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Creating Inclusive Workplaces for Women

Why we need to keep the conversation going


Beginning December 15, 2023, federally regulated employers, private or public, have been required to supply menstrual hygiene products to employees who need them at their workplace. It’s a small step forward in acknowledging women’s presence in the workplace, the extra costs associated with being a woman, and addressing menstruation stigma. But it’s a step, nonetheless.


There is much more work to be done

No one can argue we haven’t made progress toward gender equality and women’s participation in the workplace. But hold off on the celebratory speeches, because much more work is still ahead of us.

“So far, we have laid the foundation,” says Tiffany Connauton, Edmonton-based inclusion specialist. “There was a lot of prescriptive employment, which meant hiring a certain number of women into the workforce to acquire a certain visible diversity.”

Among other effects, this often negatively affected women’s mental health because of a perception that they weren’t trusted as professionals, not included as part of the team. And, says Connauton, “Now we have a lot of repair work to do, plus in some cases, we are further behind in numbers than we were in the ’90s.”


Balance—still an elusive concept

Women find themselves walking a tightrope as they attend to their multiple roles in family and society, on top of honouring their work commitments.

“The big conundrum is not about how to survive at work, but [how] thrive,” says Connauton. “This often forces women to have two different identities: the work persona versus their natural, authentic identity.”

Achieving work-life balance can also suffer serious setbacks during critical life stages such as maternity and caring for young children, empty nesting (sometimes entangled with marital stress and divorce), and caring for elderly parents. Women can be left with little time and energy for essential self-care needs such as getting sufficient sleep, eating balanced meals, and having time to exercise or socialize.

Add to this the fact that, though statistics show things are changing, women still do more household work than their partners.


How does menopause factor in?

Women between the ages of 45 and 55 make up the fastest-growing segment in the Canadian workforce, according to the Menopause Foundation of Canada, yet the menopause conversation remains a taboo in most workplaces, and one in two women worry that menopause symptoms could affect their appearance at work.

“Menopause comes at the time when women should be celebrating their professional achievements, and yet they find themselves facing judgment and setbacks,” says Connauton.

Which may be why almost 67 percent of women over age 40 do not want to bring up the topic with their employer, according to research conducted by Menopause Foundation of Canada.


What does it take to create inclusive workplaces?

Flexibility to start with: the opportunity to work remotely or to choose hybrid work, as needed, and having flexible hours. That these more flexible work situations are often far more productive than previously thought was one of the few silver linings learned during the pandemic. This flexibility benefits everyone in the workforce whose life may be affected by a rigid schedule and can ease the burden when it comes to family responsibilities.

While each workplace is different, “we need to treat people as individuals, rather than ‘filing’ people according to their gender, background, and such, which often introduces recruitment bias, [instead] considering people’s skillsets.”

Creating an inclusive workplace means also recognizing and addressing microaggressions in the workplace, such as referring to women as “too sensitive” when they react to something being said, projecting judgment on women’s choice to have or not have children, or using inappropriate, seemingly endearing terms such as “sweetheart.” Microaggressions can have negative impacts on women’s psychological well-being and ability to deliver quality work, and they can increase the risk of depression and burnout.


Conversations about women’s health belong in the workplace

Imagine workplaces where employees’ health and well-being are considered priorities. (This makes sense from a business perspective too.) For women’s health, in particular, it could include workplace education programs that can help reduce stigma related to menstruation, menopause, and family planning, as well as mental health support.


“You’re pregnant? You’re fired!”

It’s worth considering that not too long ago—before 1971—women could be fired from their jobs if they were pregnant.

“There is a wide range of symptoms when it comes to premenstrual syndrome, for example, and some women may need to take time off; that may come to be reflected as a performance issue rather than a health issue,” says Connauton.

Inclusive workplaces allow honest talks about health, including mental health, as well as issues of sexism and discrimination, which can be used for training and education. Also, campaigns to normalize work-life balance, the need for self-care especially during stages of life that are demanding physically and psychologically, and to make equal pay for work of equal value the standard.


Where do we go from here?

While Canada is considered to be among the leaders in women’s equality, globally, there is much work to be done, for the women who are already in the workforce and for the next generation.  The conversation must continue if we are to see inclusive workplaces become the norm.


Pay transparency—why it matters

As of November 2023, only four Canadian provinces have legislated or proposed legislation requiring employers to display salary ranges when hiring, and Prince Edward Island as well as Newfoundland and Labrador enforce pay transparency legislation through fines.

Pay transparency allows prospective employees to assess whether they would be offered a fair salary, in accordance with the company’s profits and in line with similar jobs in other organizations. It aims to promote a culture of openness and trust as well as improve pay equity and equality.


More room for improvement

·         Women working full time earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, even when in higher executive positions.

·         In Canada, women are underrepresented in leadership positions:

o   20.5 percent of all board directors

o   30.5 percent of elected federal government representatives

o   5 percent of CEOs


It makes economic sense

According to global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, by advancing equality and women’s participation in the economy, Canada could ultimately add significant economic gains.


This article was originally published in the May 2024 issue of alive magazine.



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD