The Canadian private sector has a unique opportunity to contribute to the acceleration of gender equality, one of the 17 SDGs.

The Canadian private sector has a unique opportunity to contribute to the acceleration of gender equality, one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 5 has consistently ranked as one of the top sustainable development priorities for Canadian businesses, and its connection to multiple other SDGs only increases the positive effects that achieving gender equality would generate. 1

Alongside the widely recognized financial evidence that has been used to accelerate gender equality in the workplace, there are compelling moral arguments. Integrating the business and moral cases for gender equality can inspire sustainable change that positively impacts the Canadian private sector and communities across the country.

Positive Impact on Organizations

The Canadian private sector can accelerate gender equality, while at the same time producing unparalleled results. Gender equality and workplace inclusion can help organizations enhance their performance, ability to attract and retain talent, innovation capabilities, competitiveness, and reputation. 2 At the same time, these strategies have been proven to strengthen organizational culture and employee wellbeing, which leads to enhanced loyalty, commitment, and engagement. 3

Strengthen Organizational Performance

Organizations that employ more women throughout the pipeline – between 30 and 60 percent – tend to outperform their competitors in return on sales, EBIT margins, stock price growth, return on capital, return on equity, and share performance. 4 In addition, investors, employees, and consumers alike are increasingly concerned with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) indicators, including gender equality, to make sustainable investment decisions, assess corporate culture, and reinforce brand preference. 5

The private sector can strengthen its financial and organizational performance by removing barriers that inhibit women’s advancement and by supporting their development in strategic roles. To address issues across the pipeline, organizations can strive for and improve policies that support inclusive cultures.

Workplaces that prioritize gender equality and diversity are more competitive, innovative, and stable. They also generate the following performance advantages: 6

  • Greater revenue from innovative products or service offerings
  • An influx of economically valuable skills and input and higher collective intelligence
  • Heightened ability to solve complex problems that drive responsiveness and adaptation
  • Improved ability to attract and retain talent
  • External recognition for having a positive and inclusive business culture.

Advancing gender equality in the workplace is smart business that drives economic benefits. I’m proud ATB has achieved gender parity at the board and senior leadership teams. But we still have work to do. The pandemic has intensified challenges women face. By prioritizing our focus on flexible work, we mitigate the risk of losing women in leadership and ensure the progress we’ve made isn’t lost, which ultimately helps to pave our way to economic recovery.

Tara Lockyer, Chief People Officer, ATB Financial

At Baker McKenzie, providing equal opportunities to all genders is a top priority as it helps us grow our talent, build and consolidate a strong reputation, and improve competitiveness and financial performance. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, gender equality helps ensure that our people feel equally valued and supported in their careers while achieving a sense of meaningful well-being and purpose at work. The importance we place on gender equality and creating an inclusive workplace environment is evidenced by the number of female partners at our firm, and the fact that our promotions to partner during the last three years have been on average 40 percent women.

Stephanie Vaccari, Canadian Managing Partner, Baker McKenzie

Future-Proofing Business 

Canada’s diverse labour market will be one of its biggest assets when it comes to increasing innovation, productivity, competitiveness, and offsetting future labour shortages. 7 Currently, approximately 40 percent of small and medium-sized businesses in Canada have difficultly filling open positions, resulting in stagnant growth and sales. 8 Changes to employment systems, the mass retirement of baby boomers, low birthrates, and fast-paced technological advancements indicate that Canada’s labour and skills shortages are not temporary challenges.

