Enough Excuses: It’s time for positive change towards workplace gender equality




In the move towards workplace gender equality, progress is moving glacially slow on many key measures. Is that the way it has to be — or are we just making excuses?  


By Stephania Varalli



In 2017, the World Economic Forum predicted we’d be closing the economic gender gap in 217 years — 37 years longer than the estimate they provided in 2016. It wasn’t, unfortunately, that surprising; in many key measures, from workforce participation to the gender wage gap, we haven’t moved the needle significantly in two decades.

Which leads to the question: Why is our progress towards workplace gender parity so slow?

We could argue that there are a lot of reasons. Or we could recognize that these are just excuses, and start moving towards change.


Excuse #1: The issue is embedded in our culture, and we can’t change culture that quickly it takes generations.

Let’s step away from gender equality for a moment and look back at the technological developments of the last two decades. Google officially launched in 1998, revolutionising our ability to access information — and having a measurable impact on how our memory functions as well as our reliance on each other for storing knowledge. The integration of social media into our daily life, from Facebook (2004) to Twitter (2006) to Instagram (2010), has transformed how we interact with each other and the world around us, how we create and maintain relationships, and how we view and document our personal experiences. The adoption of the smartphone, coupled with the ubiquity of an internet connection, has changed how, when, and where we work and play — as well as our balance between the two.

Yet, in the same 10 years that I transitioned from a rarely-charged flip phone kept in my glove compartment to a smartphone that I treat like an appendage and use like a mobile office, the World Economic Forum’s global economic gender gap narrowed by just 3%. In 1994, when Netscape Navigator began fighting for browser dominance with Internet Explorer, full-year, full-time female workers in Canada were making 73 cents for every dollar a man made. In 2014, that number had only reached 74 cents — despite women surpassing men in education achieved. And starting in 2017, the #MeToo movement has not only shown us that workplace harassment is still pervasive and damaging,  it has also highlighted how we’ve spent the last twenty years punishing victims for coming forward, rather than their perpetrators.

How are we capable of effortlessly evolving so rapidly in some aspects of our culture, and stall so spectacularly in another? It is apparent we can handle massive change in 20 years, rather than 217. The question becomes how we make it happen.


Excuse #2: The problem is huge and complex — solving it will take a long time.

Yes, the problem is huge. It encompasses a multitude of issues, from the gender wage gap to the lack of women on boards to how we value care-giving. And while some countries are better off than others in a few of these areas, economic inequality remains a global phenomenon. Yes, the problem is complex. There are a number of interwoven factors that feed into it, from a lack of sponsorship to limited visible role models to unconscious bias. We may not have a simple solution to address the whole problem, but we have proven strategies to focus on its parts.


“How are we capable of effortlessly evolving so rapidly in some aspects of our culture, and stall so spectacularly in another?”


Take Women of Influence, for example. Not enough female role models are given the opportunity to share their insights, so we give them the podium, and write about their stories of success. And you don’t need to be an organization dedicated to women’s workplace equality to follow the same principle.  

In January we partnered with Catalyst Canada on the first annual Radical Change Summit, which brought together business leaders who had taken a leap forward in gender equality, rather than a small step. They discussed not only their successes, but also how they achieved them — with the goal of inspiring others to take similar action. There were many valuable insights shared, and a notable theme tying them together: a planned and determined focus addressing specific issues. 

As our keynote speaker, Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, put it: “We don’t need three silver bullets, we need a thousand flowers blooming.”


Excuse #3 – We can’t get people on board for progress.

Convincing one person to join the cause is doable, right? From the business case to the moral imperative to personal life experiences (men get less sexist when they have daughters, for example) — there are countless ways that skeptical or reluctant individuals become supporters and advocates.

Now here’s the connection we don’t always make: one individual can be a catalyst for broad change. If a husband is willing to take on more of the home chores, his wife has more time to focus on her career advancement. An enlightened hiring manager can build a diverse and inclusive team. And when senior executives are on board, they can guide their entire organization towards greater parity — a power we need to encourage them to recognize. When we asked Mike Henry, executive vice president and chief data officer for Scotiabank, how he became an internal champion at the bank for gender equality, he responded: “We kept making comments about the Bank needing to do more and then we stopped and looked at ourselves and said, ‘Wait a minute, we are the Bank, and we are the people that should take some action here’.”


“We stopped and looked at ourselves and said, ‘Wait a minute, we are the Bank, and we are the people that should take some action here.'”


If we can get organizations to change, what about an entire industry? We have a very recent example that shows how possible it can be: The impact of the #MeToo movement has only just begun, and it has already pushed the conversation into the mainstream, taken down high-profile perpetrators, forced organizations to rethink policies, and men to rethink their actions. Yes, there has been backlash, but that doesn’t mean we should be halting progress.


Excuse #4 – Change is painfully hard, so we need to go slow.

Our opening keynote speaker from the Radical Change Summit — Blake Irving, director and former CEO of GoDaddy — informed the crowd that “The status quo does not go down easy.” He should know: When he took the helm, GoDaddy was best known for an advertising strategy that many viewed as sexist, if not misogynistic, and the company culture was just as in need of an overhaul. He led the transformation of the organization — inside and out — into one of the most inclusive in tech. And he did it in five years.

