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The power of gender equality in the workplace

Posted March 5, 2020
woman staring at a ladder in the clouds

International Women’s Day takes place on March 8, but that doesn’t mean working toward an inclusive society with equal opportunities is a single day affair. To become a reality, gender equality must be top of mind every single day of the year. In workplaces in particular, actively contributing to gender equality is everyone’s responsibility, with sustained investments of time and resources required to move the needle forward.

The resulting benefits for all involved is indisputable. Take for example customer service delivery, which at its core, is about building connections between brands and consumers. In order to foster these loyal relationships, it follows that companies should hire individuals who, as a collective, are representative of the customers they support. And, with roughly half the world population identifying as female, this cannot be achieved without equal gender representation.

Furthermore, innovation requires unique perspectives and diversity of thought. Without various viewpoints to challenge the status quo, there is little opportunity for evolution or disruption. Ensuring women have a seat at the table better equips your company with additional insights and ideas to better meet the changing needs of customers and differentiate your brand in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

But perhaps the most enticing benefit is the impact to your organization’s bottom line. A study featured in the Harvard Business Review of 1,069 leading firms across 35 countries and 24 industries found that companies who held a widespread cultural belief that gender diversity is important, experienced increased productivity as measured by market value and revenue.

Overcoming barriers to gender equality

While the benefits of empowering women in the workplace are evident, it can be easier said than done. One such barrier is the disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care and domestic work required of women. As stated by UN Women: “Women tend to spend around 2.5 times more on unpaid care and domestic work than men. The amount of time devoted to unpaid care work is negatively correlated with female labor force participation.”

As such, women are much more likely to assume the role of caregiver and household laborer, which often requires looking after both aging parents and children. When there are overwhelming responsibilities at home, career development and advancement is the first thing to take a back seat. Implementing programs like on-site daycares and extended healthcare benefits that cover parents can help relieve some of that burden, and create a better work-life balance.

Fixing the “broken rung”

A recent ‘Women in the workplace’ study by McKinsey and Co found that although more women are reaching top levels of the workforce, they are still underrepresented at all levels of an organization. The report suggests that one way to fix this problem is by “developing a robust pipeline of candidates earlier in the hiring process and lower on the ladder.” In other words, there is a need to mend the “broken rung.”

The “Work for Her” program at TELUS International’s El Salvador location aims to accomplish just that, by creating equal opportunities for training and employment in the region. Conducted in partnership with Plan International El Salvador, a local not for profit, the program provides Salvadorian women with English classes, job skills training and career mentorship while covering the cost of food, transportation and materials. At the end of the program, the graduates are better positioned to apply for fulfilling roles within the company, enabling them to support themselves and their families.

Graduates of TELUS International's Work for Her program

Graduates of the first Work for Her cohort

Taking action for equality

As a long time participant in Connections, TELUS International’s global women’s network, Raquel Bonilla, senior communications manager for the company, experienced firsthand the benefits of supporting women’s development and growth within the organization. That’s one of the reasons she volunteers as a mentor in the Work for Her program where she helps participants achieve personal growth.

“It has been an incredible experience to watch my mentee become more confident in herself,” describes Bonilla. “One of my favorite sessions was when the girls had to create their vision board. For many of them, it was probably the first time they were able to share their goals and actually receive encouragement to dream big.”

To date, Work for Her has delivered over 210 hours of English classes with graduates reaching a strong A1 level despite speaking little to no English at the beginning of the program. Additionally, mentors like Bonilla have dedicated over 800 collective volunteer hours to ensure participant career growth and success within the company.

“It’s been eye-opening for us mentors to learn that, despite coming from different backgrounds, many women face similar issues, where we lack self-confidence, or we are sometimes discouraged by others in the pursuit of our goals,” shares Bonilla. “Once you reach a certain age and overcome difficult roadblocks in your life, you want to pay it forward and lift other women who can benefit from your experience.”

A better outcome for all

For those enrolled in the program, the outcomes include opportunities to pursue additional education and achieve financial independence, which would be otherwise unattainable. “Many of the girls in the program didn’t have the resources to go to college or to a technical school, so for them to have the opportunity to learn English and prepare themselves for a position at TELUS International is life-changing.” adds Bonilla. Now they’ll be far more qualified to enter the workforce and in a position to earn a better income that will help them to achieve their goals, like getting a college degree.”

For the company, the program has served to position TELUS International as an employer of choice in the region. But perhaps more impactful is the compounding effect Work for Her has on the community. “Most of the time these girls talk about how much they want to help their families and be a good role model for their younger siblings, so it has a multiplying effect,” says Bonilla. The program has a significant pay-it-forward quality with participants funding their siblings’ education or investing in their parents’ business to expand their entire family’s future opportunities.

As Work for Her demonstrates, ensuring women have the opportunity to succeed and prosper within a company has wide reaching implications beyond the individual level. A fitting example for this year’s International Women’s Day theme: “An equal world is an enabled world.”

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