Like many, I am reminded this International Women’s Day that there is urgent work to do to #EmbraceEquity and an important role for HR professionals. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2022 shared that it could take another 132 years to achieve gender parity. And this does not even consider the unique needs and gaps experienced by intersex, transgender, non-binary, genderfluid, and Two-Spirit people.

Initiatives around promoting gender inclusion and equity rarely capture what the concept truly means or requires of us. Taking an equitable lens means we understand that no person — more specifically to this particular day, no woman — is the same. With this understanding, leaders and workplaces give everyone what they truly need to succeed, helping to break down the specific barriers and unique challenges they encounter due to these differences. Equity is only possible with flexibility because a one-size-fits-all approach inevitably pushes certain people to the margins. 

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the potential of leveraging innovations and technologies to aid in scaling greater equity across our workplaces. Coupled with cultural shifts in the professional world over the pandemic — which have resulted in the proliferation of remote and hybrid work arrangements — there seems to be a real opportunity to make a significant impact in the fight for gender inclusion and equality.

Understanding that flexibility is not always possible and is often easier to apply to corporate and office roles, our efforts must also extend to all work areas, including the frontline. We may need more customized models for flexibility in different sectors and jobs. Still, a more adaptable and empathetic vision for the #FutureofWork is critical everywhere.

By flexibility, I refer to a technology-enabled, boundaryless ability to collaborate, contribute, lead, and add value. While many workplaces adopted this approach during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and HRPA’s statistics show that many have adopted remote and hybrid work permanently, we are starting to witness some workplaces regressing and shifting back to mandated in-person work.

I will always value the power of in-person, purposeful collaboration – this is something we promote at HRPA – but an unnecessary return to the past amid so much progress will inevitably impede workplaces from committing to inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) and attracting and retaining their most talented team members, particularly women.  Now is not the time to lose future innovators because your workplace will not evolve.

I’m often asked what companies can do to ensure they appeal to and retain their women leaders. Focus on employee well-being, IDEA, and offer flexibility. Studies have consistently shown that flexibility leads to better morale and, in most cases, higher productivity. The value of flexibility to women — particularly when considering intersectionality — is well-illustrated throughout the McKinsey & Company report on Women in the Workforce 2022.

Flexibility is the number one driver for women leaving their jobs. Women are more than 1.5 times as likely as men at their level to have left a previous job because they wanted to work for a company that was more committed to IDEA. Women who work remotely are often less likely to experience microaggressions and report higher levels of psychological safety. This is especially pronounced for racialized women, LGBTQIA2+ women, and women with disabilities — groups that too often experience bias, harassment, bullying, exclusion, and discrimination. 

If companies fail to grow into more flexible work models, they will leave their current and potential women leaders behind. Companies that ignore the #FutureOfWork will jeopardize their competitiveness in the struggle for talent.

I remember a conversation I had with my mentor years ago. She said gender equity would substantially advance if workplaces simply gave caregivers the necessary flexibility. While gender roles and divisions of care labour have evolved significantly, women are still disproportionately responsible for most care work in Canada and worldwide. A more inclusive economy would account for caregiving responsibilities without sacrificing quality or deadlines, enabling the autonomy just to work. 

This flexibility is the key to unlocking equity, not lowering expectations. Companies that embrace innovation in how we work will be doing their part in creating a much more equitable future.

International Women’s Day (IWD) – HR, Women & Work

Jodi Kovitz, (She, Her), Chief Executive Officer