Not all men recognize that there’s even an issue, so it’s not surprising that they’re resistant to change. I think it’s about time we accept the fact that this isn’t going to be comfortable — at least not for the currently advantaged groups — and that’s okay. 

We can move forward, and we can move forward quickly, if we stop using the challenge of change to keep us from making it happen. Let’s make 2018 the year we forget the excuses, and get the job done.


Facing down backlash: What would it take to make real progress on gender equality?



Despite the business case for diversity, or perhaps because of it, organizations are facing backlash in efforts to achieve greater equality. Alyson Colón along with Sarah Kaplan, keynote speaker of the upcoming Radical Change Summit, explain why they believe that the solution will be innovation.


By Sarah Kaplan and Alyson Colón



It has become quite common for business leaders and even non-profit organizations and politicians to make the business case for diversity. There are many bases for this argument: whether highlighting the promise of better financial performance when boards of directors are more gender balanced, or arguing that firms will miss out in the war for talent, or worrying about the reputational and financial costs of sexual harassment and discrimination.

At face value, the business case for diversity has promise. If an organization can argue that an intervention will bring both social and monetary benefit, all the better. But equity initiatives predicated on the business case argument may place the fight for equality on tenuous ground. That is, if the benefits of diversity are couched in economic terms, then diversity initiatives will face resistance if these benefits are perceived to have not been realized.

When diversity initiatives are thus grounded in a business case, it may not be surprising that backlash movements respond in kind, arguing that prioritizing diversity is bad for business. Take for example, a Board Director’s comment to me recently. He said, “Well, we added a woman to our board last year and haven’t seen any improvement in our financials.” Or, look at the now famous memo by Google’s James Damore that circulated widely through social media this past summer. In it, he claimed that Google had discriminated against its (white male) employees by implementing diversity-friendly protocols. Damore argued that biological differences were to blame for gendered disparities in employment and pay, and that women were biologically predisposed to weaknesses like “neuroticism” that made them poorly suited to the challenging work environment. While Google’s response was swift – Damore was subsequently fired for violating the company’s code of conduct – we can understand Damore’s memo as representing a form of resistance to the business case for diversity.

Damore’s brand of backlash relies on the fallacy of gender essentialism: the idea that rigid gender differences exist between men and women and, in Damore’s case, that these essential differences make women inferior candidates to men for certain jobs. Arguments that use gender essentialism to justify the differences we see between men’s and women’s work and careers often fail to account for the role of bias – as it is embedded in our brains and also in organizational processes and practices.

We know from a massive body of research that we nearly all carry gender bias, and that this bias can lead to the devaluation of women’s contributions in masculinized contexts (such as the workplace). We know that this plays out in the evaluation of entrepreneurial ventures founded by women relative to those founded by men: study after study shows that women are less likely to receive venture capital funding. It is also true in career trajectories: women are less likely to receive interview call-backs, less likely to be promoted and often receive lower raises and bonuses. For example, a study showed that women need to perform at the top 10% of their peer group to be evaluated comparably to men, while average-performing men are 33% more likely to be preferred over similarly performing women.


“A study showed that women need to perform at the top 10% of their peer group to be evaluated comparably to men, while average-performing men are 33% more likely to be preferred over similarly performing women.”


Now, if you were to listen to people like James Damore, you could argue that this is because of some kind of essential difference between men and women. But, we also know from research that this bias plays out even when controlling for these biological differences. Take, for example, a study that asked a group of people to perform tasks on a computer; one group completed tasks on a computer named James, and the other group on a computer named Julie. The computers were otherwise identical. After the tasks were completed, participants were asked to evaluate the computer’s performance. Participants reported that the computers performed equally, but when asked how much they thought the computers were worth, participants thought that James was worth 35% more than Julie.

These studies poke holes in the myth of meritocracy: the widely held belief that the most qualified will rise to the top. The myth of meritocracy persists, not only because it absolves organizations from addressing discrimination concerns, but also because those who are in positions of power and authority want to believe that they arrived there on their merit alone. We all want to believe that our accomplishments are the results of our hard work, and therefore it is difficult for people to admit that some form of privilege has come into play in their own careers. The irony of the business case for diversity is that those in positions of privilege will want to double down on the status quo in order to protect their own jobs or own sense of accomplishment. Backlash may actually be exacerbated by the business case.

This evidence suggests that the best way to confront inequality may not necessarily be through a business case, but rather through a better understanding of the bias embedded in our processes and practices and how to change it. But how do we confront bias and undertake the seemingly insurmountable challenge of changing its impact on our work and decisions?

At the Institute for Gender and the Economy, we think the answer lies in innovation. Think about it. All organizations allocate resources – money and top talent – to innovation and expect it to result in disruptions and organizational change. Why not do the same with questions of diversity? This is the new conversation we could be having – turning diversity challenges into innovation challenges.

