International Women’s Day, held on March 8th each year, is a global day for celebrating the social, political, economic, scientific and cultural achievements of women. It’s also a day for action and raising our collective voices to accelerate gender parity and equal access for women across all spheres.
While the past few years we’ve witnessed a quickening towards a more inclusive society, as well as greater progress in the dismantling of systemic gender barriers, we still have a long way to go. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, at the current rate of change, gender parity will not be attained for another 99.5 years. To put that into context, that is three or four more generations of our daughters, sisters and mothers experiencing uneven access to education, employment opportunities, medical care, religious freedom, political representation and more.
As a technology company with a woman CEO, and one that works with many women-owned businesses and organizations devoted to helping women-led businesses, we’ve been raising awareness about the need for greater gender equality in tech and business for years.
As more women capture headlines for their achievements and leadership in economics and politics worldwide, they are still hugely underrepresented in boardrooms across the globe – particularly in technology companies. As of 2019, women still held only 21.5% of board positions among TSX listed companies in Canada. In technology, women occupy less than 25% of technology jobs, and only 5% of leadership positions. These ratios are unacceptable and not enough is being done to remedy this fast enough.
With this year’s International Women’s Day theme being #ChoosetoChallenge, we wanted to highlight a few of the incredible organizations we’ve worked with over the years that have been challenging the status quo of gender inequality by helping to close the opportunity gap for women in business, leadership, technology, and economic security.
With 2020 having massively impacted the gains of women around the world through job loss, unpaid caregiving, and more, it’s become critically important that companies’ #choosetochallenge systemic inequality in their workplaces, as well as step up their support for organizations that advance opportunities for women and work to dismantle the systemic barriers that have long held them back from parity.
Without further ado, meet 5 organizations working to advance gender equality here at home.
Business and Entrepreneurship: Women’s Enterprise Centre and the Forum
It’s 2021 and unbelievably, only 16% of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses are owned by women. This disparity in ownership is not due to a lack of success or desire, but resources and opportunities. A recent study conducted by Columbia Business School found that female entrepreneurs achieve as much success as male entrepreneurs, but only if they receive funding. That female-led ventures are 63 percent less likely than male-led ventures to obtain funding has societal-wide impacts on everything from innovation, to standard of living and job creation. This gender-bias of investors contributes significantly to gender disparity relating to the number of entrepreneurial ventures.
Based out of British Columbia, the Women’s Enterprise Centre is a non-profit organization devoted to helping BC women start, lead, and grow their own business. Since 1995, WEC has supported women-led businesses by providing business loans up to $150K, business training, mentoring, and a supportive community to help women business owners gain the skills, mindset, financing and networks they need to realize their business potential.
Another one of the many organizations working to empower women entrepreneurs is The Forum. The Forum is a Canada-based organization focused on energizing, educating, mentoring, and connecting self-identified women entrepreneurs to be successful, in service of promoting strengthened economies and thriving communities. Since 2002, The Forum has supported over 10,000 entrepreneurs through 5 educational programs, mentorships, and a deeply collaborative community.
Leadership and Boards: Women Get on Board
Women make up slightly more than half of the Canadian population yet are continually underrepresented in positions of power in business. In a study published by Statistics Canada, Women accounted for 19.4% of directors in 2016, while 56.8% of corporate boards of directors were composed entirely of men.
As our own CEO Cybele Negris, who is active on a number of corporate boards, explained to the CBC in 2019: “Boards should reflect, for any organization, their customers, their employees and then their key stakeholders … if everybody who’s sitting on the board is exactly the same age, race, gender, background — you name it — it’s really difficult to have differing opinions and ideas to drive that change and innovation.”
Women Get on Board (WGOB) is one organization working to change those numbers and increase the rate of progress in getting more women into board seats. Recognizing that cultivating an active pipeline of female candidates is perhaps the most important factor in accelerating board-inclusion, WGOB works to connect, promote, and empower women to corporate boards through a variety of events, training, programs, and services.
Technology: Science World Girls in STEAM
Why do girls enter STEM fields at significantly lower rates than boys? Studies have shown that girls score just as well as boys in STEM related subjects, yet are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Simply trying to recruit girls and women into STEM related careers has proven to be ineffective. According to the American Association of University Women, there are several social factors including stereotypes, biases, sexism, harassment, and other microinequities that prevent girls and women from embracing STEM the same way men appear to.
Events like the Girls in STEAM Symposium at Science World, supported by Webnames since its inception, are incredibly important for generating interest in STEM for young girls. Initiatives like Girls in STEAM present a critical opportunity to introduce STEAM related courses without the social and cultural barriers that typically inhibit girls and women from pursuing a long-term career in STEM. Creating an environment where girls get to explore STEAM pursuits and learn from women role models and champions has been shown to increase girls’ confidence and motivation to pursue careers in STEAM, as well as their own belief that they will be successful in these pursuits.
Learn more: Getting women into science and tech is critical for businesses – by Cybele Negris for Business in Vancouver
Gender Equality Regression Under COVID-19: The Prosperity Project
COVID-19 has had an incredibly regressive impact on gender equality. According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality, from job losses to childcare, health to physical security, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women and girls by virtue of their sex. Particularly notable has been:
- The burden of unpaid care work due to children being out of school, and the heightened care needs of the elderly caused by overwhelmed health services.
- An increase in gender-based violence as a result of many women being forced to lockdown at home with their abusers, during a time where services that support survivors of abuse are disrupted or inaccessible due to social distancing measures.
Fortunately, there are organizations working to assist women during these challenging times.
Conceived by a diverse group of more than 60 female leaders from across Canada, The Prosperity Project is a new not-for-profit organization founded to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian women who are being disproportionately affected. The Prosperity Project has developed 5 initiatives to ensure women get the assistance they need during the pandemic, and afterwards. These range from helping non-profit organizations that focus on women meet funding challenges, to conducting research to understand how COVID-19 is affecting family life, work/life integration and women’s responsibilities at home.
With the publication of their 2021 Annual Report Card on Gender Diversity and Leadership – aka “the Zero Report” – the Prosperity Project has given us an important “ground zero” for tracking and reporting intersectional data about women’s representation in all manners of leadership roles across Canada.
Diversity and gender equality have been proven (over and over again) to increase workplace creativity, performance, and ultimately a business’s bottom line – and yet, despite the progress in conscious raising, increased representation of women at senior levels, and decreasing pay gaps, we still have so far to go. Let’s all commit to “choose to challenge” the status-quo by lobbying for accelerated gender parity, celebrating women’s achievements, and supporting organizations like the ones above in their work to level the playing field.