Women's Work? The Distribution and Prestige of Portfolios in the Canadian Provinces

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Historically not only have women cabinet ministers in Western democracies been few in number, but they have generally been limited to “women's ministries” such as education, health, social services, and culture. This article systematically investigates the responsibilities and prestige of portfolios that women cabinet ministers in the ten Canadian provinces have held over a 21-year period, 1976–1997, an era in which their share of cabinet positions rose from less than 4% to almost 25%. Although still concentrated in traditional women's ministries, they have diversified the portfolios they hold. Using a tri-fold classification of portfolios into (1) important, (2) middle range, and (3) junior positions, we find that women increasingly have achieved more prestigious portfolios, perhaps a reflection of the reduced number of cabinet positions in the 1990s and more concerted attempts to promote women. But the law of increasing disproportion still exists, at least in overall terms of the relative prestige of cabinet positions.