We are just at the beginning of seeing the potential of innovation for inclusion. The startup Textio is using machine learning to eliminate bias from job ads – where masculine words dissuade women from applying to postings. GapJumpers, replicating the results of blind symphony auditions that led to a radical increase in the percentage of female musicians in orchestras, innovates in hiring processes by disguising the gender identity of job applicants before they perform a job relevant test. Firms are experimenting with “neutralizing” their promotion criteria. Others are changing the job definitions, even for Boards of Directors, so that they include a broader range of candidates for positions. Amazon has recently announced an innovative new parental leave policy that includes the second parent, and using the Leave Share program, even when that parent doesn’t work at Amazon.


“Think about it. All organizations allocate resources – money and top talent – to innovation and expect it to result in disruptions and organizational change. Why not do the same with questions of diversity? This is the new conversation we could be having – turning diversity challenges into innovation challenges.”


As with any form of innovation, these innovations will require organizational change. And, one thing we know about change is that it can be uncomfortable. Research shows that working with people that are different than you can lead to problems like greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, and less cohesion. If we want to confront bias and create change, it will inevitably involve some discomfort. But research has shown that discomfort is an integral element of the creative process. As Professor Katherine Phillips, writes in her article for Scientific American “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” “This is how diversity works: by promoting hard work and creativity; by encouraging the consideration of alternatives…The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise. You have to push yourself to grow your muscles. The pain, as the old saw goes, produces the gain.”

Making the business case for diversity implies to some that achieving equality has only upsides and that there won’t necessarily be any conflict or struggle in getting there. But, experience shows that to get where we want to go, we will have to become comfortable with discomfort, comfortable with innovation, comfortable with change. We will need to see how we are all embedded in systems that reproduce bias, and how we all benefit from privilege in some form or another. And, having the often-difficult conversations about these issues will open up all sorts of innovative ideas for achieving equality.




Sarah Kaplan is Director, Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE), and a Distinguished Professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Previously, she was a consultant at McKinsey & Company in New York for nearly a decade. Author of the business best seller, Creative Destruction and more recently, Survive and Thrive, her research focuses on how organizations manage change. She tweets at @sarah_kaplan and @GenderEconomy.

Alyson Colón is Associate Director at the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE), and has a Masters in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Toronto.

GATE’s resources can be found at: www.gendereconomy.org.


Money Talks: How investments are playing a role in the push towards gender equality


There’s growing attention on the issue of gender equality, but many individuals and institutions are at a loss for how this can be translated into action. A rising trend in Canada is offering a solution: impact investing with a focus on gender diversity. Experts from BMO Global Asset Management weigh in on why it’s not only a powerful tool for change, but also a sound investment.


By Marie Moore



Over the past few years, the issue of gender equality has been moving into the spotlight, with growing media coverage, action by the government and private sector, and grassroots initiatives taking on everything from the wage gap to world politics.

We know that women have made incredible strides from an education, work, and wealth perspective. We also know that there’s still a long road ahead, which includes Canada, where women’s participation in the labour market may be growing, but a man is still two to three times more likely than a woman to hold a senior management position, according to a report from The Conference Board of Canada.

Like the Fearless Girl statue staring down Wall Street’s bull, this heightened awareness isn’t going away. So how do we satisfy the desire for change? Some individuals and institutions are choosing to put their investment dollars behind their beliefs.  

The method is impact investing. It’s similar in definition to responsible investing (RI), which incorporates environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into the selection and management of investments. But it takes the idea a step further, investing in companies, organizations, and funds with the aim of creating a measurable social and environmental impact. While RI follows the principal “don’t cause harm,” impact investing aims to “do some good.”  

In the context of gender diversity, investing in companies that support women in leadership roles not only brings more awareness to the issue, it also shifts investments away from businesses that are behind in women’s advancement, and lack a gender diverse leadership team. It can be a powerful tool for change, and in recent years the investment industry in Canada has begun to step up. In fact, BMO was the first Canadian bank to launch a mutual fund focused on gender diversity. 


“Investing in companies that support women in leadership roles not only brings more awareness to the issue, it also shifts investments away from businesses that are behind in women’s advancement, and lack a gender diverse leadership team.”


Launched in April 2016, the BMO Women In Leadership Fund (the “Fund”) invests in North American companies that have a female CEO, or a board of directors with at least 25 per cent female representation. It is comprised of large, well-recognized North American companies, which includes BMO Financial Group, thanks to their board being 36 per cent female. According to Lisa Catherwood, VP of Sales Strategy and Support with BMO Global Asset Management, it was the bank’s own commitment to gender diversity that led to the decision to launch the Fund.    

“We, as a firm, recognized that women were underrepresented in senior leadership roles. The need was there, the opportunity was there, and we wanted to be at the forefront,” Lisa says. “Plus, BMO holistically has taken on the initiative to be the bank for women, so from an asset management perspective, a retail solution was really a natural extension of that.”

It’s easy to have a positive outlook when looking at the various studies linking gender and cultural diversity to a greater capacity for creativity and innovation; greater employee productivity, commitment and satisfaction; and a stronger focus on responding to customer needs.

