Celebrating International Women’s Day & identifying the work still left to do

Friday is International Women’s Day. In 1975 the United Nations declared it the International Year of Women, and since then, March 8 has been celebrated as International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day is a global celebration of women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. In Canada, we celebrate the women who have made significant progress in education and workforce participation in recent years. Often, we don’t know their names, hidden in history by a culture that believed women could not be equal to men.

That said, women still face substantial challenges in accessing job opportunities, equal pay, and career advancement. As Canada’s largest privately-owned, full service recruiting firm, we work with candidates and employers across the country. Here are the challenges facing us to close the gap in gender parity and some successes:

Challenges facing women in employment

Gender wage gap

Women in Canada still earn less than men on average, with the wage gap varying across industries and occupations. 89 cents is what women working full-time and part-time make for every dollar men make and this wage gap is even wider for Indigenous, racialized, immigrant women and women with disabilities. It will take 267.6 years to close the economic gender gap worldwide, if present trends continue.

The gender wage gap isn’t solved by the legislation of equal pay for equal work. There are many factors impacting this gap including the other challenges facing women.

Occupations segregation

Women are overrepresented in certain low-paying and undervalued sectors, such as retail, healthcare, and social assistance, and underrepresented in higher-paying fields, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  For instance, in 2022, only 15% of total national membership in engineering was women. This occupational segregation contributes to the gender wage gap and limits women’s career advancement opportunities.

Bias and discrimination

Women face prejudice and discrimination in hiring, promotion and performance evaluations, which can limit their job opportunities and advancement prospects. They are more likely to experience microaggressions, such as having their judgement called into question or mistaken for a more junior employee. Women are also more likely to support employee well-being and foster inclusion actively, but this essential work usually goes unrewarded and is in addition to their usual workload. Women who have children or are caregivers also face bias and discrimination, as employers may assume they are less committed to their careers when they cannot work late or attend out-of-town events.

Lack of affordable childcare

The high cost of childcare in Canada is a significant barrier for women who want to enter to re-enter the workforce or advance their careers. As a result, many women are forced to choose between their family responsibilities and their careers, which can limit their job opportunities. Whether that means taking a part-time role or underemployment to accommodate their family needs.

Employment leaves

Canadian women face career hurdles when they take maternity leave. The Canadian government allows for women to take up to 18 months leave with their job guaranteed to be there when they return. However, within 18 months, a lot can happen. Technology advances are omnipresent, Canadian economic and business dynamics are constantly impacted by global events. According to a report by HBR, evidence from multiple countries indicates that extended absences from paid employment for new mothers correlate with reduced chances of promotion, advancement into management roles, or receiving salary increases post-leave. Moreover, there is an increased vulnerability to dismissal or demotion. The duration of leave also influences co-workers' perceptions, with women on longer leaves often perceived as less committed to their jobs compared to those taking shorter leaves.

Women often take leaves to care for an aging parent or chronically ill dependent. They are seen by society as the de-facto caregiver and best suited for this role. This forces them to put their careers on hold or a take a back seat, and often never return or never regain the career momentum they had before the leave. This is even more problematic as Boomers age, and the sandwiched generation rely on women family members to close the gap on our aging healthcare system.

Successes achieved by women job seekers in Canada

Increased workforce participation 

Women’s participation in Canada has increased significantly over the past few decades. In 2020, women accounted for 48.2% of the Canadian workforce, up from 41.4% in 1987. However, the pandemic forced many women out of the workforce. We are still waiting for pre-pandemic participation to return.

Improved education levels

Women in Canada are more educated than ever before, with higher rates of post-secondary education than men. According to Statistics Canada, in 2020, 64.8% of women aged 25 to 34 had a post-secondary degree, compared to 58.3% of men.

Women in leadership

Women have made significant progress in breaking through the glass ceiling and assuming leadership roles in various sectors. StatsCan states, “in 2019, women represented 19.2% of all director positions in Canada. The share of women on boards of directors has increased at an average annual rate of 2.5% every year since 2016.”

Diversity and inclusion initiatives

Many employers in Canada have implemented diversity and inclusion initiatives to address bias and discrimination and create more equitable workplaces. These initiatives include unconscious bias training, flexible work arrangements, and diversity recruitment programs. There’s little surprise that one of the newest and highest in-demand skills is diversity and inclusion training. Canada’s 18-month child leave can be shared between both men and women, although only 42% of companies have formal parental leave policies.


Advancements in technology are reducing unconscious bias and levelling the playing field for women and racialized groups. Job boards limit the personal information available when applicants are evaluated for qualifications (blind recruiting). AI tools are now available that will screen out gender-coded terms, phrases, job titles land pronouns to assist recruiters and talent acquisition specialists in writing better job descriptions that resonate with the entire talent pool.

Pay transparency 

Pay transparency has taken root in several provinces, with PEI, Newfoundland and BC already legislating the practice in job postings. Manitoba’s attempt was defeated in March 2022 but with a new party in power it is likely to be brought up again. Ontario has legislation on the books for implementation in 2024 and other provinces are discussing the benefits on their provincial floors.


By publishing salaries, marginalized job seekers, including women, can earn a market wage better.  However, most job boards are agnostic to North America and are already publishing salaries where the information is known.


Although this is mentioned above, it is worth noting on its own as well. The global pandemic forced us to work remotely for the better part of two or more years. Workplace flexibility, asynchronistic work, remote work and living wages have become the zeitgeist of employment contracts, and all these nuances benefit the women’s workforce. Further, the Province of Ontario mandated a new workplace policy called “The Right to Disconnect” in 2022 that prohibits employers and managers from contacting employees outside of work hours, including email. The intent is to create boundaries around work time so that employees can be fully disengaged. This is welcome news for women sandwiched between work, caregiving and unpaid housework, and most susceptible to burnout.


The state of women job seekers in the Canadian job market is complex, with significant challenges and successes. While women have made tremendous progress in education, workforce participation, and leadership, they still face significant barriers to equal pay and career advancement. Addressing these barriers requires a comprehensive approach that includes policy changes, employer initiatives, and individual actions. On this International Women’s Day, let us all commit to advancing gender equality in the Canadian workforce and creating a more inclusive and equitable society.

For more than 46 years, Agilus has served our candidate and employer networks, connecting great job seekers with meaningful employment. We place nearly 10,000 job seekers in roles every year in Engineering, Technology, Professional/Office, and Light Industrial roles. For more information about Agilus, please follow us on LinkedInFacebookInstagram and Twitter or check out our current open roles.

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