March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day when, across the globe, we celebrate the significant achievements of all women, acknowledge our unique and collective identities, and embrace our diversity. For more about the history of IWD, refer to our post from last year.

This year, the IWD theme is #EachforEqual, which comes from the idea of collective individualism. While we are all unique individuals, we’re also part of the greater whole. How we individually act, what we do or say, how we think about things and show up in the world has an impact directly on those we interact with and indirectly on society at large. It follows that as a group of collective individuals, we can impact change and help create a gender equal world.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

While the day itself is important, IWD should serve as a reminder of the need for ongoing focus on and commitment to gender equality – and the impact inequality has in all areas. While our impressions, ideas, attitudes and biases arise in our minds, as we move through our days, these things unquestionably and significantly (if not intentionally) influence the workplace – be that in the boardroom, on the worksite, or in the lunchroom.

What are some of the ways gender inequality shows up at work?

  • Inequitable pay. While the marker is slowly moving, gender pay inequity continues to be a real and ongoing issue. Part of the challenge is that women are less likely than men to negotiate their salaries at time of offer, or to ask for pay increases.
  • Fewer opportunities to advance into managerial or leadership roles. A study conducted by the YWCA found that while 53% of Canadian women have degrees, women in Canada make up only 25% of the VPs and 15% of the CEOs. Further, men are three times more likely than women to advance into these positions.
  • Sexual harassment. While not a women’s issue, the fact is that women are more likely to be sexually harassed at work than men. As reported by Catalyst, close to one in five women have experienced a form of harassment at work and women are four times more likely than men to be sexually harassed in the workplace.
  • Women still carry the bulk of the family load. While things are changing in Canada, women still spend 38% more time than men on home and family responsibilities. Lack of appropriate and affordable childcare is also an issue. Statistics Canada reported that in Ontario and BC, where daycare is the most expensive across Canada, employment rates for women are below the national average (while men are at the average).

What can/should workplaces do to prevent and address gender inequality?

  • Starting with your culture and leadership team, make it a priority! Don’t just commit to it verbally. Develop a measurable plan to back your words with action and hold your organization and your leaders accountable to carrying it out.
  • Ensure your recruitment practices are gender neutral and promote equitable opportunities for all. This includes looking at how your postings are written (Do you refer to “he”? Are you looking for a tradesman or foreman?), and where you’re seeking candidates. Where it makes sense to do so, if you intend to specifically focus on hiring qualified women, adjust your hiring practices accordingly.
  • Provide role models and mentorship programs to support and promote advancement of women into supervisory, management and leadership roles – in all areas (not just traditionally or stereotypically “women’s departments”).
  • Allow for more flexibility for employees of any gender to attend to personal and family matters, and as positions permit, allow for part-time or reduced hours. Encourage men to also take parental leave and other family-based leave. Ensure your practices don’t unintentionally communicate that these are women’s leaves and most importantly that employees who take advantage of your flexible offerings aren’t denied advancement opportunities as a result.
  • Where possible, allow for remote work and avoidance of travel when employees of any gender need to attend to family/personal matters.
  • Make it a safe place for anyone to bring issues forward. If a female employee doesn’t feel she’s being treated fairly, for example, give her the space to explain why and look at what can be done to address the issue.
  • Ensure there are consequences for inappropriate/unprofessional behaviour or practices that prevent women from having the same opportunities as men. While, as an employer, you can’t change the long-standing biases of your employees, understand that they exist, raise awareness and shut down inappropriate conduct when it arises.

Organizations that foster gender equality and inclusivity are not only doing the right thing and being compliant with applicable legislation, but they also benefit in other ways. Not least of these are greatly enhanced morale, productivity, innovation and quality of service. An additional benefit is financial. Equitable and inclusive environments reduce costs related to turnover, accidents, health care, investigations, legal action and lost time due to addressing employee issues. They also often have a competitive advantage and, as outlined in a 2019 McKinsey report, increased financial returns and market share (which in turn, supports the overall Canadian economy).

Each for Equal. There are no reasons against it and every possible reason for it. While IWD is an important day to raise awareness and celebrate accomplishments, working towards an equitable workplace and world isn’t a one day per year concern. It is, in fact, an ongoing moral imperative.