“When we launched the Fund, one of our objectives was to give investors the ability to align their social values with their investment goals,” says Mckenzie Box, Senior Product Manager, BMO Global Asset Management. “When clients look at the Fund, they see that it’s full of household company names with strong fundamentals. It gives them the opportunity to participate in driving social change while also seeking financial returns.”

This applies to socially responsible investing beyond gender as well. There’s growing evidence that the prudent management of ESG issues, as well as the following of best practices in these areas, can have an important impact on the creation of long-term investor value by reducing risk. So as long as you are meeting your investment objectives, Mckenzie sees impact investing as a great choice, and advises individuals to talk to their advisor to find out if it’s right for their portfolio.

Jennifer So, Canadian Equity Analyst at BMO Global Asset Management, also notes that from an investment perspective, one of the key considerations they assess before investing in a company is the quality of the senior management team and the board of directors, and one of the factors that goes into the quality assessment is diversity. “A team with different perspectives and experience often results in a better run company, which translates into shareholder value,” Jennifer explains. “The world is changing quickly, and having a broader thought base and idea base in strategy is increasingly important.”

Jennifer also notes that there are many ways to define diversity, “but with women representing 50 per cent of the population, that’s a big bucket to draw from.”

With more and more products available each day, if investors look around, they can find things that will resonate with them. According to the Responsible Investment Association the responsible investing industry in Canada has grown tremendously over the past two years, coming from both institutional investors such as pensions funds, and also from individual retail investors.

A study by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing shows the demand is being driven by two key groups: millennials and women. Millennials, the generation born in the last two decades of the twentieth century, are twice as likely to invest in companies or funds that support specific social and environmental goals, and 84 per cent are open to sustainable investing. Comparably, 76 per cent of women show an interest in it — as opposed to just 62 per cent of men — and they are nearly twice as likely to consider the impact of their investment alongside the rate of return.

The younger generation of investors will be an increasingly important demographic for the investment industry going forward, as they are set to inherit billions over the next few decades. According to figures compiled by research group Investor Economics, women already control about $1.1 trillion in personal wealth, and a study from the Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy found that seven out of every ten dollars will be inherited by women. Needless to say, the outlook for impact investing is looking up.

“In places like Europe, ESG and socially responsible investing is already well established,” Lisa points out, “and at BMO globally, we have a thirty year legacy and strong expertise in responsible investing. But from a Canadian perspective, we feel this is only the beginning.”




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Meet Erick Vandewedge, Challenging Unconscious Bias to Change the Face of Technology Consulting at Deloitte

Even with over 18 years’ experience providing technology advisory and implementation services, Erick Vandeweghe was surprised when he learned during an Unconscious Bias training that many male executives unknowingly favour men over women for analytical tasks. As the leader of Deloitte’s Canadian Technology Consulting practice, Erick has become more attuned to biases within the organization and encourages equality throughout his national team. Erick believes that we all need to take an active role to continue to recruit, engage and develop our most talented women so they are able to maximize their impact and bring their voices to the business. Meet him here.




My first job ever was… Working in the fields around Blenheim, Ontario, learning the hard way what a dollar is worth.


I chose my career path because… I had the benefit of experiencing different corporate cultures and environments through co-op experience while at the University of Waterloo. I realized that working in a hierarchical organization would not meet my personal needs or give me the sort of professional fulfillment and development I was looking for. I wanted a fast paced, rapidly changing, highly entrepreneurial environment. Consulting was the calling for me given the pace of change and the requirement to continue to be better and at the forefront of the latest trends and industry issues. Combining Deloitte, which has a great collaborative, competitive, and supportive culture, with the Consulting business model was the perfect set of ingredients for what I was looking for and I’m as energized and committed now as I was the day I started.


The best part of my job is… I often tell people that I have the best job in Canada. Technology is at the centre of so much in today’s economy. In my role, I have the privilege of seeing the many ways that Technology is having an impact to help our clients excel. Choosing where and how we focus as a business based on where the potential for impact is greatest.  


My proudest accomplishment is… Making Partner at Deloitte and doing it on my terms by focusing on the clients and issues that I thought were important, and developing my skills in order to become the type of leader that I wanted to be.


My boldest move to date was… Relocating to Melbourne, Australia for two years without a job lined up. It was unnerving getting off the plane with my wife, two suitcases and no return ticket. The next two years were some of the best experiences of our life.


I surprise people when I tell them… I am an avid cyclist.


My best advice to people starting their career is… Do something you love. Life is too short to be unhappy professionally. In the past, I have worked for an organization where I wasn’t having an impact, wasn’t valued, and wasn’t progressing. Work is such a big part of our adult lives that it can have a profoundly negative effect on so many aspects of your life if you don’t love what you do.


My best advice to people looking to advance their career is… Put people first. Apply the same principles when engaging with clients, peers and staff. Followership and teaming is critical in order to magnify your impact and meet the myriad of demands we face each and every day.


Sponsorship is important because… You never have all of the answers. You need guidance, inspiration, encouragement and endorsement at many points in your career. It propels us forward, opens new opportunities and keeps us challenged.


