Diversity Performs

Someone addressed me as Mr. Vadnais in an email recently. To his credit, he apologized profusely for being so presumptuous. In all fairness, I get two or three solicitation emails addressed to Mister a year. I relate the story only as an example of the ongoing, unrecognized bias that business managers or owners are male.

Taking a historic look at this bias, it wasn’t until the Second World War that women entered the work force in large numbers. After the war, they were pushed back into the home. In 1953, labour force participation of women was 24%. That is, only 24% of women sought employment. This number increased year after year and reached 82% at its highest level in 2014. For reference, labour force participation of men is 93% and in 1953 was 96%.

It has been nearly a century since that first significant presence of women in the workforce and we are just reaching a balance of genders in the workplace. According to stats Canada, in 2014 women made up 47% of the workforce. Based on these statistics, I anticipate I will see fewer misaddressed emails as the chances of the manager being male or female are 50/50.

This balance in gender diversity is good for all of us. Academic research on diversity (for example more women on senior management teams) reports more diversity means better organizational performance. Studies find that adding women to decision-making teams results in increased economic value. And companies with women on top management teams and in the board room do better than organizations without any women. Diversity results in better economic value and better accounting performance.

Bottom line, demographic (gender, age, race) diversity is good for the bottom line. Studies note a positive relationship between board diversity and organization performance. Diversity increases the questioning, provides new viewpoints, fosters a learning environment, and improves risk management and all of these things result in better performance. This works for both for-profit and non-profit boards.

While the balance is coming to the workforce, there are many ways in which women are still underrepresented. Women hold only 16.9% of seats in corporate boardrooms. Women are paid 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. Just some things to keep in mind when hiring and promoting within your companies.

Fernie is a great place for women entrepreneurs. We see a large number of women starting their own businesses and sitting in senior management positions. At the Chamber of Commerce, we are very fortunate to have a diverse board. Of our 12 member board, six are women, they are: Sheila Byers, Anita Palmer, Alicia Clarke, Vanessa Croome, Mel Mackay, and Tammy Ogden. I look up to these women as they take leadership roles in the companies they work for, or own, and for the leadership they provide to the Chamber. I applaud them for sticking their hand-up to volunteer and direct the strategies that Strengthen Commerce in Fernie.

As with anything, moderation is a good thing. If an organization had a board full of women, without representation from men, it would see similar challenges. It is the diversity that improves performance in organizations and on boards. But for this month, and this issue of the Fix, it is nice to take a moment and celebrate the importance of women. And the work of those women who have worked hard and succeeded. Those who have blazed trails. In the recent months, I have been reminded that progress does not mean the battle is over. Society must always be working towards inclusiveness and acceptance, and we must celebrate and learn from our differences.