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From left, Stephanie Paterson, Sarah Kaplan and Chanel Grenaway at the Gender Analytics: Possibilities conference hosted at the Rotman School of Management, on April 28.Della Rollins

Six years ago, McCarthy Uniforms, which has been making school and workplace uniforms since 1956, was struggling to expand internationally and teetering on bankruptcy.

Then, in 2017, the Toronto company conducted a gender-based analysis of their business, a multi-step process to investigate how gender and other identity factors may relate to a business problem and uncover potential solutions.

Through the review, the company discovered, among other things, that female professionals such as bus drivers were encountering issues wearing uniforms designed for male bodies. So, McCarthy added a uniform line for women, brought in products with more stretch and introduced fitting days so drivers could find the apparel that worked for them.

“They had one bus driver, a woman, who tried on her uniform for the first time and just started crying. It was the first time she’d had clothes that actually fit her,” says Sarah Kaplan, distinguished professor of gender and the economy at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and co-author of a case study on McCarthy’s experience.

These changes at McCarthy, plus others such as fine-tuning the ordering process to suit the women administrators doing the task, led the company to double-digit revenue growth.

It’s an example of how gender analytics – also called inclusive analytics – can uncover blind spots and hidden opportunities, says Dr. Kaplan, director of Rotman’s Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE).

“There’s huge potential in doing inclusive analytics of products, services and policies,” says Dr. Kaplan, “It’s been really untapped.”

To spread the word, Dr. Kaplan’s GATE, along with Rotman’s TD Management and Data Analytics Lab, recently co-hosted Gender Analytics: Possibilities, a hybrid conference exploring inclusive analytics for the public, private and non-profit sectors.

Dr. Kaplan says the process can help companies improve their product and services offerings by better understanding women as customers and stakeholders. It can also have a ripple effect on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, and boost the careers of women.

Strides and shortcomings

Chanel Grenaway, an equity and anti-racism facilitator and consultant based in Markham, Ont., says gender analytics is “a way for us to dig deeper into understanding the lived experiences of those that have traditionally been marginalized.”

Ms. Grenaway helps companies and non-profits follow a five-step framework that includes identifying the issues, collecting data via metrics and interviews, analyzing the information, piloting a possible solution and monitoring and assessing the changes.

“A big part of this work is just awareness building. Creating space for doing things differently,” says Ms. Grenaway, who notes that customers and community members should be involved, and the process must be led by a diverse team.

In the public sector, gender analytics has been around for decades. The Canadian government mandated gender-based analysis (GBA) since 1995, requiring all departments to assess how gender will affect any policy or program. (It became GBA Plus about a decade ago to include factors such as race and disability.) Since 2018, the government has performed gender budgeting, which entails doing a gender analysis of the annual federal budget.

However, a 2022 Auditor General of Canada report found that only some branches were using gender analysis and those that did often gave it short shrift.

“It is quite difficult to set this up in a bureaucratic setting,” says Stephanie Paterson, professor of political science at Montreal’s Concordia University. Civil servants have to balance a range of diversity mandates, she says, plus many lack training.

Dr. Kaplan says there have been strides: Programs such as Quebec’s $10 a day child care emerged directly from gender analytics. Dr. Paterson says one of her favourite examples, also out of Quebec, is the non-transferrable paternity leave program, which encourages fathers to get more involved with their children and helps mothers get back into the workplace.

The need for better data

Dr. Kaplan says that while organizations may recognize the need to address gender-based shortcomings, many groups don’t know how to begin. “That’s why we’ve introduced training and why we’re having this conference,” she says of GATE. “Companies need help building this muscle.”

Ms. Grenaway says that when working with organizations, she will nudge them to look deeply when they distill their problems – a difficult step if teams don’t understand hidden biases – and nudge them to get diverse opinions and metrics.

“It’s about taking the time to actually look at the way you’ve been doing things for all these years [while] not looking at solutions that are right in front of us,” says Ms. Grenaway, who has done a lot of work with non-profits that help women transition out of poverty, an undertaking that has many hidden barriers.

This work is enabled by good data. Dr. Paterson says that’s improving nationally with the launch of Statistics Canada’s Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics Hub.

Internally, organizations can struggle to capture the right metrics, says Dr. Kaplan. “Many companies are upping their game on data analytics. But often they’re not including gender and race and other forms of data so they can hone their insights,” she says.

Since many initiatives to better support women end up primarily benefitting white women, companies need good intersectional data to ensure their solutions impact more groups, she adds.

More room for diverse viewpoints

Dr. Kaplan would like to see more organizations build their internal expertise in gender analytics so they can do it on an ongoing basis. However, that requires commitment.

“You have to have your leadership team on board,” says Ms. Grenaway. “You have to have resources. It can’t be done off the side of someone’s desk.”

For Dr. Paterson, it’s not just about more analytics, but a better-timed process. When it comes to gender analytics in government, for example, “what often happens is GBA Plus happens at the end, after the hard design work has already been done and the implementation plans already created,” she says.

Real investment in this work can help companies attract and retain more diverse employees, says Dr. Kaplan.

“It drives demand for more diverse talent because it’s going to be really hard to design a product that’s more inclusive of women if you literally only have men on your team,” she says. “By creating more inclusive products and services, you’re automatically going to create a more inclusive environment because you’re going to foreground the points of view of your diverse talents.”

Indeed, gender analytics promises a bright future of an ecosystem robust with products, services, programs and policies that work for more people in society, plus more jobs where diverse viewpoints are embraced.

“I’m hoping more companies will do it,” says Dr. Kaplan. “I think if more companies did it, we’d see huge market wins.”

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