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Have your say: How can we clear obstacles to workplace success? Add to ...

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

As father and uncle to a two-year-old girl, we’re taking even greater notice of the obstacles to women’s success in the workplace – from sexism, harassment and wage gaps, to the “double burden” of work and family expectations, and excessive work demands that are often required to have a rewarding and advancing career.

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The “glass ceiling” is a persistent reality for women at work, according to a recent leadership summit of Canadian women business leaders. Only 25 of Canada’s top 500 companies have women CEOs, and the Women’s Executive Network notes that the percentage of senior corporate roles held by women in Canada has only risen to 18 per cent, from 14 per cent in 2002.

This stagnation in gender equality is bad for business, too. The Conference Board of Canada argues that “women’s presence at senior levels improves decision-making, operational and financial results,” and a 2010 Women Matter study by global management firm McKinsey found that companies with a high proportion of women on executive committees are 56 per cent more profitable than those with none.

But even beyond the executive suite, women face disproportionate barriers to advancing in their careers. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that, at current rates of progress, it will take 151 years for the proportion of women and men in middle management to be equal.

Whether for better business or more fairness, it’s time for Canada’s male-dominated workplace culture to better incorporate the skills, contributions and needs of all employees. We want Marc’s daughter Lily-Rose, and all Canadian girls, to have every opportunity in life and career. But we’ve never experienced the workplace from a woman’s perspective, so we want to hear what you have to say.

This week’s question: Instead of making women fit the workplace, how can we make modern workplaces fit women?

THE EXPERTS:

Phyllis Yaffe, former CEO of Alliance Atlantis

“Create an atmosphere where women are encouraged to reach for more responsible positions, where bosses accommodate family responsibilities with flexible scheduling, and where women are exposed to role models throughout the organization to inspire them.”

Elizabeth A. Croft, associate dean of applied science at the University of British Columbia

“Proactive companies will consider normalizing flexible work-option policies for all, develop strategies for ramping-off and ramping-on around parental leave for men and women, and explicitly address implicit bias in hiring and promotion decisions.”

Barbara Byers, Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress

“Working parents need flexible, affordable child care options to help them balance work and family responsibilities. Seventy per cent of Canadian mothers with children under age five are working, but only 20 per cent of those children have access to a licensed, regulated child care spot. Governments must address this crisis.”

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