Home Regular Contributors Elan MacDonald Diversity in the Workplace is Key to Moving Forward

Diversity in the Workplace is Key to Moving Forward

Elan MacDonald

As we look towards the end of the pandemic, hiring is ramping up across the Edmonton region and the province. Alberta is adding jobs faster than most provinces; its employment rate remains the highest in the country and our net migration is on the increase once again.

Despite this good news, many firms have been struggling to find talent. A survey late last summer by the Alberta Chambers of Commerce and Business Council of Alberta found that almost half of firms are experiencing moderate to significant staffing shortages.

The competition is fierce, but we can dramatically widen the pool of talent by bringing in policies that embrace diversity, including gender diversity. The payoff can be huge. Studies show that female-friendly firms experience increased collaboration, retention and, according to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, profits.

While Canadian men are taking on more and more parenting, women continue to shoulder the majority of those duties — an average of 2.6 hours a day versus two hours for fathers. Parenting and work can often intersect, and certainly many of us felt this during the COVID pandemic. I have heard many stories of people rethinking their careers and I believe this will translate into greater demand for more family-friendly workplaces as people return to physical workplaces.

As a mom of three, creating a family-friendly environment this was top of mind as I built my public affairs firm. My employee’s kids were welcome in the office, time off was provided for daytime plays and dance recitals, and meeting schedules and work-from-home options were available to meet family demands. My employees appreciated the flexibility and showed loyalty and commitment to always get the work done in return.

But workplace policies are only part of the puzzle. We must do more to increase the participation of women in fields traditionally dominated by men, and especially STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. Although women are more likely than men to enrol in university, Statistics Canada shows that only one-third of STEM grads are women.

Turning the tide means reaching girls as early as elementary school to get them excited about science. Tactics like these have made the University of Alberta’s Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science & Technology program a pioneer. WISEST, which turns 40 this year, has reached more than 55,000 students, teachers and young STEM professionals, with an incredible 85 per cent of program alumni — women and people from other underrepresented groups — pursuing STEM degrees.

Diverse graduates will bring the diversity of ideas we need to solve our world’s increasingly complex problems, like climate change, rising inequality and rapid globalization.

The Edmonton region is emerging as a world leader in industries that will address these challenges, through advances like alternative energy and artificial intelligence. The opportunities are there for a diverse group of young leaders to do meaningful and innovative work — provided we give them equal access to those opportunities.

Elan MacDonald is past chair of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce and a founding director with Edmonton Global. She also sits on the boards of Covenant Health, Atlas Biotechnologies and Alberta Ballet. She is the vice-president (external relations) of the University of Alberta. Her column appears monthly in Business in Edmonton.