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Heather Caltagirone is a founding member of Erin Davis is the strategic planning manager at Stantec, a professional design firm, and a founding member of Tyler Waye is president of IN.FORM and co-founder of YoungLeaders.World

At the inaugural meeting of Prime Minister Trudeau and President Trump, a new council for the advancement of women entrepreneurs and business leaders was announced.


While Trump may have been attempting to capitalize on foreign goodwill (after the mass criticism he has received on issues related to women) the question must be asked: Is another top-down, bureaucratic committee what we need right now? Or, to drive the next wave of feminist social justice, is it time to fuel the powerful grassroots movement of women across North America?

The council is a joint initiative aimed to remove barriers for women entrepreneurs, as well as tackle issues affecting women in the workforce. No question, an important focus.

Yet, is it the right focus and will it be enough?

Research shows there are numerous systemic issues that prevent gender equality change from taking place. The result is a disproportionately low number of women at top levels of businesses. Gender balance around boardrooms and executive tables is simply not shifting to the extent it must. Data uncovered by Catalyst, identify that women currently hold only 29, or 5.8 per cent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. On its own, cause for concern.

Yet when compounded with the proven reality that gender equality in our workplaces produces better results, higher quality decisions, stronger financial indicators and better outcomes for society, the full impact of this issue is brought to light. Having more women at the table is not simply the "right thing to do." Effective strategies are needed to drive true change, requiring more than good will and surface-level agreements. Time is no longer the answer to shift our corporate demographics.

So, how should we champion change? Recent events hold a key. It is time to unleash the seemingly pent up ground swell of a gender-focused social movement.

Debra Guckenheimer's research on social movements in organizations from the Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship, highlights how changes in a societal context and can cause pressure within organizations to actually make change. Important findings, indeed. History has shown that social change creates legitimacy for organizational change. Which is good news, because momentum is building.

With the Women's marches that took place a number of weeks ago across North America, it is safe to say the motivation is present. So too is a strong collective identity. Opportunity has clearly arrived. Gender equality within organizations, can be boosted by the incredible energy and movement occurring outside of corporate walls.

The easy changes have been implemented. Small operational changes are not the answer– rather we need to understand that effective strategies are multidimensional, multilayered and action oriented. To accelerate this paradigm shift to gender equity, we need to approach the solution with the mindset that the answer will not be one-dimensional. Wide angle lenses are needed.

Of course the ultimate strategy includes a myriad of organizational practices still requiring improvement. Workplaces must hold up the mirror, asking key questions of themselves:

  • What do our organization’s mentoring and sponsorship programs look like? Are they effective on paper, but not in practice?
  • What are the unconscious biases held by each of us (in particular those in positions of influence)? In what ways has bias filtered its way into our corporate culture and organizational systems?
  • Have we created a language that is accessible and inclusive to women?
  • Equal pay – are there gaps?
  • What kinds of deliberate investments are in place to help women in our workplace?
  • Who are the organizational change champions at all levels?

Organizational changes are still needed. Yes. But, we have known that for decades. Driving new hope today is the tremendous ground-level push. Not often has the united force been so strong.

So, let's get on with this change – it just makes good business sense. Let's stand with the five Canadian business leaders (who happen to be women) on this joint council and let them know there are hundreds of thousands of women and men, looking to help. Let's remember that some of the largest social change movements were not driven from the top but come from the grassroots. Let's not sit back and wait. Solutions are already there. It is time to enable for action.

Heather Caltagirone is a founding member of Erin Davis is the strategic planning manager at Stantec, a professional design firm, and a founding member of Tyler Waye is president of IN.FORM and co-founder of YoungLeaders.World