By Susanne Martin, Managing Editor
As Canada celebrates International Women’s Day on March 8, it can look back on a number of achievements. Much has been accomplished in creating equality for men and women in Canada, especially in the areas of health and education, yet gender parity is still far off when it comes to economic well-being. On average, women working full-time earn 20 per cent less than their male peers and have fewer chances to be promoted. Making the case for the benefits of a diverse workforce, industry leaders are issuing a call to action.
In addition to reliable access to health care, women in Canada have very high levels of education, says Kate McInturff, senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Improvements in women’s education and a change of expectations around their roles have led to a significant increase in their participation in paid work, she explains. “There are 2.5 million more women in paid work today than there were 30 years ago, and most of that growth has been in full-time employment.”
Yet these achievements have not resulted in gender parity in economic well-being, says Ms. McInturff, adding that even after correcting for education, occupation and years of experience, there is still an average wage gap of about 20 per cent.
A report by non-profit advocacy organization Catalyst identified the problem as systemic, attributing it to a “sticky floor, not just the glass ceiling,” says Ms. McInturff. Focusing on MBA graduates, the report found that from day one, women were paid less, given fewer high-profile portfolios and had fewer opportunities to interact with people in the C-suite than their fellow graduates.
Lisa Boyle says she’s never felt encumbered by “the sticky floor.” She is now vice-president of customer support revenue programs and has been working at software company OpenText for 16 years. “For me, it’s been the opposite. I’ve been encouraged and supported along the way,” she says, adding that there is a company-wide “focus on fostering a culture that allows everyone to reach his or her full potential.”
OpenText’s CEO Mark J. Barrenechea explains that while the organization’s diversity efforts are directed at recruiting, retaining and advancing the best talent, he believes “it is time to focus more on women to ensure they have the right tools and support to thrive in the workplace.
“The tech industry as a whole offers poor results when it comes to gender diversity,” he says. “Gender inequality limits the talent pool, which, in turn, limits our ability to innovate and our overall success.”
Workplace diversity increases employee engagement, productivity and commitment, says Mr. Barrenechea.
It also yields tangible results in innovation, adds Ms. Boyle. “It’s difficult to be creative in a bubble. When everyone is coming from the same place with the same shared experiences, the output is less creative, less innovative.”
Ms. Boyle believes that since technology applications are varied, “bringing a wide range of perspectives and approaches to problem solving increases the likelihood that the solutions are representative of the general population.”
Mr. Barrenechea recognizes the importance of diversity to the innovative culture, and cites it as “critical to our ongoing success in the EIM marketplace.” He explains that the OpenText Women in Tech initiative, which includes a global Catalyst membership, aims to expand opportunities for women through shared research, events, workshops and other services.
“As part of this, we are establishing baseline metrics to measure our progress each quarter,” he adds.
Ms. McInturff sees “transparency and tracking” as key instruments for increasing equality. “We need organizations and employers to be willing to track how they are paying – and promoting – men and women, in order to identify gaps,” she explains.
When gaps have been identified, mechanisms for addressing them need to be followed, Ms. McInturff says, adding that there are several proactive regulations and oversight programs available in Canada.
OpenText’s gender diversity numbers are already better than the industry average, says Mr. Barrenechea. “At 22 per cent, we have more women in tech roles than other large software companies and exceed the national average of women in technology, which is 18 per cent. Our overall gender composition at OpenText is 30 per cent female.”
In addition, one-third of OpenText’s board seats are held by women, compared to the tech industry’s average of fewer than two. “We’re proud of these figures, but we recognize that being ahead of the curve is not enough. As a leader in Canada’s tech industry, we are in a position to help change the standard,” says Mr. Barrenechea.
Ms. Boyle believes that OpenText’s global diversity program can set an example for other companies. She also encourages women to consider a career in technology for a “chance to help create what the future will look like.”