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Marketing Why it's time for Corporate Canada to take gender inequality more seriously

A series of high profile incidents involving harassment and gender inequality have sparked a national conversation among Canadians about women in the workplace, and about how seriously we take these issues as a country.

Even though women have been flooding into the job market for the past half century, we remain a minority in corporate and political leadership, and issues related to gender inequality continue to persist. Indeed, if recent news cycles indicate anything, it's that all too often women are forced to work within corporate cultures that treat them as second class citizens.

It's time for corporate Canada to start taking these issues of gender inequality more seriously, and one way to do so is to ensure that women have the same opportunities as their male counterparts to assume leadership positions.

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Although women hold key roles in many companies, and represent more than half the Canadian population, they still hold only 10 per cent of the seats in Canada's boardrooms. Furthermore, 40 per cent of the Top 500 Canadian companies do not have a single woman on their boards.

At its current rate, the Conference Board of Canada says we are 151 years away from seeing gender equality on boards. We can't afford to wait that long and neither can your business.

Women in leadership roles can have a profound effect on a company's culture. How can any company led entirely by male executives expect to stamp our gender inequality, let alone understand the full breadth of Canadian consumers without the input of women at the most senior levels?

Quite simply, female leadership adds a new perspective to your team, a new layer of insight into half of your audience and positively impacts your company's culture.

At a time when social media has empowered Canadians to voice their opinions and be heard, the hit that your brand's reputation can take for not listening is a big risk. Gender equality should be a core value for any brand and communicating this in a respectful manner is important.

So what can your company do?

Provide mentorship within your organization:

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Mentorship becomes especially important when it helps tackle an issue that is core to your company's values. Having strong, successful female role models within your company is crucial to creating an inclusive corporate culture and for reaching your brand's potential. Female leaders will help recruit like-minded women, which will have a direct impact on driving your company's culture in the right direction. Providing formal mentorship to female employees demonstrates your commitment to gender equality and sends a strong message of instilling this value throughout the entire business.

Last month, Facebook, Pinterest and Box announced a new pilot program geared to provide one-on-one mentorship to help women break into technical roles and achieve greater success in what is currently a male-dominated industry. This is the type of bold statement that can transform a corporate environment and provide an upper hand in terms of the talent you're attracting and the loyalty of your consumers.

Recognize your talent:

As women continue to play a larger role in business, we're seeing more and more award categories available to us. From the WXN's Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards to RBC's Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, there are a number of third party awards that offer your brand the opportunity to recognize strong female leaders who are making an impact in your industry.

Recognition of female leadership empowers women to make a difference in the workplace and provides something extra to strive for. Award recognition also helps women build their personal brands and credibility, providing another opportunity to further close the gender gap.

Businesses can no longer afford to bury issues of inequality at a time when consumers are expecting to forge more personal connections with the companies they frequent. Fostering a culture that lacks strong female voices can cost your company, and businesses that continue to underestimate women do so at their own peril. The conversation has begun.

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Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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