Gender bias continues to affect the perception of where women belong. When Xiao Chen worked as machine operator in a manufacturing plant, for example, she encountered bias from her male colleagues. And when Tanya Bevington started her career 20 years ago, she noticed that women leaders were underrepresented in boardrooms and C-suite positions. Now working at IKEA Canada, Chen and Bevington are proud to contribute to the organization’s efforts to advance gender equality.
For Bevington, IKEA Canada’s head of communications, the 2020 theme of International Women’s Day – #EachforEqual – reflects the desire to create a society where women and girls encounter opportunities rather than barriers, where they receive equal pay and enjoy a work-life balance conducive to their health and well-being.
“Research shows that companies with gender diversity in leadership positions have a better financial performance. Not only is gender equality the right thing to do, it makes business sense and leads to increased creativity and innovation.”— Tanya Bevington, head of communications at IKEA Canada
But alongside these goals, the tagline highlights the fact that we still fall short on making these aspirations reality.
Addressing the gender gap
“Canadian women earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by men,” says Helle Bank Jorgensen, senior adviser at the Global Compact Network of Canada, which is part of the United Nations Global Compact, a non-binding United Nations pact to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and to report on their implementation.
Statistics show that inequality goes beyond the pay gap, with Canadian women spending 50 per cent more time on unpaid work, such as housework or caregiving, than men. While addressing such differences requires efforts in every area of society, Bank Jorgensen takes hope from the fact that “businesses are increasingly starting to realize that advancing gender equality isn’t just the right thing to do – it also brings positive returns.”
Among the benefits of promoting diversity in workplaces are enhanced employee engagement and retention. “Employees value the efforts of their workplaces to advance gender equality, and that means a better workplace culture. It also enhances brand reputation and helps to attract talent,” she says.
“Research shows that companies with gender diversity in leadership positions have a better financial performance,” adds Bevington. “Not only is gender equality the right thing to do, it makes business sense and leads to increased creativity and innovation.”
Goals and accountability
From the commitment to take a leadership role in advancing gender equality, IKEA is one of 16 companies participating in the Canadian Private Sector Gender Equality Leadership Project, a partnership between the Global Compact and the Canadian government, which engages corporate partners to develop, test and implement a set of tools for promoting diversity and inclusion.
Feedback from participants will inform a blueprint that can point the way for other companies, says Bank Jorgensen. “We already know that for achieving a better gender balance, we need support from the board of directors and the C-suite. Accountability and concrete goals are also important.”
IKEA’s targets are ambitious: equitable pay and a 50/50 gender representation across all levels of the organization by 2022, says Bevington. “That’s a bold commitment at a time when many organizations are still working to achieve a 30 per cent representation of women in senior leadership roles. At IKEA Canada today, 51 per cent of our leaders are female and 52 per cent of co-workers are female.”
Insights informing best practices
It has become clear that gender equality has to be considered at all levels of an organization. “We take a multi-pronged approach and engage all our co-workers in training and dialogue on what it means to be inclusive,” says Chen, people and culture manager, IKEA Canada, West.
“We are working to identify and address barriers that prevent our co-workers from achieving success,”— Xiao Chen, people and culture manager, IKEA Canada, West
Even when average numbers show overall gender balance, a specific department’s realities can be very different. Increased awareness and training for managers and leaders, for example, are essential – especially since managers directly influence women’s access to work experience, promotion opportunities, flexible work and more.
“We are working to identify and address barriers that prevent our co-workers from achieving success,” says Chen. “We also want to inspire and enable all our team members to become change-makers. To us, gender equality is about creating an inclusive culture where everyone it valued for their unique contribution.”
When team members feel valued and supported, this creates a sense of belonging, says Chen. She adds that promoting diversity – which is a top priority for IKEA along with advancing environmental sustainability and the circular economy – includes creating an inclusive environment for everyone, regardless of gender, cultural/ethnic background, functional ability, sexual orientation and age.
Amplifying impact through partnerships
With approximately 200,000 co-workers and one billion customers across the globe, it’s IKEA’s ambition to be a world leader – and affect positive change, not only for employees, but also for customers, supply chains and communities, says Chen.
To amplify the impact, the organization collaborates with a range of community partners. For Women’s Shelters Canada, for example, IKEA recently provided a $50,000 donation in home furnishings. “We chose to create play spaces because we know that many of the women arriving at shelters come with children,” says Bevington, who believes IKEA can leverage its “life-at-home knowledge” to be a voice for creating better outcomes in homes and communities.
“While we can use International Women’s Day to take stock of what we’ve achieved, gender equality is something we think about 365 days of the year at IKEA,” she says. “As the mother of a young daughter, I want her to be empowered to reach her potential. My own mother was a tool and die maker. She was the only female in the tool room, proving that we can move beyond the stereotypes of what women can and cannot do.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s Editorial Department was not involved in its creation.