Over the past few decades, women have made great strides in the workplace starting with increasing their employment participation significantly. Data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) shows that women's participation in the Canadian labour market increased by 60.4 percentage points between 1950 and 2015, from 21.6% to 82.0%.1
However, while certain professions—such as those related to caregiving—still tend to be heavily taken on by females, while other areas—like STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and industries that tend to have higher pay scales—have experienced slower rates of growth for the hiring and promotion of women.1 The LFS data showed the gender employment gap is highest in metropolitan areas with high childcare costs, which illustrates the particular challenges women with children often face when trying to balance family and career.
Perhaps this is one reason many women decide to create their own opportunities and go into business for themselves. There were more than 1,083,000 self-employed women in Canada in 2019, most of whom were sole practitioners with no employees.2
Companies have good reasons to strive to do better in empowering women. The benefits of gender diversity can be evident in many business aspects, from improved interpersonal relationships and helping to attract and retain talent to boosting team morale and helping maintain positive management dynamics.
As we approach International Women's Day on March 8, this is a good reminder of the importance of supporting women in the workplace, and the potential payoffs to employers who promote a greater level of gender balance among their staff.
Benefits of gender diversity in the workplace
Increased gender diversity in the workplace can be a good business move. The benefits businesses can garner from gender diversity are plentiful, among them:
- It could promote more productive collaboration. Input from people with different backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints may allow for better brainstorming sessions and a broader range of new ideas. Creative thinking and innovative problem-solving may be encouraged when new voices are heard.
- The business could attract high-quality talent and recruit from a wider pool of potential applicants. Once hired, employees may be more likely to stay in an inclusive workplace, which could boost retention rates.
- It can be a boost for brand’s reputation and image. Maintaining an inclusive, diverse workplace may help businesses establish a positive impression among the public, including potential customers, investors and/or employees.
Barriers to women's advancement in the workplace
Despite the significant benefits of hiring and promoting women, many businesses still struggle to improve their gender diversity. Although many strides have been made in hiring women, some companies are later faced with the challenge of retaining them.
Women in business professions are more likely than their male counterparts to require breaks in their careers to have and raise children or attend to family responsibilities, and that interruption in their career progress can be an obstacle to overcome when they re-enter the workforce.
Among the other barriers to women's advancement in the workplace include:
- Unconscious bias, in which people automatically mentally assign certain qualities, roles and traits to each gender; this could create barriers for women in business settings.
- The fact that many women continue to be responsible for the majority of household/family responsibilities and care-taking roles, making it more difficult to put in long hours, travel frequently or participate in other activities that contribute to making connections and climbing the corporate ladder.
- The underrepresentation of women in leadership, which hinders the availability of mentors and role models who could help other women enhance their skills or make connections.3
How to help empower women in the workplace
The factors that lead to gender inequality are complex, and there is no quick or easy solution. But there are examples of places that have made great strides in this area.
In North America, some large companies have managed to close the gender gap. At Amex Bank of Canada, 57% of the leadership roster is female, as is 52% of the board of directors.4
The barriers that have made it challenging for women to advance in the workplace can be overcome by companies that are willing to make the effort—an effort that can pay off in significant ways, as highlighted above. Employers that understand the value of gender diversity and who appreciate the contributions that female employees can provide their organization often make it a priority to empower and support women in the workplace.
Here are some ways to do this:
- Promote your existing stars. Identify female employees who are succeeding and provide a pathway for them to move up the ranks.
- Offer training and professional development opportunities. This could include mentorship programs, support for education/training and programs to help with critical skills like public speaking.
- Commit to fair and equitable pay. Employees should be paid based on their qualifications, role and performance—regardless of gender.
- Maintain a hiring process that makes outreach and recruitment among diverse populations a priority.
- Implement and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for any type of discrimination or hostile work conditions.
Make positive changes to promote gender diversity
It may require some cost and effort to develop and implement policies that promote gender diversity and female advancement in your business. However, this is an investment that can pay off. Companies typically find that the rewards of empowering female employees to thrive and succeed are beneficial.
A great way to celebrate International Women's Day is to evaluate your current state of gender diversity and identify ways to improve it.
2 Employment by class of worker, annual (x 1,000), Statistics Canada. This does not constitute an endorsement by Statistics Canada of this product.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. It should not be regarded as comprehensive or a substitute for professional advice.