Gender parity in cabinet, yes, but what about behind the scenes?

2015 saw both the Alberta and federal governments prioritizing gender parity when appointing cabinet ministers. But new research shows that, at least in Alberta, those ministers are supported by high level public servants who are mostly men. We ask how that could change — and why it should.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley with some of her cabinet. Half of the ministers are women. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

In Alberta's public service, men outnumber women by a margin of three to one.

Stephanie Kusie is the chair of the Alberta South chapter of Equal Voice, a group that wants to see more women elected in Canada.

Kusie says she's shocked by the numbers, but also says that gains made in Alberta's recent provincial election give hope that gender equity is within reach.

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length. 

Are you surprised that women are so far behind when it comes to the public service?

I'm a little surprised. The Notley government here in Alberta has done an excellent job of having high standards with the representation of women. They stood by that with the number of female candidates they put forward. With the outcome we saw in 2015, it allowed for a very large number of females to be elected to be within the Notley caucus. Certainly, the cabinet, she came up big in terms of having a very female-represented cabinet. So it was a little bit shocking. Having said that, public services are something that develop over decades... this is not something that can change overnight. My perception of the public service is that they make a very concerted effort to have gender equality in terms of opportunities, representation, and levels of responsibility at the highest levels, so yes it was a little shocking.

Tell us why this (gender equity) matters.

We believe that it's very important as administration sets the tone for government. Frequently it is administration that is setting policy options to the elected official. That's something very powerful — to be able to set the tone for the government, particularly in the situation we're in now, in a province where we have a relatively young government that is looking for guidance from administration, so they're very powerful. That is why we should care — they are very powerful, they have a very large impact and influence on elected officials, the information that is presented to them and the decisions that they make.

Are you optimistic that you're going to start seeing this happen?

I think we are seeing it happening. These changes we've seen in the past year are just incredible, outstanding. I'm not sure anyone would have thought we'd see this type of parity, both within caucus and in cabinet, both at the provincial level as well as at the federal. We still have a ways to go, but we are on the right track.

Click on the blue 'play' button to hear the interview. 


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