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International Women’s Day brings issues relating to equality into sharp focus, with stories highlighting achievements as well as shortfalls in societies and communities across the world. For Helle Bank Jorgensen, senior adviser at the Global Compact Network of Canada, the heightened awareness presents a chance to use the month of March to build habits for creating sustainable change.

“Instead of having a day when we talk about women and then get back to business, we could use this opportunity to reflect on how we contribute to #EachforEqual every single day,” she says.

It starts with the recognition that equality is an advantage, says Bank Jorgensen. “If we look at Canada, diversity is our greatest strength that can serve to advance innovation, and one of the things we can celebrate is that companies are increasingly aware of that potential.”

As part of the United Nations Global Compact, a non-binding United Nations pact to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, the Global Compact Network of Canada is dedicated to the Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by 193 UN member states in 2015, according to Bank Jorgensen. “Two of the 17 goals directly concern gender representation: goal number 5, gender equality, and goal number 10, reducing inequality.”

With the growing recognition that there is a connection between gender balance and improved outcomes for organizations and society comes the question what “true gender equality means,” she says.

Global Compact is looking to leading companies to help define the parameters for gender equality in the private sector, says Bank Jorgensen. “We look at how to embed the concept into an organization so it is part of the strategy, policy and business objectives.”

Performance metrics can give companies a valuable tool to know what they have achieved and where they fall short, she suggests. “Accounting and reporting are important because we manage what we measure. And women’s representation on boards and in leadership positions and equal pay are things we can measure.”

Leading companies report that a firm commitment to advancing – and measuring – gender equality can bring tangible benefits. IKEA, for example, has the goal to reach a 50/50 gender balance throughout the entire organization by 2022, including all boards, committees, countries, functions and levels. In Canada, the company has already achieved a 51 per cent representation of women in manager roles (with 52 per cent of all co-workers being female).

As participant of the Gender Equality Leadership Project, a Global Compact Network Canada venture, which is working to establish the blueprint for workplace gender equality in Canada, IKEA Canada has developed a holistic approach to gender equal pay, which goes beyond salary to address other contributing factors such as recruitment, succession and unconscious bias.

Advancing women’s representation at all levels of an organization also serves to enhance the visibility of female role models. “When people see women succeeding in leadership positions, this can serve as inspiration,” says Bank Jorgensen. “When we are asked to recommend someone for a position or as a spokesperson for an interview or a panel discussion, there is a good chance someone will point to a man.

“We all have conscious and unconscious biases and need to check them all the time,” she says. “We have to recognize the different skills and values people bring to the table. Women tend to ask different questions and bring different perspectives; that’s why diverse teams are more innovative.”

Innovation is essential with the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” underway, says Bank Jorgensen. “With many of today’s jobs changing or disappearing, it is important as a society to prepare the workforce for the future. And we need a diverse team for meeting this challenge.”

From her engagement with leading companies and investors, Bank Jorgensen has observed that gender representation is becoming a key consideration for financing decisions.

“Investors and shareholders are now saying that they won’t offer support if they don’t see diversity around the table,” she says. “And companies like IKEA are trying to affect a shift among their partners and suppliers. We can use this positive influence to drive sustainable change.”

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s Editorial Department was not involved in its creation.