My best advice from a mentor was… Your clients are your currency. Always suspend self interest and find ways to go above and beyond to make your clients successful in all of your interactions, and good things will follow.


My biggest setback was… I’m a very shy person by nature, a personality trait that doesn’t fare particularly well in the notoriously Type A culture of consulting organizations, nor in the requirement for adept business development skills as a partner in a Professional Services firm. When I first started in the business, I tried to model my own personal style after those around me whom I thought to be successful. This was not being true to myself. Being confident in my own abilities and realizing that I needed to be true to myself allowed me to play to my own strengths. This was critical in centering myself and thriving professionally.


I overcame it by… The other half of overcoming that innate challenge was getting married. It may seem odd, but in many ways my wife Tara is the opposite of me. She challenges me in so many ways that she makes me a better person and professional by helping me soften the rough edges.


Work/life balance is… Different for everyone. What works for me may not work for the next person. You need to be confident in your impact at work, and learn how to pivot the focus between yourself, your family and your career.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… Very much about me. I deal with Technology every day professionally, so being disconnected in my personal life is my release. 


I stay inspired by… The talented people we add to our business each and every day. The new ideas, the new way of doing things, and the new approaches keep me motivated and inspired.


The future excites me because… We are working in a time of unprecedented change and extraordinary opportunity. The opportunities we are presented with now and the choices we make in responding to them will be defining moments for our organizations and our economy for decades to come.  



Want to hear more from Erick Vandeweghe? Get your ticket to The Sponsorship Summit today.



Meet Tanya Van Biesen, Director of Catalyst Canada and #GoSponsorHer Advocate

Tanya van Biesen is Executive Director of Catalyst Canada, the leading global non-profit working to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion, and a founding partner of the #gosponsorher initiative. As a recognized influencer with deep experience in the executive search sector at the most senior levels of corporate Canada, Tanya has over two decades of industry research to share on why sponsorship is so effective in advancing women. On June 21, she’ll speak on a panel of sponsorship experts at The Sponsorship Summit: How Corporate Canada is Investing in Female Leaders. Get to know her a little more personally here.




My first job ever was… Delivering newspapers for my brother when he was too tired to cover his route.


I chose my career path because… I am passionate about people.


The best part of my job is… The incredibly interesting people that I meet every day.


My proudest accomplishment is… My 2 children – Jack and Meredith.


My boldest move to date was… To leave the security of a partnership position at a world class firm.


I surprise people when I tell them… That I have always wanted to be a back-up singer.


My best advice to people starting their career is… Work hard, work with great people, and learn as much as you can as quickly as you can.


Sponsorship is important because… It is intentional support and advocacy for the career success of another.


My best advice from a mentor was… To plan my career out as I would a marathon, and not a sprint.


Work/life balance is… Looking forward to both being at home and being at work.


I stay inspired by… The people that I meet who are committed to gender equity.


The future excites me because… I believe that Canada is on the cusp of amazing change.


My next step is… The same as my last. Continue to advocate for women in Canadian business.


Want to hear more from Tanya van Biesen? Get your ticket to The Sponsorship Summit today.



How We Can Engage Men to Push for Gender Equality at Work and Beyond

This article was first published on the EVE Blog. The EVE Program is an international intercompany leadership seminar for women and “enlightened men” to take more risks and move upwards in the company.


By Michael Kaufman



Recently I was speaking to a vice president of a major bank. He was concerned about the slow pace for the advancement of women in his own company and beyond. He worried about the safety of his daughter who was at university. And he was horrified that some people are trying to roll back the clock on the empowerment of women. He wanted to do something about it. The problem was he felt isolated and simply didn’t know what to do.

I’ve heard similar stories from many men: professional athletes, workers on the shop floor, fathers, young men in university. They are among the hundreds of millions of men who now support women’s rights. But they either don’t realize the importance of speaking out for gender equality or, if they do, they are hesitant to take the first step. Or simply, they don’t know what that first step looks like.


“He wanted to do something about it. The problem was he felt isolated and simply didn’t know what to do.”


Similarly, after my talks at conferences and meetings, I’m meeting a lot of women who say that the time has come to fully engage men as their allies. Through their courageous efforts, women have made incredible progress in recent decades, but men still hold disproportionate social, economic, and political power. That means that some men can continue to block change. Or, conversely, it can mean that good men can have a big impact. But, many women tell me it’s not clear how they can successfully engage men.

For the past decades, I’ve been arguing that to successfully reach men, we need to take a positive approach. We won’t get far by shaming men or waging a scolding finger. We actually have an evidence base from around the world that says that if we can find positive ways to challenge men and invite men in as allies, we will be more successful.


“If we can find positive ways to challenge men and invite men in as allies, we will be more successful.”


Part of the trick to doing this is for us to realize two major things:

One is that although we know that men enjoy power and privilege in male-dominated societies, the very nature of privilege is that it is invisible to those that have it. Furthermore, inequality in power is not only between men and women, it is also among different groups of men (and of course also among women.) As a result, many men might not realize the many ways they actually do enjoy privilege.