To proactively deal with these upcoming challenges, organizations can capitalize on a highly educated but underutilized source of labour by increasing the number of women in the workforce and diversifying traditionally male and female work. 9

Private sector organizations that actively prepare and transform to meet the demands of the future of work will experience the following advantages: 10

  • Enhanced social license to operate and greater capacity to withstand scrutiny from stakeholders
  • Increased labour productivity contributing to more prosperous societies and economic growth
  • Workforces rich in talent, innovation, agility, and adaptability
  • Greater ability to attract and retain business or investments

Having seen the struggle and fight that my mother had to go through raising us alone and thinking of my sisters, my wife and now my daughter, I am deeply concerned about gender equality. For this reason, I am proud of belonging to a company that provides an innovative and inclusive environment for women, offering ample advancement opportunities. Gender equality is making steady progress in the chemical industry, but there is still much to be done. For BASF, as we continue to model our workforce to our society, we see the need for equal representation and pay between men and women at all levels of the organization.

Marcelo Lu, President, BASF Canada

Diversity is important first and foremost because it’s the right thing to do. As a business, it is critical because we want to be able to tap into the full talent pool in order to grow our business. I have made it my personal mission to ensure that women at CAE can realize their full potential as equal partners with men in the workforce and have every opportunity for advancement in this traditionally male-dominated industry.

Marc Parent, President & CEO, CAE

The GCNC Gender Equality Leadership project has allowed us to be part of a team of like-minded companies that are responsible for helping to create a new vision and establish a blueprint for what gender equity should look like in Canada.  We believe that not only is gender equality the right thing to do, it makes business sense and leads to increased creativity and innovation.  At IKEA Canada today, 51 per cent of our leaders are female and 52 per cent of co-workers are female.  For us, gender equality is about creating an inclusive culture where everyone is valued for their unique contribution.

Michael Ward, CEO & Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA Canada

Improve Employee Engagement and Wellbeing

Approximately half of working Canadians consider work to be the most stressful part of their lives. 11  Notably, Canadian women report higher levels of work and life stress related to lower job control and supervisor support, and disproportionate job and caregiving demands when compared to men. 12 Similarly, higher stress can be found when employees feel uncomfortable bringing their whole selves to work. 13

In order to improve employee engagement and facilitate safer and healthier work environments, organizations need to support authenticity and value employees’ complex, manifold identities. By creating more welcoming and inclusive environments, eliminating discrimination, and enabling flexible work policies, organizations can create the conditions for all employees to thrive.  14

Organizations that proactively strive to advance gender equality by ensuring the safety, health, and wellbeing of all employees experience the following benefits: 15

  • Fewer safety incidents, and less absenteeism and employee turnover
  • Greater innovation due to increased collaboration and diverse perspectives
  • Removal of mechanisms that may contribute to inequality and underwhelming performance
  • Improved employee job satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty
  • Positive reputation among job seekers and external stakeholders

As a leading bank in the Americas, our diversity has been our strength. Our efforts to prioritize gender equality have helped us to build a workforce where 39 percent of vice presidents and above in Canada, and 35 percent of vice presidents and above globally, are women. In 2019, more than half of our new hires were women and more than half of employee promotions were earned by women. And today, more than 90 per cent of employees who responded to our employee engagement survey believe we’re building an inclusive workplace. While we’re proud of this progress, our work continues throughout the organization.

Barb Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scotiabank

Promoting gender diversity and equity are core objectives of our corporate Inclusion and Diversity strategic plan; it is in our best interest to support the on-going development and mentorship of our female employees, as well as addressing barriers to their achievements and removing biases. Stantec is a proud partner in the Gender Equality in the Canadian Private Sector project and will continue to champion this important work, driving gender equality into our cultural framework and lead by example for inclusive leadership in industry.

Gord Johnston, President & CEO, Stantec

At TELUS, gender equality is at the core of our social purpose. We aspire to be a global leader in diversity and inclusion because we believe that a diverse workforce is critical to our business. Our diverse and inclusive workplace is also a point of pride for our team members. Ninety-five percent of team members who participated in our 2019 Pulsecheck survey indicated that they feel our work environment embraces diversity and individual differences. We are proud to be a company that is widely recognized for its commitment to celebrating and enabling diversity, every day.

