14 factors lead to workplace gender equality — here’s how Canada measures

A new survey looks at the factors needed to achieve gender equality in the workplace. Getty Images

Achieving gender equality in the workplace is complicated, and often involves a years-long evolution for companies.

But its benefits rack up in the future, a new survey by management consulting company Accenture found. The survey, titled “Getting to Equal 2018,” enlisted 22,000 working university graduates from 34 countries to ask them about workplace culture — and how gender equality can be achieved.

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It then narrowed the responses down to 40 factors that are “statistically shown to influence advancement,” then shined a special light on the 14 most likely to create change.

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The 14 factors are divided into three categories — bold leadership, comprehensive action and an empowering environment.

Here’s a closer look at the factors, and how Canada measures in achieving them.

Bold leadership

  • Gender diversity as a priority
  • A diversity target or goal
  • Transparent goals in solving gender pay gaps

The move toward transparency when it comes to gender pay gaps is one the Ontario government announced this week it plans to take on.

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The province plans to introduce a “pay transparency” bill which would require all publicly advertised job postings to include a salary rate or range, bar employers from asking about past compensation and prohibit reprisal against employees who do discuss or disclose compensation.

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The federal government is also planning to table pay equity legislation that it says will help bridge the 12 cents hourly wage gap that currently exists between men and women who work full-time.

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Nora Spinks, CEO of Ottawa-based think tank The Vanier Institute of the Family, told Global News that these factors are good “first steps,” but Canadian companies need to do some thinking before embarking on change.

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“The bottom line is if you don’t have gender equity, you need to determine first and foremost where it is coming from,” Spinks said. “It requires for some a mind-shift, and for some, it means elimination of systemic barriers, for others, it’s about changing attitudes or behaviours, or others, it’s about changing policy and practice.”

She added that all of these factors may not apply to all companies to the same degree.

Comprehensive action

  • Progress in hiring, retaining and progressing women
  • An established women’s network
  • Women’s network is open to men
  • Men encouraged to take parental leave

The federal government announced a push for more men to take on parental leave in its budget by introducing a few more weeks of parental leave for families where both parents decide to take time off work to help care for a newborn child.

The new rules would enable families to take up to 40 weeks of leave as long as the second parent claims at least five weeks of it.

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Beatrix Dart, executive director at the University of Toronto’s Initiative for Women in Business, said the survey’s point that men are “encouraged” to take parental leave is a step in the right direction, but Canada needs to do much more.

She pointed to Scandinavian countries, where there is often “mandatory parental leave for both partners” in order to receive government coverage.

In those countries, Dart said there is less of a hiring bias against women.

“Imagine you have a job opening and you interview an equally qualified young woman and man, the tendency in this environment in Canada would be maybe they pick the young man because we all know he will not go on maternity leave,” she explained.

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“If you make it mandatory that both parties have to take parental leave, it actually doesn’t matter if the person is a man or a woman because both of them will at some point disappear for six months.”

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Dart added that women’s networks can be very effective in creating a more inclusive environment — if done right.

“The more you create exclusive groups, whether it’s for women only or a cultural ethnicity only, the more other people will feel excluded. It actually does not help what you want to create, and that is inclusion.”

That’s why Dart says the survey’s point that the networks, which can range widely from activities such as weekly lunches to training sessions to advocacy, must be open to everyone.

“The more you can have joint groups, that creates a much healthier workplace,” she said.

An empowering environment

  • Employees never asked to change their appearance
  • Employees given freedom to be creative
  • No judgment in working remotely
  • Constant training provided to employees
  • Employees can avoid travel if needed, use virtual tools
  • Employees are able to work from home when they have personal reasons
  • Employees are comfortable reporting discrimination, harassment

Spinks explained that while some of the factors in this category are covered by labour codes, it is often harder to enforce these.

“It comes down to fairness and equity, and trust and respect — everything else contributes to one of those things. The trust and respect are in some cases more complicated and harder to achieve than some of the structural things.”

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She noted that often, companies will pledge flexibility or freedom to be creative, but managers won’t carry out the promises. She said these “contradictions” in what’s promised and what’s given are often the largest barriers to equality.

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“Some organizations are having difficulty, they know there’s a gap and they can’t close it, it’s those contradictions between what’s stated and what’s experienced.”

Spinks also explained that different industries, company sizes and leaders may have unique needs, which means these factors may not all be applicable.

Impact of 40 factors

The survey also took a look at companies where all 40 factors are implemented, and found that both men and women tend to excel.

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The survey stated that in such companies, women are 38 per cent more likely to advance to leadership roles, and five times more likely to become senior managers or higher. Men are 29 per cent more likely to move up into management or leadership roles.

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Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer, Ellyn Shook, explained in a press release why women in leadership are so important.

“Culture is set from the top, so if women are to advance, gender equality must be a strategic priority for the C-suite,” she said.

“It’s critical that companies create a truly human environment where people can be successful both professionally and personally – where they can be who they are and feel they belong, every day.”

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— With files from Global News reporter Erica Alini

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