Op-ed: A blueprint for a more inclusive 21-century workplace


As Canadians, we take pride in our diversity and equality. But despite decades of discussion about eliminating barriers, creating equal opportunity initiatives and other programs, the rate of change has been incredibly slow. Consider just a few relevant statistics:

In 2018, according to Statistics Canada, women made up almost half of the Canadian workforce (47.7 per cent), but held less than a third of senior management roles (32.6 per cent).

A 2011 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that racialized Canadians earn 81.4 cents for every dollar white Canadians make.

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In a paper written in 2010, Lisa Lambert found that aboriginal women’s earnings are just 46 per cent of men’s.

As of 2016, fewer than one in five director and officer roles in Canadian companies were held by women. 

What makes it so hard to achieve equality in the workplace? 

Certainly bias, both conscious and unconscious, continues to be a factor. For example, 86 per cent of directors surveyed by the Canadian Board Diversity Council said the boards on which they served were sufficiently diverse; in other words, there isn’t a problem. And surveys show a greater number of men than women think their workplaces have created a level playing field for both genders.

But there are also significant structural roadblocks that restrict women and visible minorities, no matter how much they and others might want them to succeed. In the area of gender balance, child care continues to be an expensive proposition in Canada, introducing a financial barrier for women who are trying to build their careers at the same time as they raise a family.

This period is particularly tricky for female entrepreneurs. Often the best years to start a business and a family overlap directly with each other, creating a tug-of-war between two fledglings that demand your constant time and attention.

Sadly, it’s even more difficult to address racial inequity in the workplace because of a lack of data around this issue. If a problem isn’t measured, it’s even harder to understand it and resolve it.

That’s why a group of local business leaders are launching the 21st Century Workplace Initiative. Our goal is to create workplaces that are truly inclusive and allow everyone the same opportunity to flourish.

What constitutes a healthy 21st-century workplace? We think it includes the following elements:

  • There is alignment between the expectations of employers and employees
  • There are no pay gaps for women or visible minorities
  • Accountability is based around results, not time in the office, and there are clear expectations around productivity and outcomes
  • Overtime is acknowledged and time-off-in-lieu is an option
  • Workaholics are not disproportionately rewarded for putting in excessive amounts of time compared with counterparts who choose balance
  • There are clear boundaries around work and personal time
  • Prospective leaders are asked how they will support the health and wellness of employees
  • There is trust that work will be done regardless of whether someone is on-site
  • The workplace is judgment-free and guilt-free
  • Organizational leadership demonstrates the right behaviour, monitors outcomes and intervenes when necessary
  • There’s a code of conduct for how employees are treated, including by clients

Our first objective is to launch a research project in several Ottawa workplaces in the next few months. Our goal is to ensure that the 21st-century workplace responds to the challenges, needs and objectives of all workers. If you’d like to join us, please let us know.

Catherine Clark – President, Catherine Clark Communications

Veronica Farmer – Director of Operations, Kanata North Business Association

Caitlin Kealey – CEO, MediaStyle

Lisa Kyte – Physiotherapist/owner West Physio

Michelle Coates Mather – Director, Syntax Strategic

Karen Milligan – Executive Director, Ontario 211 Services

Jennifer Stewart – CEO, Syntax Strategic

Mark Sutcliffe – Entrepreneur and broadcaster

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