When Nina Larsson was accepted as a Jane Glassco Northern Fellow, several years ago now, she was perturbed by the lack of data available on indigenous women in leadership positions in the Northwest Territories. Instead of waiting around for someone else to pick up the slack, she dedicated her time to researching the issue.
“I wanted to make sure that we had some data available so we can at least keep track of what is happening and be able to evaluate the situation for the next couple of years,” Larsson said in an interview with the Journal. “My initial thought was to just look at indigenous women in leadership. Because it was a three-year project I had to reduce my scope to indigenous women in senior management positions.”
This research, encapsulated in a final report called Mind the Gender Gap, inspired a panel discussion called Gender and the Public Sector in the NWT. The event was organized by Dene Nahjo, of which Larsson was a founding member, and IPAC-NWT and held on Jan. 21.
“It was a great panel,” Larsson said. “We had members of the Tlicho government who were there to showcase how they had a really successful act supporting indigenous women in senior management positions and, more particularly, Tlicho women and they have different policies in place to do that through education, support, mentoring, etc. We also had the opportunity to hear from two senior managers who are indigenous who shared some of their experience.”
Throughout the panel, representatives from the public sector identified barriers for indigenous women attempting to find work in the public sector and addressed ways to break them down, especially as they attempted to advance their careers into upper management positions.
“A lot of the conversation leading up to the event was focused around the question of, but why does it matter to have their representation?” said panelist Kyla Kakfwi-Scott, senior advisor for the department of Health and Social Services and a fellow Dene Nahjo founder. “That that is even a question speaks to why it is so needed; it’s like the voice and the perspective of indigenous women in decision-making and in the narrative of our lives, really, is so underserved that its absence is unnoticed. Any time that we can be bringing some awareness to what the impacts – and this is not something that has a negative impact on indigenous women only, or has benefits for indigenous women only – it’s something that really is of value to every person who lives here and should be important. It should be a focus for anyone who is in the position to be making a difference.”
To improve access to these senior positions, “there’s three things that I would like to see happening,” Larsson said. “A gender-based analysis, initiatives toward free child care – and when I say free obviously it isn’t free – affordable and available childcare and also support for indigenous women through hiring processes.”
According to her report, about 32 per cent of GNWT employees are indigenous, 22 per cent of them women. Indigenous non-Aboriginal peoples make up 13 per cent of the total employees, 10 per cent of which are women.
Despite these figures, indigenous women only fill 21 senior management positions within the GNWT; eight per cent of the 245 positions available.
The report also compares the territory’s approach to addressing gender issues with that of the other Canadian territories and with Scandinavian countries.
“I really had fun researching the Scandinavian model,” Larsson said. “I really try to look at best practices from around the world and because Scandinavia is number one, two, three and four … in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report.”
In order to reach those echelons, panelists discussed the merits of hiring based on aptitude and competency rather than just focusing on education, while simultaneously creating hiring committees within the GNWT that reflect the diversity of the territory.
A mix of GNWT staff and Tlicho representatives were featured in the discussion, including Martin Goldney, deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations and co-chair of the Aboriginal Employees Advisory Committee; Charlene Doolittle, Assistant Deputy Minister, Solicitor/General; Grace Mackenzie, media liaison, and Cecilia Rabesca, director of human resources, both with the Tlicho Government.
“For us, with Dene Nahjo, it’s always important to bring forward initiatives that talk about indigenous leadership and excellence and policy or innovation through different means,” Larsson said. “We thought it would be a great opportunity to share the information so that people would be aware of the situation and also discuss ways to be able to respond to the situation, what needs to be done in the next couple of years.”
For more information, the full recorded panel will be released on the IPAC-NWT Youtube channel soon. To read the Mind the Gender Gap report, head to http://gordonfoundation.ca/sites/default/files/publications/MindTheGenderGap_NinaLarsson.compressed.pdf.