Andrea Wood, Chief Legal & Governance Officer, TELUS

Positive Impact on Canada

Advancing gender equality and empowering women in the workplace is a priority for Canada. Since 2018, the Department for Women and Gender Equality (WAGE) has been instrumental in increasing women’s representation on corporate boards, reducing workplace harassment and violence, offering a parental sharing benefit, and investing in lessening women’s economic insecurity. 16 The private sector has the opportunity to build on this commitment and, in turn, improve Canada’s economy and reputation as well as the lives of Canadians.

Contributing to Economic Growth

Pursuing gender equality can play a decisive role in accelerating Canada’s future economic performance. In fact, McKinsey & Company found that narrowing the gender gap could increase Canada’s GDP to $150 billion by 2026. 17  Improving just one element of the gender gap – the unequal participation of women in the labour market – could help revive Canada’s stagnant GDP by almost 5 percent. 18

Organizations can facilitate this economic growth by removing the barriers that prevent all genders from participating equally in the workforce and that impede women’s ability to move up the ladder, especially in high-productivity sectors such as technology, manufacturing, and resource extraction. 19

Narrowing the gender gap and improving women’s participation in the Canadian workforce brings the following benefits to organizations: 20

  • Increased competitiveness in the global market
  • Better customer and consumer representation
  • More disposable income and consumer spending
  • Improved chances for business investment

At Turner & Townsend we are committed to building a diverse, inclusive and energized workforce, providing a safe place where everyone is encouraged and supported to fulfill their potential. In Canada, we are fortunate to have one of the most diverse workforces in the world and as a global organization we recognize the impact that a diverse talent pool will have on our business. We believe that gender equality is paramount and provides us with an opportunity to reshape our industry. We believe in doing business the right way.

Gerard McCabe, Managing Director – Canada, Turner & Townsend

At Unilever, we believe that gender equality makes businesses stronger and more resilient. With 50% of managerial roles across the company now represented by women, we are making progress, however, we know we still have more work to do. We will move forward by addressing unconscious bias, offering support for new parents, and making flexible working work. We all have a role to play in creating companies of the future that are sustainable and equitable.

Gary Wade, President, Unilever Canada

We place great importance on our people being provided equal opportunities and advancements for growth regardless of ethnicity, gender, disability or beliefs. As an organization we believe that diverse thought can only become a reality if we develop, cultivate and prioritize a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment. By participating in the Gender Equality Leadership in the Canadian Private Sector project, we can generate further awareness regarding gender equality and its impact on our global society.

Naseem Bashir, President & CEO, Williams Engineering

Supporting Social Advancement

Living in a country with more advanced gender equality corresponds to higher overall quality of life, including reduced income inequality and poverty, and greater ability to access education and health care services. 21 However, Canadian women earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and intersectional women have an even more pronounced wage gap. 22

The private sector plays a distinct role in advancing a number of socio-economic SDGs in Canada by fostering greater work-life balance and providing equitable renumeration and benefits.

Organizations that enable women’s equal participation in the workforce and create the conditions that allow all genders to partake in dignified work can experience the following benefits: 23

  • Increased organizational productivity and revenue generation
  • Decreased discrimination and bias in the workplace
  • Poverty alleviation and injustice reduction

Reinforcing Women’s Rights and Human Rights

Equal rights on the basis of gender and sex are universal principles in the United Nation’s Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 24 In Canada, these fundamental conventions are enshrined in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has resulted in the establishment of inclusive communities and widespread recognition for progressing women’s rights both domestically and internationally. 25

Ensuring that workplaces are free from discrimination, violence, and inequality is a powerful way in which organizations can demonstrate their commitment to upholding human rights in the workplace. 26

Organizations that reinforce Canada’s global commitment to human rights by advancing the rights of all genders in the workplace can: 27

  • Strengthen their relations with investors, employees, and other stakeholders
  • Reduce risk of legal liability and protect against reputational damage
  • Help reinforce Canada’s legacy of gender equality and human rights leadership

The Imperative for Achieving Gender Equality Is Clear

When the private sector prioritizes action to advance gender equality, organizations experience greater financial results, operational capacity, and adaptability; employees’ wellbeing improves; and in Canada, the economic outlook is strengthened, quality of life is enhanced, and human rights are protected. The business and moral case supporting gender equality in the workplace is a driver for private sector organizations as they turn to the following sections in the Blueprint for Gender Equality Leadership in the Canadian Private Sector and begin to actively pursue, refine, and advance gender equality in their places of work.


