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Pathways to Gender Equity: Why Male Allies are so Important

In May 2020, Women+Power Board member and Events & Programs Committee Chair, Elaina Eifler, spoke on a panel to launch Leadershift: Pathways to Gender Equity Reportwhich summarizes research conducted by Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC). EHRC works to strengthen the ability of the Canadian electricity industry to meet the current and future needs of its workforce. To help the sector do this, EHRC completes in-depth labour market intelligence research specifically about the industry and the Leadershift Report is the latest piece of research.

The Leadershift Report confirms what many women in Alberta’s electricity sector already know: despite good intentions and investments in programs to increase women’s representation, the pace of change has been slow. The report is full of excellent examples and suggestions for specific actions that can be taken to advance diversity in organizations. 

To bring the data and insights to life, seven senior male leaders in the electricity sector were profiled to explore the influences and impacts of men’s direct participation in diversity strategies and initiatives for the empowerment of women. They demonstrate the impact of active, day-by-day, persistent involvement of male leaders as allies and advocates. Each of them describes the experiences that helped them become personally more aware of the challenges women face in the workplace. They have translated that awareness into behaviours that make a difference, such as: addressing unconscious bias, creating a more welcoming workplace for women, using equity and meritocracy to advance women’s careers, cascading the messaging throughout the organization, building the trust required for flexible work arrangements, navigating style differences between women and men, and sponsoring women for growth opportunities. 

The Leadershift Report provides evidence of the importance of male allies to drive change across the industry. “A commonly highlighted strategy for driving change…is to encourage senior leaders and managers to be champions of diversity. While it is important to have both men and women leaders committed to diversity, in male-dominated industries, male participation and commitment to gender equality is essential.”

So how do organizations get started? The Leadershift Report provides several thought-provoking and actionable recommendations aimed at creating gender equity in Canada’s electricity sector. To learn more, you can access the report and a recording of the launch (and Elaina’s presentation) right here!

In the panel discussion, Elaina outlined two main challenges in response to a question about the challenges organizations and leaders are having at the moment to improve on women’s representation at the leadership level: the number of women and mindsets and beliefs that limit actions to improve gender equity. 

The number of women in the electricity industry is low: just 26% of the workforce compared to a pool of 46% in the Canadian workforce. This lack of representation overall results in fewer women in the pipeline for senior leadership positions.

The mindsets discussed in the Leadershift Report were the most profound part of the study. Key findings revealed that men and women are not on the same page when it comes to how each gender views their ability to be successful in the workplace, the impact of gender and diversity measures in relation to their own career opportunities, and whether or not the diversity and inclusion problem is nearly solved. 

The findings have wide-ranging implications with courses of action for individuals and organizations across the sector. Build awareness and support by communicating on a personal level, with candor and openness to difficult discussions. Spread the discussions across the organization—everywhere and every day, if needed. Implement best practices, and then measure and report on the progress achieved and the benefits gained. Realize that change for women implies changes for men. With those changes come the challenges of confronting longstanding behaviour patterns of women and men but also the benefits of a more equitable and inclusive environment for all. 

The insights from this research drive home the need to accelerate progress. To begin, it appears that we are still falling short on creating a shared understanding of our sector’s gender reality. Many of our organizations have instances of longstanding gaps in practices and in women’s representation that must be addressed. Nonetheless, we also have good momentum, pockets of great practices, and inspiring success stories to build upon. The current dramatic shifts in our industry increase the need for change and present an opportunity for change. We must, and can, move resolutely now to more fully leverage the leadership talent of women.