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Canadian Companies Are Struggling To Close The Gender Gap

12/11/2015 05:22 EST | Updated 12/11/2016 05:12 EST
Ron Chapple studios via Getty Images
Businesswoman Walking by Businessmen

Nearly three-quarters (71 per cent) of women working in Canada are employed in roles below management level, according to Randstad Canada's 2015 Women Shaping Business study, indicating that despite some of the great work being done, too many Canadian organizations are still missing out on the many benefits of a gender-inclusive workforce and leadership team.

History and a great deal of research into the matter shows that women represent a significant driving force in the economy and there are true benefits in fostering diversity in an organization. In fact, an article in Forbes this year cited data that shows women CEOs in the Fortune 1000 drive three times the returns as S&P 500 enterprises run predominantly by men.

If it's no longer a secret that women are valuable assets to management teams. So, what is keeping so many companies, specifically those in Canada, from closing the gender gap?

The Randstad Canada 2015 Women Shaping Business study provided some interesting insights into this question.

It found that 47 and 42 per cent of women believe they don't advance in the workplace because employers fear their absence due to family obligations or fear the impact of a maternity leave, respectively. Personal confidence (21 per cent), and a lack of executive sponsors or mentors for women (16 per cent) were also cited as reasons women feel they are being held back from leadership roles.

The situation seems to worsen when we focus in on women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In a global economy that is increasingly reliant on innovation and engineering, STEM fields have become a crucial part of Canada's future workforce and economic success and despite this, only five per cent of women working in Canada are employed in these fields. In fact, more than half (57 per cent) of respondents avoided STEM fields altogether because of the stereotype that they are male-centric fields.

The fear of harassment or discrimination; a lack of support from school systems/guidance counsellors; and even a lack of encouragement from their own parents and families were also reasons why roughly one third of respondents have not entered STEM fields.

The disconnect is clear. Canada's economy needs both genders at the wheel, but men are currently still doing the majority of the driving. What can businesses do to improve?

The good news is that there are a number of solutions, but they need to be taken seriously. Here are a few ways organizations can ensure they are encouraging a gender-inclusive workforce and leadership team:

Refine the recruitment strategy

Ensure job postings and general recruitment advertising materials, including websites and social media pages, reflect the diversity of job candidates.

Be wary of stereotypes

There are still lingering stereotypes associated with occupations that are traditionally male dominated -- companies can help defeat them and appeal to a broader audience by targeting communications by cultural specificity and gender.

Prepare women to lead

Organizations can make themselves a more attractive workplace for women by putting programs in place that help them build both the operational and management skills necessary to succeed and advance. Mentoring and training programs that are tailored to the specific needs of women should be considered.

Promote women for leadership roles

Biases around "leadership characteristics" should be reviewed and, if needed, challenged. Succession plans should include female candidates, while male-dominated fields should lead initiatives that aim to recruit more women at all levels of seniority.

Assess flexible work options

Organizations that equate more family commitment to less company commitment should keep in mind that both men and women have parenting responsibilities. A flexible organization that supports family responsibilities regardless of gender will maximize the participation of women in the workforce and ensure greater success in both the workplace and at home.

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