  1. Global Compact Network Canada, “2019 SDG Survey,” 2019; Global Compact Network Canada, “Gender Equality – A Catalyst for Sustainable Development,” Gender Equality Leadership in the Canadian Private Sector Project, 2019. []
  2. Catalyst, “Diversity Matters,” 2014; Stephen Turban, Dan Wu, and Letian Zhang, “Research: When Gender Diversity Makes Firms More Productive,” Harvard Business Review, 2019. []
  3. Naz Beheshti, “10 Timely Statistics About the Connection Between Employee Engagement and Wellness,” Forbes, 2019. []
  4. International Labour Organization, “Women in Leadership Bring Better Business Performance,” 2019; Catalyst, “Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter: Financial Performance,” 2018; Rocío Lorenzo, Nicole Voigt, Miki Tsusaka, Matt Krentz, and Katie Abouzahr, “How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation,” BCG, 2018. []
  5. Alexandre Di Miceli and Angela Donaggio, “Women in Business Leadership Boost ESG Performance: Existing Body of Evidence Makes Compelling Case,” International Finance Corporation, 2019; Deloitte, “The Future Belongs to the Bold: Executive Summary,” 2017; Sustainable Brands, “Study: 81% of Consumers Say They Will Make Personal Sacrifices to Address Social, Environmental Issues,” 2015; Randstad, “How Important Is Corporate Social Responsibility to Canadian Workers?” 2019.[]
  6. “Sandrine Devillard et al., “Women Matter: The Present and Future of Women at Work in Canada,” McKinsey Global Institute, 2019; J.D. Ostry, J. Alvarez, R. Espinoza, and C. Papageorgiou, “Economic Gains from Gender Inclusion: New Mechanisms, New Evidence,” International Monetary Fund, 2018; Anita Woolley and Thomas W. Malone, “Defend Your Research: What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women,” Harvard Business Review, 2011; Rocío Lorenzo et al., “The Mix that Matters: Innovation Through Diversity,” BCG, 2017. []
  7. World Economic Forum, “The Global Competitiveness Report,” 2019; Deloitte, “Canada at 175: Building Inclusive Organizations,” 2017. []
  8. Michael Cocolakis-Wormstall, “Labour Shortage: Here to Stay,” Business Development Bank of Canada, 2018. []
  9. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, “Canada’s Skills Crisis: What We Heard,” 2012; Bengt Petersson et al., “Women Are Key for Future Growth: Evidence from Canada,” International Monetary Fund, 2017; Statistics Canada, “Study: Women in Canada: Women and Paid Work,” 2017. []
  10. Sandrine Devillard et al., “Women Matter: The Present and Future of Women at Work in Canada,” McKinsey Global Institute, 2019; Weber Shandwick, “Gender Forward Pioneer Index: World’s Most Reputable Companies Have More Women in Senior Management,” 2016; Katie Abbott and Aditi Mohapatra, “How Business Can Build a ‘Future of Work’ That Works for Women: A Framework for Action,” BSR, 2019; Bengt Petersson et al., “Women Are Key for Future Growth: Evidence from Canada,” International Monetary Fund, 2017. []
  11. Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, “Mental Health Issues – Facts and Figures,” 2019. []
  12. Institute for Work & Health, “Sex/Gender Analysis: Link Between Psychosocial Work Factors and Stress Not Always as Expected,” At Work Newsletter Vol. 93 (Summer 2018); Kathy Padkapayeva et al., “Gender/Sex Differences in the Relationship between Psychosocial Work Exposures and Work and Life Stress,” Annals of Work Exposures and Health Vol. 62, no. 4 (May 2018): 416-425. []
  13. Vanessa Buote, “Why You Should Bring Your Authentic Self to Work,” Harvard Business Review Ascend, 2019. []
