Strategies for Tackling Gender Bias & Promoting Diversity in the Workplace - Lean in Canada

“As I was preparing for tonight, the more I thought of what to say, the more I realized the answers have to come from all of us in this room.”

So began Noelle Richardson, a prominent leader in the diversity and inclusion space. We gathered on October 27th to share our experiences, ideas and wisdom with each other – and to come up with solutions for creating inclusive workplaces where everyone has an equal voice and access to opportunity. Focusing on gender as a starting point in our conversation, we still understood it to be a complex topic requiring many different perspectives; as Noelle noted, “Access – to women of all backgrounds, all cultures, all ethnicities is essential for true progress.”


Examples of gender bias and unequal access to opportunity abound. Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s article on “Speaking While Female” references a Yale University study, which found that male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rated more competent, but female executives who spoke out more were seen as less competent. Activities favouring the “old boys club” can leave women feeling uncomfortable (and even worse, unwelcome). And for women who are minorities or who don’t conform to behavioural expectations of women, navigating the workplace for career advancement can hold many other challenges.

Leading a discussion that leveraged the wealth of perspectives from everyone in the room, Noelle Richardson and Pam Sethi asked the following questions, the answers to which were illustrated by Alison Garwood-Jones:

What does diversity mean to you, in your own context?
What strategies can we use to eliminate gender bias and foster diversity?
What commitments will you make to help yourself and your organization move forward?


Together, we came up with a list of strategies to promote gender diversity (and diversity at large):

1) Sponsorship, which is essential to career advancement, can be done and gained in creative ways. You can champion not only your direct reports, but also peers and those above you. Endorse each other to gain credibility and visibility.
2) Encourage peer groups and activities that are inclusive. Call out back channels which exacerbate unequal access to spheres of influence, and work with those who have culture-changing power to create equal access.
3) Expose unconscious bias, and educate people on how stereotypes work. Be aware of and seek to eliminate biased language (eg. “he’s decisive” vs. “she’s bossy”). Allow room for people to be their authentic selves.
4) Expand your network to increase your influence and opportunities.
5) Seek and embrace different perspectives to build better teams and add to your bottom line. Examine recruiting channels and methods to ensure you’re not inadvertently losing out on diverse talent.
6) Support different work-life needs at every phase of the pipeline.
7) Real diversity is not a checkbox – go beyond lip service and tokenism. True inclusion requires buy-in from people at all levels of the company.
8) Encourage and reward women for speaking up, and actively give people whose voices aren’t being heard the floor. Analyze dynamics in meetings to see if women aren’t speaking enough.
9) Engage men in the conversation and motivate them to be part of the solution.


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