What this means is that we can’t just assume (and can’t just lecture) but must find ways to help men understand the nature of inequality. Yes, we need to challenge men. But we need to do so by making a strong case to men about how their workplaces, their communities, and their families will benefit from equality. And we need to make it personal: that the girls and women they love will be far better off.

The second key concerns the strange reality of men’s lives in male-dominated societies. When I speak, I tell a lot of stories and provide analysis about what I’ve called the paradox of men’s power. This refers to the strange price that men ourselves pay for the ways we raise boys to be men and set up cultures of men’s power. In other words, although men will lose forms of power and privilege, men actually will benefit from gender equality. That’s why I talk about healthier, new ideals of manhood.

Again, the evidence base from around the world tells us that campaigns, initiatives, advertising, and programs that challenge the narrow box we put men into and hold out new ideals of manhood are the most successful approaches. That’s one reason why new laws and programs to encourage involved  fatherhood are so enthusiastically received by men.


“The evidence base from around the world tells us that campaigns, initiatives, advertising, and programs that challenge the narrow box we put men into and hold out new ideals of manhood are the most successful approaches.”


From there we get into the nuts-and-bolts of how to do it. Here are just a few points:


  1. We must invite men to make a personal commitment to be workplace leaders for gender equality, for harassment-free workplaces, and for family-friendly policies. This isn’t an add-on to leadership. This must be a key part of any leadership position (for men and women.) And that leadership isn’t only in the C-suite, it extends right down to those on the office or shop floor.
  2. We need to help men understand the often subtle ways that sexism and discrimination get passed on in the workplace. We need to equip men for the opposition and resistance they’ll get from some other men.
  3. We need to help companies develop the practical tools to get the job done: Policies (hiring, advancement, ending sexual harassment, family-friendly initiatives, and those concerning the impact of violence against women.) Good training of managers to enact these policies in smart ways. Mentorship programs. Good training of staff. Ongoing efforts that involve men and women at all levels to monitor and measure.
  4. Make a public commitment for our companies, unions, and professional associations to be leaders for gender equality. In part, this can be done by linking up with women’s organizations and with male-focused efforts like He-For-She, White Ribbon and Men-Care.org


The world is in a very troubling moment. But I’m very excited about one thing. In the next few years, in spite of those who wish to roll back the clock, we’re going to see some tremendous advances in the engagement of men to support gender equality and to build healthier and happier lives for both women and men.




Michael Kaufman, Ph.D., is a speaker and writer focused on engaging men and boys to promote quality between men and women and positively transform the lives of men. Over the past three-and-half decades, he has worked in almost fifty countries, including extensively with the United Nations, numerous governments, corporations, NGOs, women’s organizations, and universities. He is the co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. Michael lives in Toronto, Canada.


Meet Caroline Riseboro, a CEO With a Plan for Women and Girls

Caroline Riseboro leads Plan International Canada’s operations as President and CEO. Previously she held roles at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation, as well as World Vision Canada, where she was the first and youngest woman in the agency’s history to serve in the SVP role. Her volunteer leadership positions span across numerous boards and task forces including Imagine Canada, and she has been credited as an innovator and champion of ground-breaking and award-winning campaigns that have engaged Canadians in new ways on some of the world’s toughest issues. Here she reveals the driving force behind some of her gutsiest career moves, and why she’s extremely hopeful for the future of women and girls.



My first job ever was… Walking race horses when I was 12-years old. It was interesting because I worked only with men, and it was the first time I experienced and understood a male-dominated environment. I had no idea how well that would serve me later in my life and career.


I decided to enter the non-profit world because… My first job after university was in advertising. It struck me early on in the role that I was working hard to create more profit for sugary drinks, fast food and telecoms companies. At the same time, as I walked to work I would pass people suffering from homelessness, poverty, mental illness and addiction. The answer was staring me in the face: I have to make sure I am using my talents to make this world a better place.  


I hope to make a positive impact by… Forging a path where there traditionally hasn’t been a path for younger, ambitious women. I want to show everyone that it’s possible to make your dreams a reality. I also want to make a positive impact by living and working in a way that transforms social norms that face women. I want to show young women leaders that it is okay to be different, and in fact, that’s what the world needs from us right now.


“I want to show young women leaders that it is okay to be different, and in fact, that’s what the world needs from us right now.”


My proudest accomplishment is… Different from what most people would expect. I think most people would expect that my proudest accomplishment was becoming President  & CEO of Plan International Canada at age 38, and being a trailblazer and breaking the glass ceiling. But in reality, my proudest accomplishment is that I haven’t given up yet. A lot of being successful is grit, even if it feels like the task at hand is too difficult.


My boldest move to date was… Having a very senior role at a large organization I had worked at for almost 15 years, and leaving to pursue a role at a much smaller one. I realized that while I was contributing, the only way to grow was to venture out of my comfort zone. My other bold move happens on a daily basis, when I constantly try to be authentic and vulnerable. Being a CEO, I think it is important to open up and show women that it is not always easy, but we can push through.


I surprise people when I tell them… That I am more hopeful than ever that women can assume positions of leadership and break glass ceilings. This is because we have finally acknowledged the challenges women face. I believe that we have this powerful, educated group of girls and women growing up as leaders to join the ranks of other women.


