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United for Gender Equality - Stronger Together: Gender Equality Week 2023

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UN Global Compact Network Canada Leads Action within Canadian Businesses to represent Canada’s Collective Diversity for Equitable Economic Empowerment 

This year’s theme for Gender Equality Week mirrors the growing diversity and intersectionality of Canada’s population whilst also embodying principles of ‘unity’ and collectivism as it re-defines the term ‘gender equality’ to reflect the current diverse landscape. It is pertinent to acknowledge that any systemic barriers that exist to prevent diverse representation of individuals in the public or business sector in Canada, are not solely a result of ‘gender’ inequality. Rather, biases can be rooted and formed in the backdrop of a plurality of intersectional attributes together with ‘gender’, such as, ‘sexual orientation, racial background, level of education and exposure to Canada’. As such, 2023’s theme encourages the need to view these attributes in tandem, without isolation, to comprehend where gaps exist that hinder building a fair country with a strong inclusive economy. The national vision to drive gender equality is attested in the legislature that forms bedrock of the integral subject, such as the Canadian Human Rights Act, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and for specifically for the business sector, the Employment Equity Act, Pay Equity Act, Canadian Gender Budgeting Act, and Canadian Labour Code.  

Gender Equality Week this year focuses on a cohesive, united approach to gender inequality, particularly how it affects specific communities more than others, i.e., low income, 2SLGBTQI+, Indigenous, people with disabilities or other minority groups. This intersectional approach parallels the ethos and vision of the United Nations Global Compact, an entity that is uniquely positioned to support companies across the globe in aligning their operations, strategies, and business conduct to foster responsible business conduct, using collaborative benchmarks and progression-based framework such as the Ten Principles focusing on human rights, labour, environment and anti corruption and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In Canada, the Local Network Canada marks its tenth year in 2023, it is focused on furthering gender equality in the Canadian Business Sector in alignment with SDG 5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls, SDG 8: Promote Inclusive, Sustainable Economic Growth, Full and Productive Employment and Decent Work for All, SDG 10: Reduce Inequality Within and Amongst Countries. 

In the last year, the UN Global Compact Network Canada has made massive strides as a ‘leader’ in driving radical action to address ‘gender equality’ through a lens of equity, inclusion and diversity, catering to gender equality in underrepresented groups through several projects. In 2021, it received funding from the Government of Canada (Innovation, Science, and Economic Development) to implement the ‘50-30 Challenge - The Future is Equal: Enabling Ecosystems of Support in Canada”. 

The “50-30 Challenge” is a landmark initiative with an action driven approach to include intersectionality in ‘gender equality’. Setting representation targets for organizations that sign up to be ‘Challenge Participants’ to include in their board of directors and/or senior management roles: 1) 50% women/ non-binary people; 2) 30% inclusion of underrepresented groups (gender, non-binary, racialized, visible minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQI2S+, and Indigenous peoples). 

Currently, over 2000+ Canadian businesses (small, medium, large) have signed and pledged to meet the diversity targets. The UN Global Compact Network Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, has designed free capacity building workshops for Challenge Participants, for both EDI practitioners and leadership. UN Global Compact Network Canada will offer services such as designing EDI policies and organising cross industry learning groups, encouraging sharing of tools, experiences and best practices for practical implementation of gender equality. 

Gender Equality for Canadian Businesses in 2023 – The Critical Way Forward

Leveraging public, private and not for profit partnerships is key in 2023, as evidence supports that each sector has their own expertise to contribute. The public sector needs to ensure that demographic statistics and labour market needs are published to forecast employment needs. Canadian businesses need to develop EDI strategies which focus on recruitment, form ERGs, design policy/procedures, initiatives and share best practices. The not-for-profit sector and academia (in the case of the 50-30 Challenge, the ecosystem partners), need to develop case studies evidencing progress and evaluative assessments to measure effectiveness of organisational EDI practices. In the growing diverse demographic landscape in Canada, it seems redundant to still ask why gender equality as it relates to underrepresented communities is integral. 

Conversely, the impact of the Canadian business sector not being or hesitant to incorporate EDI principles in employment and labour policies could be severely negative. The result of non inclusion of diverse groups and gender equality could mean that the growing economic recession could outlive its life expectancy as resistance to cultural innovation would mean limited growth, massive unemployment of underrepresented groups and newcomers to Canada could trigger a lack of faith in the system, and more racial and income disparity would follow. While the benefits are still easier to harness at this point, and can be done with partnerships within the private, public, and academic sectors.

Written by Shanul Kazi (she/her/hers), Project Implementation Specialist – 50-30 Challenge, UN Global Compact Network Canada

20 September 2023

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