Accelerating progress on gender equality

In addition to labour force participation, the share of women in senior roles is an important indicator of economic parity, says the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. PHOTO by Pexels.

This opinion piece is provided by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce

The last three years of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a disproportionate impact on women, from business owners, mothers and caregivers to employees and frontline care workers. For many, the increased responsibilities at home meant they were, at best, less productive and, at worst, falling out of the workforce in unprecedented numbers, all during a Canada-wide skilled labour shortage.

The worst of the pandemic is seemingly now in the rearview mirror. However, despite recent stats showing that women’s employment has had a strong recovery – Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey analysis for January shows the employment rate for women aged 25-54 is the highest since comparable data became available in 1976 – we are far from achieving economic parity and equal access and opportunity for women.

In addition to labour force participation, the share of women in senior roles is an important indicator of economic parity. The progress made in women’s representation in leadership positions is at risk. McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2022 report highlights that as women’s (particularly women leaders) needs and expectations from work increase and are unmet, they are leaving companies in unprecedented numbers. Recently released research from The Prosperity Project echoes these findings and shows a dramatic decline of representation of women in the pipeline to senior management roles in Canada. The reality is, not many workplaces are currently working for women.

How Can You and Your Organization Be Part of Progress?

If your company is committed to making meaningful progress towards gender equality, the adoption of leading and emerging practices, programs and policies to support the retention and advancement of women in your organization will help you get there.

We asked the members of our Council for Women’s Advocacy for their guidance and various members indicated that they are implementing promising practices that you could also adopt to accelerate progress on gender equality. Here are some of the initiatives that you could explore:

Tracking metrics and setting goals: We know that what gets measured gets done. Without data, setting goals and tracking metrics it will be hard, if not impossible, to make any progress. Some companies are setting clear goals for gender representation in management and senior leadership, others are tracking participation and outcomes in their employees training and programs.

Holding leaders accountable for progress: Leadership commitment is crucial to make sure progress is achieved. More and more companies are publicly sharing their action plans and their diversity metrics. Some are going further and offering financial incentives to senior leaders for making progress on gender and other diversity metrics.

Mitigating the impact of bias on hiring and promotion decisions: Gender and other types of bias do have an impact and often set back women’s professional careers. Many companies provide anti-bias training to their employees, but the research has shown the potential positive effects of these trainings are often short lived. Some companies are going beyond the one-off training and instead sharing bias reminders before hiring and promotion processes begin.

Training managers and employees on issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI): Progress on gender equality and other DEI issues is a collective endeavor. As such, companies need to make sure everyone has the knowledge and tools to foster welcoming environments that increase diversity, equity and inclusion. The nature of work has changed and some companies are making sure managers are trained to adequately manage and support remote and hybrid employees, combat bias in everyday interactions and minimize burnout. Some companies are also offering allyship training to all employees and providing tangible tools to foster inclusion.

Designing career development programs specifically targeted to women and other underrepresented groups: Mentorship and sponsorship programs are excellent ways to grow the talent pipeline and create specific opportunities for women leaders. Some companies are supporting women’s employee resource groups (ERG’s) to create space for women employees to connect, exchange experiences and influence an organization’s policies and practices.

Expanding healthcare and caregiving benefits: Many women are primary caregivers and some companies are offering additional supports to parents and caregivers of sick or elderly adults through their benefits plans. They are also offering personal leave for mental health care.

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