• Mar. 7, 2024
  • Column, Life at Exponentiel
  • Written by: Véronique Arsenault

“Are you sure you can take on more?”

Today, for International Women's Rights Day, I wanted to write an opinion letter, but words fail me.

We are tired - the pandemic, economic crises, inflation, children, the household. It's all happening at the same time, and the career keeps rolling along. We are ambitious.

I say I'm at a loss for words because the message repeats itself when it comes to the status of women in the workplace. And, by definition, an opinion piece is meant to be hard-hitting and innovative in its thinking. And right now, I have the impression that we're out of breath: things are changing, but too slowly.

The data on the condition of women at work is well known, but it bears repeating, especially today:

  • 2/3 of women in Quebec are responsible for most household tasks.
  • 9 out of 10 women want to reach leadership positions in their careers.
  • In senior positions, 52% of women are responsible for most or all household tasks, compared to 13% of men.
  • For every 100 men promoted from an entry-level position to top management, only 87 women are promoted.

This last statistic may surprise you, but it's key to understanding what Lean In calls the "broken rung". This is the principle that women are less likely to receive the first level of promotion on the management ladder. The impact of this gap becomes clear when we consider the number of women in top corporate positions (10.90% in Canada in 2023). The fewer women there are at the first level of management, the fewer there are when it comes time for a company to offer promotions to senior management.

What explains this discrepancy? It's not ambition, and it's certainly not skill. It's bias. Negative biases, and they occur too early in our careers. For me, they arrived as soon as I came back from my first maternity leave. On the strength of my experiences, I was ready to take on major new challenges. But I was soon asked: "With two children, are you sure you can take on more?"

What I'm saying today is that flexibility is not a contradiction in terms of business growth. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's our ability to adapt.

Giving employees flexibility means offering them the keys to success. It means allowing ourselves, as a team, to reach our full potential. However, as with everything, we must strive for balance. That precious balance that enables us to meet our teams' need for flexibility, while not undermining the productivity imperatives of any business.

In my opinion, one of the best ways of getting closer to this balance in a lasting way is to open up a dialogue with our teams. A company should not unilaterally impose "its" flexibility, but rather establish the terms and conditions by rallying its troops around the issue. By trying to implement a "one size fits all" solution, we miss the target of meeting the specific needs of our employees and the company.

At a time when some companies want to quickly return to the status quo, now that the pandemic is well behind us, let's take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to reinvent the world of work together. On International Women's Day, let's do something different to stand out from the crowd.