Through Women Transforming the Workplace, we’ve had the pleasure of speaking with a diverse group of women from across Canada. In bringing together dozens of strong female voices to discuss workplace change and innovation, we’ve received a lot of feedback and heard a lot of opinions on what women look for in a workplace. Here are some of the ideas that were repeated most throughout our various panels and discussions with women.


1. increase flexibility

A theme that pops up over and over again when speaking to women about their ideal workplace is the need for more flexibility. Women often wear many hats both at work and at home. Flexibility allows them to balance all of their many roles. Traditional workplaces adhere to rigid schedules with the belief that working 9 to 5 is more ‘productive’ because of its predictability. Most women found this to be untrue. They indicated that small changes to increase flexibility such as being able to come in early and leave early allowed them to pick up their kids, attend a gym class, or otherwise lead healthier, more productive lives. They felt strongly that flexibility translated into being a better employee and leader. When they were free to make choices about how to spend their time, they could use it more effectively to lead healthier, happier, and ultimately more productive lives.

2. lead by example

Leading with ‘action’ rather than ‘telling’ was deemed an effective leadership strategy, especially for women. As a leader, you’re a driving force when it comes to setting the tone and atmosphere of your workplace. Use your voice to model positive behaviours. One powerful example that came up in our Toronto panel: a woman, who was in a C-suite leadership position, brought her sick child to work with her. The employees who worked under her were surprised; they did not know that bringing a child to work was an acceptable option. It had never occurred to them that that was something they could do as well. By modelling the behaviour, and making it ‘okay,’ it led to a shift in the culture an understanding of how employees could work around their own childcare issues.

3. redefine what ‘qualified’ means

The idea that to be ‘qualified’ an employee must check off specific boxes is often an unnecessary barrier to change and innovation. Some of the biggest barriers were requiring a specific number of years of experience or history in a leadership role. Neither of these things is necessarily an indicator of a qualified leader. Women have traditionally had more trouble securing management-level roles, so using lack of experience as a reason not to give women a chance, creates a self-perpetuating circle. To drive innovation and promote different ways of thinking, we need to encourage diverse perspectives and define what skills and level of experience are actually needed to be successful in any given role.

4. make feedback a two-way street

A constant feedback loop facilitates communication between employees and managers and ensures everyone is on the same page. Feedback should be a two-way street and a conversation rather than one-way feedback like in a performance review. Having open conversations benefits both front-line employees who are able to share their concerns and leaders who will have a more complete view of what’s happening in their workplace. Some women thought that having quarterly meetings struck a good balance between overseeing employees and allowing them the freedom to do their jobs. Others preferred more frequent meetings, such as on a weekly or monthly basis. But the need for open communication was universally agreed upon to help women overcome workplace challenges. An open-door policy for leaders was also raised as another way to foster a culture of feedback.

5. mix long and short-term goals

Allow women to work on both long and short-term goals. Often, employees are fixated on short-term goals that are used to measure day-to-day productivity. While most organizations have no problem assigning women short-term goals, long-term goals should also be thrown in the mix. Allow women the freedom to affect real change by working on big-picture projects in addition to completing their day-to-day tasks. Long-term projects are where transformational change happens. It’s important to get women involved in these strategic projects that may stretch out for months or even years. These are the projects that will shape the future. Having diverse perspectives, including from women, is important to build products and services that work for everyone.

6. make data-driven hiring decisions

Data shows that diverse teams that reflect society (in terms of gender and race) are more innovative and perform better. Some stats put financial returns as much as 35% higher. When your team accurately reflects the people you’re serving, you’re more productive, better able to meet everyone’s needs, and more financially successful. It’s time to set aside ‘intuition’ in the hiring process. When intuition-based hiring happens, we often end up hiring people who fit into a narrow mold of what we think success should look like (or who look like ourselves). We’ve seen this happen in tech companies the world over, and it hasn’t ended well. Many of these companies are facing cultural identity crises mired in sexism and discrimination, caused by a single-minded approach.

7. break down biases about gender

There are many preconceptions about women and what they’re capable of. Traditionally, women have been associated with ‘nurturing’ roles such as teaching or nursing. STEM fields, on the other hand, tend to be associated with men. Some women who work in the tech sector mentioned that men were often surprised they could hold their own when discussing tech subjects. Simply discussing their job and their area of expertise, or dropping words like SaaS or IoT (Software as a Service and Internet of Things, respectively) was often met with surprise. Changing the narrative about what women are capable of isn’t just about words. It’s about breaking down our preconceived ideas and biases. Women shouldn’t have to start the conversation with perception that they’re one step behind, when they’re every bit as capable.

8. stop treating feminism like a bad thing

When the word ‘feminism’ is brought up, opinions and emotions often run high. The word has a lot of baggage and men and women alike often shy away from attaching it to themselves. However, at its core, feminism is a simple concept: the belief that men and women should be equal. If you bring up this concept (that women should be equal to men) most people would agree without a thought. So why is the word ‘feminism’ so controversial? It’s time to stop treating women who label themselves feminists and ask for equality like they’re being difficult or man-hating. There’s nothing wrong with wanting access to equal opportunities.

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