11 Ways Employers Can Support Women in the Workplace

  • Employee wellbeing
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Olivia Cicchini

Olivia Cicchini, Employment Law Expert

(Last updated )

Despite progress in recent years, women in Canada still face significant underrepresentation in the workplace. According to Statistics Canada, in 2019 women earned an average of $28.06 per hour, while men earned $31.93. That’s a wage gap of 12.1%.

Women are also more likely to experience barriers to advancement, such as systemic biases, discrimination, and lack of access to networking and mentorship opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these challenges, with women disproportionately affected by job losses and increased caregiving responsibilities.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, it is crucial for Canadian employers to reflect on how they can better support and empower women in the workplace. A holiday that celebrates women is the perfect occasion to review whether your workplace is doing its best to ensure female employees feel safe, respected, and valued.

What are some ways that I can support women in the workplace?

Women continue to face significant barriers in the workplace, including unequal pay, a lack of representation in leadership positions, and discrimination and harassment. These barriers not only impact women’s careers but also have a negative impact on businesses and the economy as a whole. Studies have shown that diverse and inclusive workplaces are more innovative, productive, and profitable. Here are some ways employers can support women in the workplace:

Pay equity

Unfortunately, women in Canada continue to earn less than men. As an employer, you can take steps to address this by conducting regular pay equity audits to ensure that women are being paid fairly for their work.

You can also implement transparent salary structures and job evaluation systems that are free from bias and ensure that pay is based on job-related factors such as skills, experience, and responsibilities.

It is important for you to recognize and value the contributions of all your employees, regardless of gender, and ensure your compensation practices are equitable and consistent. You should also consider providing training and resources to your managers on how to identify and address pay disparities, as well as how to create a culture of pay equity in the workplace.

Offer flexible work arrangements

Women are more likely than men to take on caregiving responsibilities, which can make it difficult to balance work and family. Offering flexible work arrangements such as flexible hours, telecommuting, and job sharing can help women manage their work and family responsibilities better.

You should encourage employees to disconnect from work after they have finished their allotted time for the day. Employers should also urge employees to balance domestic obligations by encouraging male employees to utilize parental leave and support employees through back-to-work programs when they return from a long-term leave.

Provide leadership development

Women are underrepresented in leadership positions, which can limit their opportunities for advancement. As an employer, you can support women’s career advancement by offering leadership development programs, mentorship opportunities, and networking events.

Leadership development programs can be tailored to meet the specific needs and challenges faced by women in the workplace, such as the need to balance work and family responsibilities or the experience of gender-based discrimination or bias. These programs can include training in key leadership skills such as communication, strategic thinking, and decision-making, as well as opportunities for women to develop their own leadership style and build confidence in their abilities.

Mentorship programs can also be a valuable tool for supporting women’s career advancement, providing them with access to the guidance and support of more experienced leaders within the organization. Mentors can offer advice on career development, help women navigate organizational politics, and provide insight into the skills and qualities needed to succeed in leadership positions.

Networking events can also be an important avenue for women to connect with other professionals and build relationships within their industry. Organize events and opportunities for women to meet and learn from successful leaders, where they can share their own experiences and insights, and build supportive networks that can help them advance in their careers.

Update your anti-discrimination and harassment policies

While employees of all sexes and genders can experience sexual violence and harassment in the workplace, legislative protections from discrimination and harassment are especially vital for women.

According to Statistics Canada, 1 in 4 women reported having personally experienced inappropriate sexualized behaviour in the workplace in 2020. As an employer, it’s crucial you create a safe and respectful workplace by implementing and enforcing anti-discrimination and harassment policies, as well as providing training for employees and managers and offering confidential reporting mechanisms.

Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and Human Rights Code provide the most comprehensive protections for individuals who experience sexual harassment and/or violence in the workplace. Every province in Canada has its own legislation prohibiting workplace sexual harassment and/or violence.

Promote diversity and inclusion

To foster a diverse and inclusive workplace, it’s important to put a concerted effort into recruiting and retaining women, as well as individuals from diverse backgrounds. This can be done by creating an inclusive culture, providing diversity and inclusion training, and implementing policies and practices that support diversity and inclusion.

Maternity leave

In Ontario, B.C., and Manitoba, birth mothers are entitled to 17 weeks of maternity leave, while expectant mothers in Alberta are entitled to 16 weeks of leave and those in Saskatchewan can avail up to 19 weeks of leave. These leaves are often coupled with parental leave, which provides between 61-63 weeks of leave depending on the province. It is important to note that while parental leave can be split between parents, maternity leave cannot.

Encourage men in the workplace to support women

Male colleagues play an important role in making sure women in the workplace feel safe and respected.

Employers should implement policies that challenge patriarchal social norms (such as non-gendered uniform policies) and engage male employees to be part of the conversation when discussing sexual violence and harassment.

You may want to consider specialized training for male employees, such as bystander intervention training and offer peer-support and allyship by providing support groups, online networks, and safe spaces for employees. This allows women in your workplace to anonymously voice their concerns without fear of reprisal.

Stay educated on women’s rights in the workplace

As with employment standards and health and safety laws, human rights legislation offers protections for women in the workplace. The most notable protected ground that protect women are sex and gender.

Women can file a complaint with the human rights tribunal in their respective jurisdiction if they feel they have been discriminated against in the workplace for being a woman. This could mean unequal treatment at work when it comes to compensation, hiring or promotional opportunities, sexual violence and/or harassment, pregnancy and the associated job-protected leaves, breastfeeding, and more.

In addition to sex and gender, the protected grounds of marital status and family status ensure women are not treated differently based on their home life. Furthermore, the grounds of gender identity/gender expression and sexual orientation protect LGBTQ+ women in the workplace from unequal treatment, violence, and harassment.

Promote fair hiring processes

To promote equal, non-discriminatory treatment of women, employers should be proactive in hiring diverse candidates and improving accountability. This can be done by conducting blind evaluations, skills & knowledge testing, and ensuring job ads are non-gendered (using terms such as salesperson rather than salesman).

Support breastfeeding in the workplace

Employers must also ensure they are fully accommodating women when it comes to pregnancy, family obligations and breastfeeding in the workplace (women must be provided with a private and sanitary place (not a washroom) to breastfeed and/or pump upon request).

Review your menopause policies

Menopause is another important health issue typically affecting women between the ages of 45 and 55. Symptoms of menopause include but are not limited to hot flashes, insomnia, joint pain, headaches, and digestive issues.

Some ways employers could assist women navigating menopausal years is by creating awareness through health expert talks, sharing information, and offering accommodations, such as flexible working hours, remote work, paid sick leave, desk fans, relaxing the dress code, etc.

Do you need help creating policies in compliance with provincial laws?

International Women’s Day is an important reminder of the ongoing fight for gender equality. As an employer, you play a key role to play in supporting women in the workplace. By implementing policies and practices that support pay equity, flexible work arrangements, leadership development, anti-discrimination and harassment, and diversity and inclusion, employers can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace for all employees.

Part of fostering a workplace free of discrimination is to have well-drafted anti-discrimination policies in place. Our HR advisors can help you implement, update, and review company policies, as well as assist you with any HR managementhealth & safety, and employment advice you may need. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today at  1 (833) 247-3652

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