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Research supporting diversity and inclusion is stronger, and Canadian companies are increasingly leaning in to address barriers to women and others in the workplace with innovative human resources strategies. While the relationship between increasing the representation of women and corporate performance isn’t linear, McKinsey & Company — a management consulting company — and others have suggested that companies with gender diversity are more likely to outperform competitors.

But, progress, whether on women in leadership, women on boards, women in tech, or women in entrepreneurship, remains slow. Commitment to gender equality and diversity must be reflected in how an organization uses its money, power, and influence to drive broader change.

Diversity and inclusion through the value chain

We know that “what gets measured gets done” and “money talks.” Increasingly, companies are setting targets for diversity and inclusion and tying them to performance metrics and reward systems. Research from Ryerson’s Diversity Institute also shows that to drive real change, we need organizations to embed a gender and diversity lens throughout the corporate value chain — through procurement, product design, operations, sales and marketing, services and support, government relations, and philanthropy.

Leveraging influence to advance women entrepreneurs

The federal government is a case in point — it has set an ambitious goal of doubling the number of women entrepreneurs by 2025, making commitments to fund women entrepreneurs, to support women entrepreneurship organizations, and to strengthen the ecosystem. It also includes setting targets and reporting on them in virtually every aspect of government. Procurement is one of the most important — with plans to increase the proportion of the massive federal government spend on goods and services purchased from women led business by 50%, from 10% to 15%.

Some large corporations have applied the same logic. Many have developed strategies to advance gender equality and diversity in governance, leadership, and human resources as well as tackling the tough nut of corporate culture. But the leaders in this arena are putting their money where their mouth is. Some, for example, have taken up the procurement challenge, committing to spending their money with women and diverse entrepreneurs. Hackett Group’s 2017 Supplier Diversity Study found that nearly all diverse suppliers meet or exceed expectations and in fact bring additional benefits such as new revenue opportunities.

Some corporations have also started to design and develop products and services targeting women entrepreneurs and to review the processes that have created barriers for women entrepreneurs. Some are challenging the issue of stereotypes and assumptions about who is an entrepreneur. Research shows that the top-of-mind role models for entrepreneurs are generally men in the tech sector — Bill Gates and Steve Jobs rather than Oprah Winfrey and Kylie Jenner.

Commitment to gender equality and diversity must be reflected in how an organization uses its money, power, and influence to drive broader change.

These deeply embedded stereotypes shape the aspirations of women. Recognizing that “if you cannot see it, you cannot be it,” some companies are choosing to celebrate women entrepreneurial success through advertising, by giving awards, sponsorship, and promotion. Applying a gender and diversity lens to an organization’s marketing and communications, creative processes, and messaging are also important ways of challenging stereotypes and shaping culture.

Leading corporations are also actively engaged in supporting programs targeting women and research to unpack the barriers of inclusion and to test new solutions. The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, which is assessing and analyzing best practices to advance women entrepreneurs, has more than 100 partner organizations including large companies committed to using their influence to advance opportunities in their supply chains for women entrepreneurs. Others have invested in developing their capacity particularly with respect to financial literacy, technology support, and exporting. A handful have even engaged in discussions of changing government policy to be friendlier to women entrepreneurs and explored new approaches for everything from tax policy to trade agreements to childcare.

Promoting gender equality, diversity, and inclusion requires more than good intentions and lofty messages. It requires intentional strategies and accountability in every aspect of the organization’s strategy to take advantage of levers which will drive systems change. 

Wendy Cukier, MA, MBA, PhD, DU (Hon) LLD (Hon) M.S.C.
Professor, Entrepreneurship and Strategy
Ted Rogers School of Management

Director, Diversity Institute

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