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Women in the workforce: Not much has changed since Working Girl

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The 1988 blockbuster Working Girl, starring (from left) Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, depicted the glass ceiling. Many feel little has changed.

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The 1988 blockbuster Working Girl, starring (from left) Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, depicted the glass ceiling. Many feel little has changed.

While some of Manitoba's top businesswomen say gender equality has come a long way in their workplaces in the 25 years since the blockbuster film Working Girl brought to light issues of office sexism, a new national survey has found it still has a long way to go.

Three-quarters of the 1,500 Canadian men and women polled last month by Monster.ca, a division of one of the world's largest employment agencies, said they believe not much has changed since the film was released in 1988 in that women still need to work much harder than men to get ahead.

Only one of the seven World Trade Centre privately driven, but public-sector, international investment agencies operating in Canada has a woman at the helm -- Mariette Mulaire in Winnipeg.

Although Mulaire acknowledged there still exists a degree of gender disparity in the Manitoban and Canadian business sectors, she said the gap has narrowed since she started out 15 years ago.

Today, she said it's on the global stage she often continues to find herself the only woman in the room and that there are top executives, specifically from other countries, who openly prefer to deal with men.

"If we have that kind of perceived barrier with gender, we're going to feel it," Mulaire said.

She said achieving gender equality in the private sector remains a struggle.

When Winnipeg native Jamie Jurczak made partner at Taylor McCaffrey LLP, she said she received congratulations on her success in light of the fact she was a woman from people who didn't work with her at the firm. "They said 'Good for you -- you did this as a woman.'

"I didn't expect those comments," said Jurczak, who is also chairwoman of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce and co-owns the Maples Academy of Dance with her sister.

Jurczak said up until then, she had never really considered her gender could be a hindrance in the workplace and in her experience, it has continued not to be.

Jurczak said she's noticing a change in gender roles in workplaces in general with more men taking parental leave, for example.

"It is changing," Jurczak said. "Some places are more amenable to it... I've always felt my workplace has been opened to alternative arrangements."

Electrician Jodi Moskal, who co-owns Moskal Electric with her husband, Steve (also an electrician), said as one of the few women in her trade, she's no stranger to comments like the ones Jurczak received, but they don't typically come from her colleagues.

"The construction industry is very welcoming to women," said Moskal, Moskal, chairwoman of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

When dealing with those not in the trades, she said she's been singled out because of her gender.

"Their first question to me is, 'Is your husband an electrician?' " Moskal said.

She said she doesn't blame people for jumping to conclusions.

Although the Manitoba government is encouraging women to enter the trades as a shortage of skilled workers looms, they are is still dominated by men, Moskal said.

"I don't even know if we make a dent," she said.

According to a Free Press analysis conducted in June, only six per cent of corporate directorships in Manitoba are held by women. That covers the boards of the province's 40-odd publicly traded companies such as Investors Group, Great-West Life and Buhler Industries. Manitoba's figure was below the national average at the time of 10 to 13 per cent.

Manitoba Status of Women Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said she's surprised gender equality is still such an issue in today's world.

"I have no concerns about women's ability," Irvin-Ross said.

"We have made some gains," she said, noting the province consciously strives for gender parity in the public sector, "but we're still talking about it."

Sheryl Boswell, director of marketing for Toronto-based Monster.ca, said although opportunities have undoubtedly opened up for women over the past 25 years, it's disappointing the consensus of the survey was the illusion the glass ceiling has shattered was just that.

"I think we thought there was a lot more equality than seems to be evident through this survey," Boswell said.

roberta.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2013 B6

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