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Ensuring Your Business is not Contributing to the Widening Gender Gap

Canada has made significant strides in terms of closing the gender gap when it comes to women’s representation in the workforce. We are often at the top of lists of global leaders in gender parity, and legislation has put a special focus on ensuring that women are able to enter and stay in the workforce. 

However, this work is not solely up to government. It is also on businesses to ensure that they are implementing the strategies that the government is outlining. These strategies include changing structures instead of people and holding businesses accountable through transparency and reporting. So, if you’re not doing this already, here are ways in which your business can help lead Canada towards a better, more equal future.

Hiring 

Review hiring practices to ensure that they are not targeting a certain type of applicant. For job ads, this means using genderless language. For instance, words that have an aggressive tone, such as “strong” and “competitive”, alienate women and those from gender-diverse backgrounds. Application processes should include a blind screening, where applicants are asked to complete a task to showcase their knowledgebase, rather than only relying on a resume. Finally, interviews should include a standardized series of questions that everyone is asked and are graded against.

Retention 

According to research done by Stephanie Dei and Kristin Haffert which was reported at the Symposium on Women and the Workplace, the three top reasons women often leave the workforce are: 

  1. They Feel Undervalued

Women are overrepresented in lower-level jobs in comparison to their male counterparts and are often passed over for promotions. Many women find themselves in positions where they are over-qualified for the job they are doing, with no prospects for advancement. Unconscious bias needs to be checked to ensure that everyone is given equal opportunity, especially when feminized work, or the work typically done by women is seen as less important and of less value.

  1. They are Poorly Compensated 

Of course, businesses need to create pay structures that ensure equal pay for work of equal value and be transparent with information on pay practices. This means reporting on pay structures and eliminating the old way of thinking that employees should not discuss their salaries with one another.

  1. They are Unable to Maintain Work-Life Balance

Businesses need to re-think the 9-5 approach. Women are often still the primary caregivers within their families and communities, and so they require flexibility in regard to when they work. “Always on, always available” business culture is a barrier, as men can practice this because they rely on women to perform domestic tasks, while women are thus unable to do the same. This attitude also contributes to the undervaluing of women’s work, the lack of women in leadership roles as well as the gender pay gap.

Career Advancement 

Businesses need to improve accountability by monitoring the advancement of women, with all levels of employees, from managers to CEOs, ensuring that women are promoted equally to men. This refers to transparently reporting to ensure that women are being promoted on an equal basis, and actively monitoring or penalizing behaviour that represents bias.

Structural Change

Of course, none of these measures can be implemented as “one size fits all”. Adopting an intersectional approach is important as women who identify as part of multiple underrepresented communities, such as racialized women, women with disabilities, and 2SLGBTQ+ women, face other barriers in addition to gender bias. There needs to be an awareness of bias and how discrimination comes in many forms and impacts people in different ways.

Male allyship is also incredibly important. Male leaders must model change, practice better work-life balance and use their vacation days. This can help change the mentality that flexibility is a sign of laziness or a lack of commitment. Also, male leaders need to defy masculine norms and push against the habit to isolate as this behaviour not only has a negative effect on male mental health, but also supports the toxic notion of “always on, always available”. Vulnerability and empathy are important in combating competitiveness and toxic status-seeking behaviours to create a more welcoming environment for everyone.

Lily Frances | Staff Writer

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