what firms are doing to improve gender diversity within their workplaces, particularly for female students making strategic decisions about where they will pursue a career. We can be a part of the solution by engaging in conversation about gender diversity issues in the workplace and raising awareness about this issue in Canada.

 

Naveli Gandhi is pursuing a Graduate Diploma in Professional Accounting at the Rotman School of Management.