My best advice to people who want to make a difference is… To know that we can impact much more change than we realize. If we dream it first, and then put the dream into action by being bold, we can achieve anything.


My best advice from a mentor was… Do it afraid anyway.


“We can impact much more change than we realize. If we dream it first, and then put the dream into action by being bold, we can achieve anything.”


My biggest setback was… Listening to that critical voice in my own mind. It’s that whole notion of ‘can I really do this?’


I overcame it by… Doing it afraid. And I say that because often we don’t realize we have everything we need within us to succeed. And if we don’t, we can build the skills along the way. That is how everyone successful has succeeded. Women often feel they need to be 100% ready, but you’re more ready than you think. The only way forward is to do it.


Work/life balance is… A myth. It is a question that I don’t even want to answer yet again. It puts pressure on women, with this perception of how women should be leading their lives. The better question is do I feel whole in my life and as a person?


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I have an intensely needy creative side that I need to nurture. So much of my work is cerebral and is focused on tackling the toughest global issues.  Creativity is the outlet that I have to explore the ethereal.


I stay inspired by… The people around me. I am inspired by the talent and human potential I am surrounded by that has yet to be unleashed. This is particularly true of the talented team I lead at Plan International.


The future excites me because… We can truly make a positive difference. It will take time. It will take energy. It will take perseverance. It’s taken my nearly 40 years to realize this, but really anything is possible.



Learn more about Plan Canada and Caroline’s work.

Meet Valerie Gerardi, a Woman Who’s Winning in a Male-Dominated Industry

Valerie Gerardi is a Canadian entrepreneur, co-founder and owner of Anvale Homes Inc. a custom home and renovation development company serving the GTA. Her entrance into the building industry, which is still largely male-dominated, was much more than chance or coincidence, the result of a family deeply rooted in the home construction industry and a father who was a renowned home builder in the local community. She has since left her own lasting mark on the industry, serving as an example of how when passion, skill, and a desire to learn collide, there are no limits to where a woman can succeed.



My first job ever was… Working for my father’s home building and development company. I was 15 years old, in grade 9, employed at the corporation as a summer student to assist with administrative tasks.


I decided to continue in the family business because… I was able to learn so much from my family business. I fell in love with putting together projects from start to finish for clients, and I enjoy every aspect of the building process; I have a hands on approach throughout every aspect of the new home building process—from overseeing the design to managing the build construction


My proudest accomplishment was… Being nominated for best custom home in 2013.


My boldest move to date was… Leaving the family business and starting my own custom home building and renovation company Anvale Homes. Then, after meeting with clients to locate them a property, my husband and I realized there was a void in the company. Our hired realtor wasn’t locating the properties, it was me! I made a bold move to go back to school to get my real estate license which helped the company and my clients moving forward.


Being a woman in a male dominated industry is… Not an easy position to occupy. I bring a woman’s perspective to an industry traditionally and predominantly male-dominated, and as a woman in a male-dominated field, you have to be prepared to assert yourself at all times. But I also provide clients with a distinctive viewpoint and understanding of what makes a home truly functional while also aesthetically distinct and appealing. I bring a fresh and unique perspective new home building and renovating.


I get ahead by… Getting up early, which empowers me to get more done. Exercising also keeps my body in shape, motivates my mind and makes me more productive. I’m also always learning new things. I’m a lifelonger learner, I never pass up the chance to learn a new fact or a new skill.


“As a woman in a male-dominated field, you have to be prepared to assert yourself at all times.”


I surprise people when I tell them… That I’m a home/renovator builder and realtor.


Valerie Gerardi on construction site

My best advice to people starting out in entrepreneurship is… To focus on setting & achieving small incremental goals rather than trying to start a business and instantly build your vision of what the company should be in the years to come. Have the full picture in mind, but take the steps one at a time. No matter what your vision, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by all of the steps needed to get to your goal. 


My best advice from a mentor was… The best advice I ever received was from my Dad, my biggest mentor in life. Starting when I was young, he always quoted Confucius and told me, “Choose a job you love, and you never have to work a day in your life” and that “the greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”


My biggest setback was… When my Dad died and the company was torn apart by family members deciding to go in different directions. I had to take a step back to decide what my passion was and where I was heading. That’s when my husband and I started Anvale Homes. I had to start all over again, which was a big challenge.


“No matter what your vision, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by all of the steps needed to get to your goal.”


I overcame it by… Taking one step at a time, planning my goals, asking for help, never giving up, and being true to my self and my passion to help clients build their dream homes.


Work/life balance is… A daily effort. I always made sure I was there to pick up my children after school to hear about their day and take them to their activities, making sure we have dinner together, then making time to exercise, rest and rela to rejuvenate myself.


If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m scared of geckos!


I stay inspired by… I get a great sense of accomplishment from seeing a home start from ground up, then handing over the keys to clients and seeing them move into their dream home that my team and I built.


The future excites me because… There are so many wonderful things to do, build, and renovate!



