Joanne Stanley is the executive director of Women in Communications and Technology, a national professional association that furthers gender parity in digital enterprises in Canada.
For those of us still working for full gender equality in Canadian society, there were two extraordinary announcements out of Ontario recently that deserved more fanfare than they initially received.
The first was from Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Ted McMeekin, indicating that he would leave his cabinet position in order to help Premier Kathleen Wynne achieve gender parity. It is rare in the quest for equality for a member of the dominant group to altruistically set aside self-interest to achieve a larger goal. He said he was inspired by his own daughters to take this step. He also said he was dreaming of the day when questions of gender parity won't even arise any more.
Many of us share this dream, including Ms. Wynne herself. Her announcement of new gender-diversity targets to ensure more women have the opportunity to reach top leadership positions at government organizations gives a clear indication that she is not prepared to tolerate the glacial pace of the march toward equality. It is a welcome interruption not only for government, but also for the signal it sends to the business community that similar behaviour will be expected from them.
This announcement is powerful for two reasons. First, it sets the drive to parity in an economic context. The linkages between diversity and an organization's capacity for innovation and good governance are indisputable. Many leading corporations governments understand this and aim to build fully inclusive organizations, yet relatively few have set targets and made commitments to report on progress as forthrightly as Ms. Wynne has. We hope her leadership is emulated.
In the struggle for diversity and inclusion, numbers matter. That's the second reason this announcement is so powerful. Substantive change rarely happens by accident. Rather, it is accomplished by knowing your current position and setting targets and strategies for improvement. When Ontario achieves its target of ensuring that women make up at least 40 per cent of all provincial boards and agency appointments, substantive change will ensue. This is a vastly more intelligent approach than simply talking about equality as a philosophical concept and hoping that it will take care of itself.
Measuring, setting targets and reporting progress is a proven alternative to wishing and hoping. It is a strategy that Women in Communications and Technology itself has adopted to make change happen in Canada's digital economy. We've been talking about the need for stronger engagement of women for years. And yet, for at least a generation, our gender rate has been stuck at around 25 per cent.
So WCT created an "Up the Numbers" initiative, which will invite digital companies (in broadcasting, communications and technology) to share their gender data with us. We will aggregate this data into an annual report that will track our industry's progress toward parity. It will also provide a focus for industry-wide initiatives to get us there.
Not only is this a more productive approach, it is also bolder. As soon as an important step toward equality is taken, detractors will object. They predictably haul out time-worn arguments about merit. But these are usually transparent attempts to defend privilege. If after nearly a century of female enfranchisement and a revolution in women's education we really believe that corporate boards with no women on them or industries where men outnumber women by four to one reflect a "merited" level of female inclusion, then our attempts at nation-building have failed.
So hats off to Mr. McMeekin and Ms. Wynne, and to all those private- and public-sector organizations working intelligently to end the conversation about gender equality by finally achieving it.