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Truth About Canadian women: women and work


Mary Chambers, Chief Strategy Officer, McCann Worldgroup Canada
Mary Chambers, Chief Strategy Officer, McCann Worldgroup Canada

In 2018, McCann Worldgroup Canada took on the important task of helping businesses play a more meaningful role in the lives of Canadian women.

The challenge is clear: help the brands and businesses of Canada move beyond ‘marketing to women’ to meaningfully engaging them in their businesses and communications because women have been under-represented, misunderstood and misrepresented by brands.

Building an understanding of Canadian women today is a massive undertaking, so we’ve broken off only what we can chew, via five core topics that we think will have the greatest ability to affect change for women and marketers alike.

Our first topic is Women and Work.

76% of Canadian women in the workforce feel there is no gender equality in the workplace

Women are introducing new expectations, rules of behaviour and definitions for success in the workplace in Canada, but they’re still far from satisfied with the outcome. In fact, 76% of employed Canadian women felt there is no gender equality in the workplace, according to the 2,700-person survey we conducted nationwide in January 2018 with Ipsos Public Affairs. How can this be when the participation numbers of men and women in the workplace are now essentially equal?

Pay equity and equal access

To understand why so many women are dissatisfied with the level of gender equality in Canada, we started first with how it is defined. The answer revealed the first gap. It’s in the numbers.

Some 81% of the Canadian women we asked said that the same pay for the same work described what gender equality means. And 80% also said that the same access to opportunities best describes what gender equality means to them.

Therefore, pay equity and equal access to opportunity are clearly the goalposts for gender equality in the workplace.


How can we build a bridge for equity?

Pay and access gaps are those that are being addressed most consistently, from small businesses to federal government. But what if we started at the top? What if we shook up the boardroom table? The Game Changer Dinners we hosted with Canada’s leading businesswomen, helped us to uncover the need to prime the system with a new and diverse composition of individuals to succeed and to take the seats. Gender diversity would then be embedded in the system, rather than imposed as a ‘catch-up’ strategy. Not only would this show sincere intent to create equality, but, as evidenced by Fortune 500 companies with women at the top, this has the potential to produce stronger business results as well.

A gap in perceptions

Perceptions are more difficult to measure and even more difficult to change. But their impact on how we exist in the workplace is profound. According to our research, the three attributes that Canadians believe are most desired by society in women and men respectively are looks, family orientation and intelligence for women, and ambition, leadership and strength for men.

But the top three attributes that women and men as individuals want to be known for differ from those stereotypes, and perhaps even more surprisingly, are the same as one another. Women and men alike would rather be called KIND than STRONG, a TEAM PLAYER than a LEADER, SENSITIVE than THICK SKINNED and CONTENT than AMBITIOUS.

So what if we let the stereotypes go? What if we stopped ascribing expectations to women and men based on their gender and instead asked them who they really are? If we could align individual ambition with business expectations, efficiency and effectiveness should both follow.

gamechangers dinner

Better together

Workplace equality between men and women may only be achieved when we take men and women out of the equation and make it either a gender-neutral ambition, or at least a collaborative one. Business leaders have one consistent message: gender equality in the workplace is not a ‘woman’s issue’, but rather one for Canada. One of the most influential marketers of our time for her work on the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, Nancy Vonk, highlights the importance of collaboration: “I’ve believed for a very long time that there’s only one way to get there, and women and men have got to get there together. We’ve got to engage men in the issues, to enlighten them and we have to work together to get to a better model, to better ways of working together and existing together.”

Optimism behind the 76%

Back to our original number: 76% of Canadian women feel there is no equality in the workplace. We’ve just looked at two real reasons why this dissatisfaction is so high – a pay gap and a perception gap. And we’ve also identified a number of ways to address it. This high level of dissatisfaction may be daunting at first glance, but what it really represents is the progress we’ve already made. It shows the voice that women have gained in Canada and their willingness to use it. Numbers won’t move if no one expresses discontent or takes action to change them. In fact, until recently we’ve been on a path to gender equality that many suggest will take 200 more years to complete. But the truth is, we’re deviating from this path and women are leading that change of direction. Now it’s time for businesses and brands to follow suit.

Look out for our second ‘Truth About Canadian Women’ topic: Roles in the Household.

The Institute of Communication Agencies’ Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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