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How Businesses Can Make Empowering Women A Part Of Growing With Purpose

How Businesses Can Make Empowering Women A Part Of Growing With Purpose

Learn how your business can better empower women in the workplace

If anyone should have confidence, it’s Hayley Wickenheiser. She was the first woman to play full-time professional men’s hockey in a position other than goalie. She’s an executive with the Toronto Maple Leafs. She’s an Olympic gold medalist.

Yet despite all those achievements — and despite completing medical school not long ago — Wickenheiser admits she is no stranger to “imposter syndrome.”

“Never before have I gone to a work environment and thought ‘What am I doing here?’ a thousand times a day?” Wickenheiser said during Salesforce Canada’s Growing With Purpose virtual summit focused on women in the workplace.

“I guess every resident goes through the same thing, but in my case, my career in hockey has helped me cope,” she went on. “As an athlete, you get told every single day what you’re doing wrong. You’re told to skate faster, jump higher, lift more. People trying to help, but you can get crushed if you don’t have perspective and can take it for what it is.”

Without that perspective, though — and without supportive colleagues and an inclusive work environment — women continue to face considerable challenges to be treated with equity and respect.

Just look at the most recent Women in the Workplace 2021 study from consulting firm McKinsey. It found that, for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted. In the past year, meanwhile, one in three women has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their career—a significant increase from one in four in the first few months of the pandemic.

Closing The Confidence Gap

Though there has been some progress in how women are treated at work, it’s important to recognize how companies may have contributed to a “confidence gap.” Meghan Roach, CEO, Roots, said this involves talking about the challenges she and her colleagues have faced.

“I remember going to job fairs or recruiting fairs and being told by recruiters, ‘We’ve been asked not to offer any women positions at this firm,’” she recalled. “Or we would be told, ‘When you go to that meeting, you should take off your wedding ring, because they don’t want to know that you’re going to have kids. That’s going to be a barrier to you being successful in this career.’ We have to reflect on those shared experiences.”

Margaret Stuart, Country Manager at Salesforce Canada, said that even when she got hired she was often the only female in the room at many tech firms. That gave her a deep passion for making sure there was plenty of room for other women once she rose through the ranks.

Over the past year, for example, Salesforce Canada has launched a digital community dubbed “In The Room” where women discuss their careers and the kind of mentorship and allyship they seek.

“If you can see it, you know you can be it,” she said, adding that providing a safe space for discussion was critical. “One of the key things we launched this with was a policy of no recording, ever,” she said.”If you’re able to show up to participate, that’s amazing.”

Building Inclusive Work Environments

Businesses have to do more at the hiring stage to ensure the confidence gap doesn’t cause women to “de-select’ themselves as worthy candidates, said Mike Bartlett, CEO of Canada Basketball. If you’re advertising a position in such a way that it seems out of reach, it should be no wonder that you’re not attracting diverse candidates.

“How would you reshape that job description instead to lift up the confidence and create the ambition that that’s a job that I would stretch myself for?” he said. “That’s something I’ve paid a lot of attention to in my career as a manager.”

Stuart agreed, noting that Salesforce has recently made it a practice to remove qualifications like a university degree if it isn’t truly necessary for a job. Other initiatives include Salesforce For All, a micro-certification program that has seen people relaunch their career — or launch their first career as new Canadians — in a matter or two weeks.

“We all have a responsibility to do that, because then there are so many more opportunities that come to so many more people,” she said.

Roots has also evolved its approach to hiring, often focusing less on qualifications than presenting candidates with a case study-style problem to work on and demonstrate their abilities.

“It takes away some of those inherent biases that we all have when we’re interviewing candidates,” she said. “It has encouraged us to get a more diverse pool of individuals working at the company.”

Having The Difficult Conversations

Those policies and programs have to be coupled with a willingness by leaders to confront everyday practices that might exclude women, panelists said. Tabatha Bull is President & CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business today, for instance, but at one time she was a junior employee just like everyone else. She just wasn’t necessarily treated like everyone else.

“I wasn’t always the one who got invited to the Leafs game or the Raptors game,” said Tabatha Bull, President & CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. “Of course, 45-year-old-men aren’t going to invite a woman in her twenties to those things, but it affected my ability to build a network and move upward within an organization.’

We can all run the risk of acting in ways that exclude, which is why Bull suggested developing a habit of active self-reflection.

“If you’re a doodler, do you find you’re doodling more when one person is talking than another?” she asked. “After a meeting, ask yourself if you were truly actively listening to everyone in the meeting, and if not, ask yourself why that is.”

Many organizations are now actively encouraging more people to act as allies and mentors to women at work. All it can take is one act of leadership to have a profound impact on someone’s career.

“I never spoke up in meetings,” Stuart admitted. “Then I worked for a phenomenal CEO who said, ‘You know, we’re going to work on this together. And I’m going to ask for your opinion early on.’ Then I gradually became more comfortable in doing it.”

This is all the more important as companies move into digital-first modes of working that allow employees to be successful from anywhere. Technology should connect us without trade-offs in terms of our relationships.

“That’s what the pandemic has highlighted — the vulnerability we all have as human beings who need social contact,” Wickenheiser said. It’s been magnified across so many streams of life.”

Barlettt agreed. “You don’t always have to be seen now to have your impact seen. Organizations and people are starting to understand that more,” he said. “I think we’re learning that leaders who lead with empathy are going to be set up for great success.”

In some respects, showing our homes on video calls and seeing kids running around in the background has created an opportunity to get to know each other more deeply. This should be celebrated as we seek to elevate women in the workplace, Stuart said.

“There used to be a polarity of, ‘I need to show up and be professional and maybe hide some of my human side.’” she said. “Now it’s not professional versus human — it’s professional and human.”

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