March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD), when, across the globe, we celebrate the significant achievements of all women, acknowledge our unique and collective identities, and embrace our diversity. This year the IWD theme is #ChoosetoChallenge, which is premised on our collective abilities to choose to call out and address gender bias and inequality, in addition to raising awareness about and celebrating the achievements of women.

In a former post, we talked about a number of ways that gender inequality shows up in the workplace, as well as some ways to prevent/address them. This year, in keeping with the IWD theme, we want to discuss ways that you and your organization can both raise awareness and take action.

In the last few months alone, we’ve come across people who don’t believe that gender inequality is an issue in Canada. If you don’t understand it, don’t believe it, and/or are not taking steps to address it, you’re simply not building an equitable or progressive organization. Full stop. According to IWD, nearly three quarters of women experience some sort of bias at work or related to work (e.g. the hiring process, pay, promotions, opportunities, day-to-day experience, etc.).

So how can you and your team choose to challenge within your organization?

Start with your leadership team. Do you/they understand systemic barriers and how they may be entrenched in your organization? Are you aware of your own biases?

Look closely at your HR processes. Are you clear how pay decisions are made, and what performance feedback/decisions are based upon? Or have you assumed your processes are equitable and free from bias? As you review, keep in mind such statistics as 66% of women getting performance feedback that they “can sometimes be abrasive” compared to only 1% of men hearing the same type of input (IWD).

Build equity, inclusion, and diversity into your values. And then live them, breathe them, hold everyone accountable to them.

Engage your people. Bearing in mind that you should never expect employees (especially marginalized ones) to educate you, provide a genuine opportunity for women and others to talk about their experiences in your organization (both positive and otherwise). Truly listen to and do something with what they share with you.

Make it safe. Ensure that women and others can bring issues, concerns and suggestions forward, and truly be heard. This includes normalizing the fact that women are equal contributors.

Educate and train your teams. Start with your managers (and what they’re responsible for), then employees, and then incorporate an ongoing learning process (i.e. not just one ‘tick the box’ session).

Walk your talk and hold your managers accountable. For real. This means not just handing out a policy and looking the other way. It also means shutting down inappropriate or “jokey” behaviour. It’s not funny and it never was.

Hire and provide role models. While your organization/industry may be male dominated, whether it stays that way is, in part, up to you. All employees have the potential to be role models in choosing to challenge.

Ditch the stereotypes. Challenge the concept, not only of what being female/feminine means, but, equally so, the concept of what being male/masculine means in your organization.

Don’t contribute to negative pandemic stats. Women’s jobs have been much more significantly impacted by the pandemic than men, in part due to child and family care falling largely on their shoulders. Take steps to ensure you’re supporting people equitably where family needs and issues surrounding the pandemic are concerned.

Taking (and maintaining) the above steps are important components of choosing to challenge inequity and bias. Not doing so intentionally, genuinely, and thoroughly – and/or simply going through the motions – is part of the problem.

A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.
So let’s all choose to challenge.

International Women’s Day