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the future of work

In less than four weeks, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump will take office, leaving women feeling worried – and rightly so. Sexist comments about women's body parts (and where he feels the freedom to grab them) aside, there are many reasons to believe Mr. Trump is no friend to women. When governing a country – or running a business – the tone gets set from above and his perspective may foster an atmosphere where women's progress will be put on hold, or worse, rolled back.

Even topics that should never have become "women's issues" somehow acquire a negative gender lens under Mr. Trump. For example, he recently seemed irate Time magazine named him "Person of the Year", instead of "Man of the Year."

Imagine if a company, instead of appointing an employee of the year, chose their best male instead?

However, if there is a silver lining, it's that this gender-charged political climate has galvanized women and men to come together and take action. Groups supporting women's economic advancement, while feeling despondent at first, now experience a new energy.

"Not only does it seem that there has been an increased interest in organizations like G(irls)20, there is also a palpable sense of urgency that has taken hold since Nov. 9," said Farah Mohamed, founder and chief executive of G(irls)20, a Canadian-based, globally active organization that cultivates a new generation of female leaders.

"It feels as though the actions and words of one man have fired up those who have been in the trenches for years, and at the same time, unleashed or activated those who have been less vocal feminists," said Ms. Mohamed, whose organization was one of the first to make the case to the Group of 20 that female labour-force participation is a key to economic growth.

It's not just women who are vocal, but "men are angry, concerned, activated and speaking up to ensure that the progress that has been made does not slide backward," she added.

Women of Influence, another organization promoting women's advancement, has also seen their community grow since the run-up to the election, said Stephania Varalli, the organization's co-CEO. Yet, even with that growing support, she still worries about the ripple effects of the new anti-feminist backlash.

"One of my greatest worries with the current political climate is the normalization of sexism and gender discrimination," Ms. Varalli said.

"We've been bombarded by so many negative messages about women's roles and capabilities, about their worth being tied to their physical appearance, about their frailty and emotional instability that eventually, it all blends together and we start to ignore it."

Despite these fears, many activists believe we are on the right track in terms of women's advancement in the work force.

"After the first shock of the U.S. election and looking at those old country-club men who are being appointed to the cabinet, I hear two reactions around here. First, we are not going to give up anywhere on the achievement we women have made in recent years. We will demand to be treated with the dignity and respect we deserve, and that means full equality," said Mary Aitken, founder and managing director of Verity, a private women's club in Toronto.

The second reaction she hears is "thank goodness we are not Americans," said Ms. Aitken, who also noted that we have a Queen as our head of state, our former governor-general is a woman, there are three female premiers and we've had a female prime minister, Kim Campbell.

Still, this acute focus on gender issues has raised awareness that there still remains work to be done.

"While we are not concerned about the direction of the corporate climate in Canada, a lot of us are fed up with the present inequality of women representation in C suites and on boards. It's time to introduce quotas," Ms. Aitken argued.

She added that the main objective at Verity is to prepare women to take on senior leadership roles and be effective in them, which is accomplished through formal programming and an informal support network of accomplished, senior women executives in Canada.

"Believe me, no one in this group feels set back in the least by what happened in the U.S.," Ms. Aitken insisted.

Ms. Mohamed agrees that despite it all, the advancement of women in Canada remains on the right track, thanks in part to women's organization as well as a progressive prime minister.

"[Progress] may be slower than we would wish for but for the moment, the gearshift is still in the forward position. If we want to avoid idling or reversing than we cannot take our foot of the gas," she said.

Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) writes about workplace trends.

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