Learn more about Valerie and her company, Anvale Homes

Five Things You Should Know About the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould

Jody Wilson-Raybould Closeup

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould became Canada’s Minister of Justice in 2015, joining 14 other women to form Canada’s first gender-equal Cabinet. But did you also know she’s also a lawyer, advocate, and leader among British Columbia’s First Nations?  Here are 5 things you should know about the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould.




1. She’s the first Indigenous person to be sworn in as Minister of Justice of Canada

Wilson-Raybould is a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples, which are part of the Kwakwaka’wakw and also known as the Kwak’wala speaking people of British Columbia. She is also a member of the We Wai Kai Nation. On November 4, 2015 she made history as Canada’s first Indigenous Minister of Justice, and is only the 3rd woman to ever hold the title (following Kim Campbell and Anne McLellan).


2. She’s a vocal advocate for transgender rights

On May 17, 2016, Wilson-Raybould introduced Bill C-16, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, which addresses the discrimination and hate crimes experienced by trans and gender-diverse Canadians. These amendments include protection against employment discrimination, and adding “gender identity or expression” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.


3. She was a provincial Crown prosecutor 

Wilson-Raybould served in Vancouver’s Main Street criminal courthouse in the Downtown Eastside from 2000-2003. As a Commissioner elected by the chiefs of the First Nations Summit, she helped to advance a number of treaty tables, including Tsawwassen First Nation, which became the first in B.C. to achieve a treaty under the BC Treaty Process.


4. She’s been vying for a career in politics since childhood

In 1983, Wilson-Raybould’s father Bill Wilson, a First Nations politician, informed Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau on national Canadian television that one day, his two daughters hoped to become lawyers and then Prime Minister themselves. As it turns out, Wilson-Raybould’s childhood dreams are coming closer to reality than she may have expected.


5. She’ll be featured on our Luncheon finale panel

Are you interested in how the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould feels about the status of women in Canadian politics? What about her thoughts on important national topics like Aboriginal affairs and democratic reform? Join us on December 9th as we get to the heart of what matters most to Canadians — and Canadian women specifically — at our season finale Luncheon, State of Our Nation: Let’s Talk About Women in Politics.


Want to join the conversation? Purchase your ticket here.


An Open Letter To Donald Trump, President-Elect of the United States

By Stephania Varalli

Dear Mr. President,

I started writing this letter while watching the election unfold, as states began to flip in your favour, as it became clear that the polls weren’t telling the whole story, that the pundits had miscalculated the odds, and that the democratic machine had underestimated both you and your supporters.

I spent the night and the following morning passing through the stages of grief — a textbook path of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression — until finally landing on acceptance. You, Donald Trump, will be the next President of the United States.

Ultimately, I want to believe that it was your message of change that enabled you to be elected. Not that it was wrapped in nativism, bigotry, misogyny, and racism. Not a triumph of showmanship and sound-bite promises (Build that wall! Lock her up!) over preparedness and thought-out policies. Not a reaction to the fear tactics you expertly employed. Not a reflection of unreadiness for a female leader, a campaign that showed all the markers of gender inequality (from scrutiny over her voice to her wardrobe), just another example of a qualified woman losing out to a less-qualified man.

But even if it was your anti-establishment rhetoric that ultimately won you the presidency, it would be dangerous and irresponsible to ignore the fact that many of your supporters voted for you because of these negative reasons — and the rest voted for you in spite of them.

I have made it no secret that I believe your campaign has already had a negative impact on gender equality. I am hopeful in your term you will work to support women’s advancement, rather than set it back. In your victory speech, you pledged “to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.” Let this be the one election promise that you keep.

Surround yourself with experts that represent the mosaic of your nation. Stop complaining about political correctness and start creating an inclusive culture of decent human beings, and persist until speaking your mind doesn’t mean spouting discrimination. Recognize that women are not objects, that their greatest value is not based on a physical ranking out of ten, and that treating them as such ignores the capabilities and rights of half your population. Know that “locker room talk” is not appropriate, ever, never ever ever, even if it’s confined to the locker room.

Most of all, know that the world is watching. People of every race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and age, including the boys and girls that will go on to determine what America will become as a nation. As a Canadian, your time in office will impact me differently than your fellow Americans, but there is no denying that your Presidency extends beyond your borders.

After this campaign, after this election, I now see that there are deep-seated issues in your country that many failed to recognize and that need to be fixed. I reject the notion of making America great again — but there is plenty of room to make it better.



This is Planet 50-50: Lakshmi Puri on a world built for gender equality

Take a moment to imagine a world in which gender equality is a reality. Girls around the globe have access to the same educational opportunities as boys do. Women earn the same wages as their male counterparts and hold 50 per cent of senior management positions. Males and females are equally represented amongst the ranks of board chairs, CEOs, and political leaders.

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A Look Back At 20 Years of Women’s Advancement For Women Of Influence, Canada And The World

For 20 years, Women of Influence has celebrated female entrepreneurs, senior executives and innovative leaders. In honour of this milestone year, we’re looking back at two decades of events and women who kicked cracks in the glass ceiling.

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