Kevin McCreadie, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Investment Officer at AGF Management Limited (AGF), pursued a career in finance after university. At the time, 50% of his cohort were women. Given this statistic, he would have expected that the women would rise equally in their careers alongside their male counterparts.
Instead, he observed too many talented, driven and hardworking women exiting the workforce. Why was this happening? The financial services industry simply didn’t have the infrastructure in place – or the inclusive leadership required – to properly support women’s goals of having a career and a family. Anecdotally, women were quitting because the lack of proper supports in the workplace meant it was not conducive to having a family —something the men never had to consider.
Today, Kevin leads a firm that is committed to supporting the advancement of women and gender parity. AGF is an industry leader with women comprising 40% of its board and 33% of senior management roles.
AGF, is also a member of the 30% Club Canada, which encourages and supports companies to appoint more women at board levels as well as senior management.
While Kevin is proud of the accomplishments at AGF, he knows there is more work to be done when it comes to gender diversity and supporting women in the workplace. And this is why Kevin assumed the co-chair role of the Council for Women’s Advocacy (CWA).
The Council was originally focused on promoting gender parity on boards, but when the pandemic hit, it had to pivot and look at ways to support working women. To this end, members of CWA have been working on providing the federal government with recommendations to support childcare, women’s entrepreneurship and job opportunities for women.
Working women have disproportionately fallen behind due to the pandemic. Many of the fields where women are still in the majority — like hospitality and retail — are not fields where women have a choice of working from home; they are required to report to a job site. In addition, women cannot homeschool their children from that job site. With no other options, women have dropped out of the workforce.
Kevin maintains that the second wave has been even more difficult on women than the first and that, personally, he has never seen as many women stepping back due to the challenges of balancing work, home, and family commitments.
COVID-19 has set women’s achievements back and there is much to be done to return even to where Canada was before the pandemic, let alone advancing.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is not the first group to focus on women’s advocacy, but Kevin believes the Chamber’s CWA is well-positioned to help drive Canada forward because of its representation and support in so many communities.
Referencing the CWA’s priorities to support women in the workforce, Kevin is optimistic change can happen if we focus on opening schools, rapid testing and a plan for childcare.
The government has to get children safely back in school to give working mothers a chance to build and maintain their careers regardless of whether the woman goes to work or works from home. With children in school, women can focus on their work and career progression.
To keep schools open, there needs to be a focus on implementing rapid testing across school boards and even in workplaces. There are still steps to be taken, but thanks in part to the efforts of the Canadian Chamber, this is a reality in many communities.
Finally, Canada needs a plan for childcare that can help working parents through another lockdown and into the future. The pandemic has exposed the inconsistencies of the system – especially for essential workers and those who cannot work from home.
During the pandemic, Canada has lost 3 million workers – mostly women. While men have returned to the job, access to safe and affordable childcare remains the fundamental issue for getting women back in the workforce. It is critical to start having the conversation now to solve for the daycare issue, otherwise women will continue to experience career setbacks.
If good can come from the pandemic, it may be that workplaces are learning they need to be more flexible when it comes to hours, location, scheduling meetings and other considerations that may make jobs more accessible to all.
Leaders need to lead by example and support change within workplaces. Society also needs to encourage people to think differently about choices related to childcare, working from home or other stigmatizing triggers within workplaces.
Kevin McCreadie knows that the pandemic has been hard on everybody, but especially hard on women; he believes that the onus is on all of us to do something about that.
Coming out of the pandemic, people will need help to get back what has been lost. We all need to consider what are the small things that we can do to help – as employers, as co-workers, as people? If the situation for women is to improve, the voices of men and women need to be heard, as this is a human issue.
The CWA is a cornerstone of the Canadian Chamber’s diversity and inclusion initiative, established to bring the voice and perspectives of women to national policies, inform the Canadian Chamber’s initiatives in advancing the gender equality agenda, and drive meaningful action to address the identified issues and barriers. The CWA will continue to explore recommendations that the federal government can implement to support women through the recovery period, alongside looking at best practices and guidance for the business community.