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How Canadian Businesses Can Begin to ‘Break The Bias’

How Canadian Businesses Can Begin to ‘Break The Bias’

As women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, how can Canadian businesses build a truly equitable workplace that prioritizes equality for women and all underrepresented groups, so they can succeed.

When women across Canada and around the world cross their arms over their chests for International Women’s Day this year, they’re making an X that marks a very important point in our history.

All those selfies and group shots are sending a message that the moment has come: it’s time to go beyond simply recognizing that gender bias exists. It’s up to everyone — not only women but their friends, family and allies at work — to call out discrimination when we see it. In other words, it’s time to #BreakTheBias.

What makes this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) historic, in part, is the period of transition we’re continuing to experience following the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020. As pandemic restrictions are beginning to lift in Canada, for instance, many businesses are now taking the opportunity to reimagine how and where their teams will work.

It’s clear that for the most part, Canadian companies no longer see this as a choice of whether or not to allow employees to work outside the office. According to a recent survey of more than 1,200 Canadians and more than 500 businesses commissioned by Salesforce Canada, 71% of medium and large businesses believe the future of work will be hybrid over the next one to three years. Close to half of small businesses (46%) said the same.

Why We Have To #BreakTheBias: Canadian Data

Hybrid work can provide increased flexibility for employees, a greater sense of autonomy and even boost their productivity. However it’s also an area where gender bias can rear its head.

It’s easy to assume, for example, that all workers have the same kind of personal responsibilities outside of their jobs, when we know that isn’t the case. In fact, our research showed that one in three Canadian women are concerned about a ‘one size fits all’ approach to workplace equality.

This is because 65% of women are already balancing the role of caregiving and full-time employee, versus 41% of men. Hybrid work could give them a greater ability to be at a home, but that leaves them subject to “proximity bias,” where they’re judged by those who choose to work at the office. Proximity bias also means, based on our research, women working outside the office are twice as likely as men to worry about getting less face time with senior leadership and to feel less connected to the organizational culture.

To break the bias, businesses have to be careful that hybrid work models don’t spark a return to a “two-speed workforce,” where it’s primarily women who work remotely and mostly men who return to the office. Instead, hybrid policies could be coupled with tools and behaviours that promote meeting equity (where people logging in via video can be seen as visibly as those in a boardroom, for example) and extend parental leave so men feel encouraged to take advantage of flexible working arrangements.

The benefits of hybrid work also shouldn’t overshadow other areas of bias, including compensation. More than half of the women we surveyed (56%) said they were concerned about receiving less pay for equal work. These concerns are not unfounded: only 17% of employers said they have taken tangible action to reduce gender-pay gaps over the past year.

A mere tenth of businesses, meanwhile, have implemented diversity training in the last two years to help combat bias and discrimination in the workplace. This helps explain why more than a third of Canadian women (37%) cite these issues as among the biggest challenges impacting them.

How We Can #BreakTheBias: Leading With A People-First Mentality

Fortunately there are steps businesses of any size can take to mitigate gender bias and ensure that the future of work truly means empowering employees to be successful from anywhere, no matter who they are. This includes:

1. Gather Intelligence To Support Inclusive Actions: 71% of Canadian employees told us they have not been asked for feedback on how to make their workplace more inclusive. This isn’t difficult to do, and can be part of a broader internal research effort to inform an improved employee experience strategy.

At Salesforce Canada, for instance, we conducted well-being surveys with our team early in the pandemic to identify and address any challenges employees were having amid the shift to working from home. What we heard has led to a host of policy changes, such as expanded family care leave, increased global back-up childcare and eldercare, office set-up stipends and more.

2. Build Pathways To Welcome And Retain More Women: If someone were to ask you what proportion of your workforce comes from underrepresented groups, could you answer with a specific figure? If not, it may be time to set firm goals around who you will hire, and how you will ensure they’re treated equally.

This is a journey for many organizations, including Salesforce. In 2019, for instance, we set a goal to have 50% of our U.S. employees from underrepresented groups by 2023. We’ve now met that goal nearly a full year early. Today, 50.7% of our U.S. employees are members of underrepresented groups, and Q3 — where 40% of all hires were women — was our best quarter ever in this area. Micro-credential programs such as Salesforce for All are also a great way to help women and new Canadians find meaningful employment in competitive fields. We also spent $3.8 million to address any unexplained differences in pay across gender globally.

Representation matters. And that means not only creating a more diverse workforce, but introducing equality leadership programs and gender inclusive benefits as well.

3. Align Your Business Objectives With Your Values: Breaking the bias against women and all underrepresented groups in the workforce is not a once-and-done activity. That’s why businesses should also consider how they can provide ongoing feedback mechanisms and initiatives to tackle concerns about discrimination and stereotyping every day, not just on IWD.

This could include mentorship programs such as “In The Room,” a virtual mentorship program Salesforce Canada introduced in 2020 to help women grow in their careers. These efforts not only provide safe spaces for women to be heard, but help to develop a peer community that can support them throughout their career.

Together, we can not only confront our biases, but overcome them and ensure we are not only creating a hybrid future of work, but a future where truly everyone is empowered to thrive.

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