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Opinion: More than one in four B.C. women report ‘significant’ or ‘moderate’ gender discrimination

Poor customer service the most frequently reported form of gender-based discrimination, survey finds.
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Over the past three years, about a quarter of women in British Columbia aged 18 to 34 have been treated unfairly in the workplace, according to a new poll.

The way in which British Columbians live and work changed dramatically over the past three years on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many adults were compelled to spend a lot of time at home, checking in on meetings virtually. Some universities moved into hybrid models, granting students limited access to campus.

As we observe International Women’s History Month, it is important to look at how the experiences of female residents of British Columbia have been affected by the pandemic. We argued over proper social media behaviour and the supposed political split caused by vaccinations. Still, as our society begins to return to what was customary in 2019, some women continue to endure behaviour that should have been eradicated long ago.

Last month, more than a quarter of women in British Columbia (27 per cent) told Research Co. and Glacier Media that they have experienced a “significant amount” (eight per cent) or a “moderate amount” (19 per cent) of discrimination on account of their gender in the past three years. About one in four (24 per cent) acknowledge facing a “small amount” of discrimination during this time.

Women aged 18 to 34 are more likely to say that they endured “significant” or “moderate” discrimination in the past three years (46 per cent) than their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (27 per cent) and aged 55 and over (11 per cent).

Vancouver Island and northern B.C. emerge as the regions of the province with the lowest levels of “significant” and “moderate” discrimination against women (20 per cent and 21 per cent respectively). The proportion is higher in the Fraser Valley (27 per cent), Metro Vancouver (28 per cent) and southern B.C. (34 per cent).

Women who have a university degree are more likely to say they have experienced “significant” or “moderate” discrimination over the past three years in British Columbia (33 per cent) than those who attended a college or technical school (21 per cent) or those with no post-secondary education (20 per cent).

A follow-up question shows that there is a lot of work still to be done. Across the province, 53 per cent of women in British Columbia say they have experienced at least one of 12 different types of discrimination over the past three years. Once again, more university-educated and college-educated women noticed this behaviour (59 per cent and 54 per cent respectively) than those who did not complete any post-secondary courses (39 per cent).

The biggest setback encountered by women in the province since 2019 was poor customer service, with one in four (25 per cent) being on the receiving end of an unpleasant interaction because of their gender. There are no sizable fluctuations on age or region when it comes to this particular problem.

Even with fewer in-person visits to an office or school on account of the pandemic, some sad practices have not gone away. Over the past three years, about one in five women in British Columbia were the subject of sexist jokes (21 per cent) or experienced verbal harassment, such has slurs or catcalls (20 per cent). Lower proportions of the province’s female residents report experiencing other types of discrimination, including unfair treatment in the workplace (14 per cent), being mocked or ridiculed because of their gender (14 per cent) or sexual harassment (13 per cent).

Fewer than one in 10 women in British Columbia report enduring six other types of discrimination in the past three years: loss of a potential employment opportunity (nine per cent), exclusion from social groups within work (eight per cent), violence or physical harassment (seven per cent), exclusion from social groups within school (six per cent), denial of goods or services (four per cent) and denial of facilities or accommodation (also four per cent).

The numbers may not appear huge to some, but their incidence among young women makes them particularly depressing. Over the past three years, about a quarter of women in British Columbia aged 18 to 34 have been treated unfairly in the workplace (24 per cent), and more have been mocked or ridiculed (28 per cent), experienced verbal harassment (31 per cent) or were the subject of racist jokes (40 per cent).

At a time when companies are devoting more resources to address proper behaviour at work, the survey provides some reassurance. British Columbia’s younger and more educated women are more likely to pinpoint and remember when they are being subjected to discrimination than their older counterparts. What might have passed as a normal occurrence for women in the 1980s and 1990s is no longer tolerated by those who are currently employed. It remains to be seen if employers will actually do something about this, or dismiss it as “wokeness.”

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on online studies conducted from February 7 to February 14, 2022, among 800 adult women in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.