Ten Ways to Speed up Your Gender Equality Efforts


In 2017, the World Economic Forum predicted we’d be closing the economic gender gap in 217 years—37 years longer than the estimate they provided in the year prior. It wasn’t, unfortunately, that surprising; in many key measures, from workforce participation to the gender wage gap, we haven’t moved the needle significantly for twenty years.

Which leads to the question: Why is our progress in gender parity so slow?

As the Co-CEO of Women of Influence, an organization that has been working for women’s workplace equality for 24 years, this is a problem I consider daily. The simplest answer is that the issue is complex, rooted in our culture and fueled by unconscious bias. A massive societal mindshift doesn’t happen overnight. True, but accelerated and meaningful change at an organizational level—from eradicating their gender wage gap to setting a 50:50 target for leadership—are efforts that, when added up, make a significant difference in the overall picture.

In January we partnered with Catalyst Canada on the first annual Radical Change Summit, which brought together business leaders who had taken a leap forward in gender equality, rather than a small step. They shared not only their successes, but also how they achieved them—with the goal of inspiring others to take similar action. As our keynote speaker, Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, put it: “We don’t need three silver bullets, we need a thousand flowers blooming.”

1. Be Aware of How Bias is Embedded in Your Current Systems
“If I had one piece of advice it would be this: Pay attention to the ways that current systems, policies and practices unintentionally create tailwinds for some people (white, straight men) and headwinds for others (underrepresented groups). Don’t focus so much on the implicit bias in our brains, which is hard to change. Rather, look at how bias is embedded in practices and come up with innovative solutions to change those practices.”

2. Audit Your Company From Top to Bottom, to Determining Gaps Based on Gender
“Have the courage to audit your entire company on how women fare versus men, from top to bottom. Audit pay by level, by promotion trajectory and maybe most importantly, audit the language you use for merit, promotion criteria, and recruiting. I guarantee you will be surprised by the simple changes you can make that can contribute to equality and a better environment for women.”

3. Don't Buy Into the Dangerous Myth of Meritocracy
“Meritocracy can reinforce privilege. While everyone wants to believe that they attain career success because they worked hard and earned their spot, most people don’t realize that some form of privilege helped them in their careers. If we remember this, we become more aware of the need to check our biases and examine the hidden disadvantages that various groups face.”

4. Give Women Equal Access to "Hot Jobs"
“Make sure that women get equal access to ‘hot jobs’ and other on-the-job development opportunities. Catalyst research shows that women are less likely than men to lead large and highly visible projects, have access to P&L roles, or receive international assignments that accelerate advancement. This inequity stifles women’s progress, and can drive them to seek out opportunities elsewhere. Ensure talent management practices include metrics that track who receives access to critical on-the-job development opportunities, and require at least two qualified women to be considered for each open opportunity.

5. Intentionally Recruit Outside your Own Networks and Comfort Zone
“Hire and promote from 100%, rather than 50%, of the talent pool. Equity nurtures excellence. Recruit outside your own social and business networks and outside your comfort zone. Systematically remove gender bias from selection processes and reject the age-old excuse for not hiring women that they are not a good ‘fit.’ Evaluate candidates on the basis of demonstrated accomplishment, not the after work drink or early morning squash game. Embrace difference for the innovative potential it offers.

6. Adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy for Discrimination and Harassment
“Organizations need to have a zero tolerance environment in the workplace for discrimination and sexual harassment. Simply put, an organization that does not promote the safety of its employees, leaves itself open to losing its talent and damaging its reputation.”

7. Comply with Pay Equity Laws in Spirit and in Fact. Don't wait for Complaint to be filed or an Audit to take Place.
“A commitment to equal pay for equal work and pay equity will signal to female employees that you are serious about gender economic equality, leading to better employee engagement and retention of female employees, and benefitting from the diversity of thought that women bring to the workplace.

8. Take Time to Recognize your Organization's High-Potential Women
“Ensure leaders are taking the time to recognize high-potential women. Whether it’s young women new to the profession, or senior employees with high tenure, advocating on their behalf is the first step to giving them the visibility needed to progress in their career. Getting to a place where this type of thinking is in an organization’s DNA is a goal we should all strive for.”

9. Kick-Start Mentoring and Sponsorship by Making Relationship-Building part of Your Organization's DNA
“Mentorship and sponsorship programs work because of trust-based relationships. So it’s essential that senior leaders are aware and understand the power/ impact that mentoring and sponsorship can have on their culture. Also, creating an environment where less experienced leaders are encouraged to build relationships with leaders across and through the organization earlier in their careers will help build natural and meaningful mentorship/sponsorship relationships.”

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