  14. Cigna, “2019 Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey – Well & Beyond,” 2019. []
  15. Sarah Kaplan, “Because It’s 2017: Gender Equality as an Innovation Challenge,” Rotman Management: The Inequality Issue (Fall 2017): 7-12; Josh Bersin, “Predictions for 2017: Everything Is Becoming Digital,” Bersin by Deloitte, 2017; Lisa Anderson, “Workplaces with Equal Mix of Men and Women Happiest: Economist,” Reuters, 2015; Sean Kelly and Christie Smith, “What If the Road to Inclusion Really Were an Intersection?” Deloitte Insights, 2014; John Baldoni, “Employee Engagement Does More than Boost Productivity,” Harvard Business Review, 2013; Cathleen Clerkin, “What Women Want – And Why You Want Women – In the Workplace,” Center for Creative Leadership, 2017. []
  16. The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality, “Department for Women and Gender Equality: 2019-20 Departmental Plan,” Department for Women and Gender Equality, 2019. []
  17. Sandrine Devillard et al., “The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Canada,” McKinsey Global Institute, 2017. []
  18. Royal Bank of Canada, “Navigating the 2020s: How Canada Can Thrive in a Decade of Change,” January 2020. []
  19. Government of Canada, “Budget 2018’s Gender Result Framework,” 2018; Government of Canada, “Gender, Diversity, and Inclusion Statistics,” 2017; Sandrine Devillard et al., “The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Canada,” McKinsey Global Institute, 2017. []
  20. Sandrine Devillard et al., “The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Canada,” McKinsey Global Institute, 2017; Marie Loveland, “The GDP’s Effect on Business,” BizFluent, 2018; Pierre Cléroux, “2019 Economic Outlook: Canada is in a Good Place,” BDC, 2018; Philip Cross, “Business Investment in Canada Falls Far Behind Other Industrialized Countries,” Fraser Research Bulletin, 2017. []
  21. International Monetary Fund, “Pursuing Women’s Economic Empowerment: Meeting of the G7 Ministers and Central Bank Governors,” 2018; Science Nordic, “Gender Equality Gives Men Better Lives,” 2015. []
  22. Statistics Canada, “Study: Women in Canada: Women and Paid Work,” 2017; Alexis Krivkovich et al., “Women in the Workplace 2018,” McKinsey & Company, 2018. []
  23. International Monetary Fund, “Pursuing Women’s Economic Empowerment: Meeting of the G7 Ministers and Central Bank Governors,” 2018; Cathleen Clerkin, “What Women Want – And Why You Want Women – In the Workplace,” Center for Creative Leadership, 2017; Amanda Weinstein, “When More Women Join the Workforce, Wages Rise – Including for Men,” Harvard Business Review, 2018; Era Dabla-Norris and Kalpana Kochhar, “Closing the Gender Gap: The Economic Benefits of Bringing more Women into the Labour Force,” International Monetary Fund, 2019. []
  24. United Nations, “Charter of the United Nations,” 1945; United Nations, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” 1948. []
  25. Government of Canada, “Rights in the Workplace,” 2018; Government of Canada, “Constitution Act, 1982,” 2019. []
  26. The Canadian Human Rights Commission, “Speak Out: 2018 Annual Report to Parliament,” 2018; Government of Canada, “Rights in the Workplace,” 2018.[]
  27. George Avraam, Susan MacMillan, and Caroline B. Burnett, “Not Just South of the Border: Canadian Employers Should Expect More Gender-Based Disputes,” Baker McKenzie, 2019; Government of Canada, “Canada’s Approach to Advancing Human Rights,” 2017. []