Providing an equitable workplace does not necessarily mean providing identical safety equipment. For example most women wear smaller work boots and belts. Many trade unions negotiate for a specific dollar amount for their members to spend on an annual basis on personal safety equipment. That allows the employees to present bills to their employers for safety boots, cold weather clothing and other personal equipment.
Good employers set health and safety policies that must be adhered to. For example, in the military, pregnant women are put on a temporary medical category that precludes them from participating in activities such as shooting weapons, responding to chemical biological radioactive and nuclear disasters, and deploying on military operations. This isn’t unfair to men; it’s a matter of protecting the health of the women and their unborn children. While I know a woman who ran a 10 km race in the morning before she gave birth to her eldest child, and another who was racing on her mountain bike two weeks after the birth of her second child, for most of us it’s much more difficult to perform feats of physical endurance when pregnant and during the period immediately following birth.
Canada has one of the world’s most generous maternity and parental leave legislations. Employers are obliged to safeguard an equitable return to work for parents who take up to a total of 52 weeks between them to bond with their newborn or adopted children. As a minimum these parents receive a weekly Employment Insurance (EI) allowance to help make ends meet. Imagine my surprise when I heard a senior woman working in a publicly owned company complain about the top ups provided to professionals in many public companies and to federal employees. She believed that families should make do with the EI payment. The reality is that families make financial decisions based on their income, the maximum Employment Insurance payment in 2014 is $514 a week. This can be a disincentive for professional men and women to have children.
In Canada 1 in 5 women receive top up from their employers. Of those who receive a top up 96% return to same employer. Reintegrating these valued employees back into the work force takes significantly less time than recruiting and training new employees.
One way to help your organization understand the value of embracing diversity is to conduct education programs. As I stated in the WEPs Principle 1 blog, as a junior officer I taught the Mixed Gender Integration courses. A decade later I volunteered to teach Harassment and Racism Prevention courses. One of the best experiences I had was teaching the course in French to groups of officer-cadets at the Royal Military College in Kingston. These future officers challenged some of the teaching points and were fully engaged in class discussion. It’s been my experience that if you get the class engaged they learn the lesson more fully.
Awareness training works, it helps people understand the unconscious biases they have. Once a person is aware that they have an unconscious bias, they are more likely to take corrective action and question their assumptions. For example women are just as ambitious as men, particularly early in their careers. A 2013 McKinsey and Company report stated that both women and men acknowledge that they have to make personal sacrifices to reach the top of their corporations. However, more women run into issues when it comes to work life family balance. As I stated in the blog about Principle 2, Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA) are used by men much more frequently than women. I believe that this in large part because women feel like they will be judged as “opting out” if they choose to use FWA’s.
In my experience families who spend time together are more resilient. By encouraging work life balance for all, we help build stronger families, communities and businesses.
To learn more about Principle 3; check out the WEPs Webpage at http://www.weprinciples.org/Site/Principle3/