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Erin Davis is the director, global talent engagement, Stantec, Edmonton, and a founding member of, an organization focused on making Alberta a better place for women to lead

As we look back over the past year, the pace and frequency of conversation around women's rights continues to rise. We've seen the Women's March on Washington, the placement of the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street, the #MeToo movement and, most recently, the #TimesUp letter of solidarity.

Voices for women's equality, advancement and advocacy continue to gain momentum, but are they making a difference? Are we catalyzing change on a global scale, or are we simply continuing an outdated conversation for women's equality?

Whether or not you believe that the right conversation is happening, it can be argued that the rate of change (if any change at all) is not fast enough for our heightened expectations around equality. Data continue to show us that we are not moving toward equality, despite our best intentions. According to Catalyst research, women currently only hold 26 (5.2 per cent) of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, but certainly the candidate pool is much larger.

So, what is holding us back?

While grassroots movements can create dialogue and spark conversation around gender parity, they have not yet fuelled enough fire to evolve our thinking, or pushed through our own discomfort to see substantive change.

If we are to challenge the status quo and impact change, we must consider how our biases, conscious or unconscious, are affecting our daily conversations and practices.

Research tells us that unconscious bias occurs when our brain creates shortcuts. These shortcuts, while important when we need to make quick decisions, also cause us to make quick assessments or judgments of people and situations without realizing the unintended consequence. Unconscious bias exists in each person's world view and affects our behaviour from our home to our workplace.

These biases could include the tendency to associate with people who remind us of ourselves, or searching for information in a way that confirms our own perceptions and firmly held beliefs. These actions maintain the status quo within the organization and do not challenge the established norms that may be excluding underrepresented people in the organization.

The facts show us that conscious or unconscious, biases are not moving the dial when it comes to gender parity in the workplace. Perhaps the conversation needs to move to the root cause of inequality – addressing our own biases. We all have unconscious bias, which often creates barriers to inclusion.

We need to dig deeper to explore our differences and challenge the status quo. This logic can transcend the more practical applications, such as recruiting strategies, hiring practices or promotion criteria, and asks us all to self-reflect.

Are we growing through our daily practices, and forcing ourselves outside of our comfort zones – to lean into the discomfort and take pause in trying something new? We can all sign up for the course, but the most practical first step is self-reflection.

To create this change, the ask is simple – to give others a chance; engage in critical self-reflection; and above all, get to know people by making personal connections.

Let's take the step forward with our own self-awareness – the one thing under our own control.

Executives, educators and human-resources experts contribute to the continuing Leadership Lab series. Find more stories at

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