A day for unity, reflection and celebration
International Women’s Day (IWD) has been around for over a century. However, it was not officially recognized by the United Nations until 1975. This year, the Government of Canada’s theme for IWD is Inspiring Women, and the International Women’s Day organization’s (IWD) theme is #BreakTheBias. Side by side, these themes highlight the importance of celebrating women’s accomplishments and act as a call to action aimed at achieving gender parity.
To address these issues head-on, we met with Nancy Audette, Vice President and General Manager for Quebec at Cogeco Connexion.
An invitation to rally collectively
Currently, nearly nine out of 10 people in the world —– including women —– are biased towards women.1 Moreover, 73% of women experience bias in the workplace, but less than one-third of employees are able to recognize it when they witness it.2
“Making a difference and moving towards gender parity takes a real collective effort. It’s everyone’s business. At Cogeco, this mobilization is reflected in daily practices and actions. However, it is important for me to mark International Women’s Day with my teams, to celebrate the achievements of women and the progress made, as well as to reflect on our unconscious biases,” states Nancy Audette. “Some efforts have been effective in eliminating certain disparities, such as those in education. However, the focus now needs to shift collectively to confront far more challenging issues —: ingrained unconscious bias — to achieve true gender parity.”
Acknowledge our conscious and unconscious biases
Progress has been made with regard to gender parity, but there is still much to be done. Nearly 60% of women are regularly victims of microaggressions at work.3 Women of colour, women of the LGBTQ+ community, and women with disabilities face greater prejudice. However, less than half of employees say they have reported discriminatory behaviour at some point in their career.4 It’s not enough to acknowledge that bias exists. We all need to take action.
According to Nancy, we need to move forward intelligently and collectively to overcome the denial of the seriousness of the problem, while understanding that these acts of truth are sometimes difficult to live with.
“I notice that over time, in the workplace, we have moved from more obvious stereotypes to unconscious biases. As much as we must take a stand and denounce inequality when we witness it, we must also accept the backlash and have the humility to recognize our own prejudices, whether we are men or women. Sexist behaviour is not a matter of gender, it is a matter of society. And if we want to support change, it must be done collaboratively. I for one appreciate it when I am made aware of my unconscious biases. We need to create an open-minded, trusting and supportive environment. We need to create an inclusive and equitable culture, where women as well as men can thrive, and where everyone can contribute to their full capacity and bring their unique perspective. To move discussions and decisions forward, everyone must feel comfortable being 100% who they are. By leaving a portion behind and hidden, we come to miss out on plenty of blind spots and become a uniform, closed-minded mass.”
Rallying for diversity, equity and inclusion
To build a diverse workforce, raise awareness and stimulate action to change mindsets and practices, an inclusive alliance is key. This means that in the workplace, you need allies; people who are willing to take action in support of others, to break down barriers that impede opportunities to use their skills and talents.
Research shows that allies do not just influence one person at a time. They inspire others to act as change agents as well, creating a culture of acceptance and support.5 “To create a more gender-equal environment, where women feel safe to be who they are without fear of judgment, we need to create a more human-centered climate. We must create a supportive culture where everyone joins the cause and recognizes their privileges and biases,” says Nancy.
Cogeco has implemented a number of initiatives have been implemented to foster diversity, equity and inclusion. Here are a few examples:
- Work flexibility
Nancy Audette reports that her teams at Cogeco have flexible work arrangements in place that allow for greater flexibility and to accommodate family obligations. This flexibility helps employees achieve work-life balance.
- Comprehensive policies
While individual behaviour change is important, structural or systemic change is significant. Cogeco has setup a hotline for employees to report any harmful incidents. “Taking action is something that needs to happen within the organization itself, but also beyond its walls. Our customer-facing staff, such as on-site technicians, is made aware that if they encounter a situation they feel is discriminatory, there is no need for them to doubt or question it. A telephone agent can politely end the call, and a technician can leave the premises where she or he is assigned. We support and urge employees to withdraw from such circumstances,” says Nancy.
Focusing on changing corporate culture is a must. “When I first joined Cogeco, I attended a training session that featured a module on equity in the workplace. This is something that contributes to raising awareness of unconscious bias and challenging common myths. I also believe in influencing change, in actively challenging gender bias, discrimination and stereotypes. I also think that those in authority need to set the tone,” says Nancy.
- Peer support and alliance
According to a McKinsey study, 20% of women report that they are often the only woman in the room while at work.6 Yet, when women come together to share experiences, learn new skills and encourage each other, anything is possible. This means more opportunities for mentoring, coaching and networking. Research shows that male allies in the workplace are also critical, given that women who have more male allies are less likely to feel devalued because of their gender and more likely to feel included in the workplace.7 Cogeco’s Women’s Network is an example of this, bringing together members of all genders and offering opportunities such as workshops and coaching sessions that provide the peer support that some women need to thrive.
Promoting gender parity in organizations
A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review revealed that gender diversity leads to more productive businesses.8 From hiring to career advancement, gender inclusion benefits women as well as the organizations themselves. It’s a win-win. Inclusion benefits such areas as performance and retention. According to Employment and Social Development Canada, more satisfied employees lead to more productive employees who are more likely to remain and recommend the workplace to others.9 In addition, the Harvard Business Review shows that gender balanced organizations tend to be more innovative as well as more profitable.10
It is in the best interest of businesses to leverage women. While the world has made progress more work remains to be done to create true gender parity. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias creates a barrier for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field. Let’s not wait any longer. Let’s #BreakTheBias.
1. United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Reports. 2020.
2. LeanIn.Org et McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace, 2020.
3. LeanIn.Org et McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace, 2020.
4. LeanIn.Org et McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace, 2020.
5. Journal of the International Ombudsman Association 2 numéro 1, 2009.
6. LeanIn.Org et McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace, 2020.
7. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Report from the Symposium on Women and the Workplace, 2019.
8. Harvard Business Review. How Diversity Can Drive Innovation, 2019.
9. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Report from the Symposium on Women and the Workplace, 2019.10. Harvard Business Review. How Diversity Can Drive Innovation, 2019.