Make championing women core to your business

Microsoft Canada's Lisa Gibson on why companies need to buy into inclusion and go beyond simple communications.

By Lisa Gibson

“I go where I am invited, I stay where I am welcome.”

I first heard this quote about a year ago during a talk on diversity and inclusion, and it has stuck with me. Diversity and inclusion have become buzz words in the corporate world as companies strive to balance the gender gap in their organizations. Intensified focus and related spend towards PR and marketing dollars have followed suit as brands try to better understand what women want and how they want brands to communicate with them.

CEOs and CMOs should make diversity and inclusion a strategic priority. One only needs to look at the statistics to see the pressing need.

Never has this been more obvious to me than when I started working in the technology industry. While it’s nice to not have to wait in line for the women’s washroom at industry events, it is a small but stark reminder of the imbalance. A recent study from Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) found that women account for only 26.7% of the tech workforce in Canada, despite things like a recently published survey by Harvard Business School showing that companies with a diverse workforce make up to 69% more in net income and revenue. Clearly, it’s not just the right thing to do. It’s good business.

While we have seen real progress in the tech sector, I believe one of the reasons there is still an imbalance is because many organizations haven’t fully bought into diversity and inclusion – it hasn’t become fundamental to how they do business and to their internal culture. Is there buy-in from the highest levels to foster an environment that enables everyone, including women, to feel welcome and to do their best work? This is the inclusion part of the diversity equation and one that often gets minimal attention, or at worse, overlooked.

When you work somewhere that fully embraces and is committed to diversity and inclusion, you know it. You see it and feel it. It’s not just an internal communications headline or relegated to the marketing department to solve externally. It’s all around you. A CEO who leads by example, setting targets and holding leaders accountable. An organization that invests in mentoring programs, councils and events that provide employees with a platform to share their feedback. One that recognizes the competing pressures women with children or caring for aging or ailing family and creates a flexible work environment. And of critical importance, one in which your voice matters, where you feel heard.

When I joined the technology industry just over three years ago, I was immediately struck by how committed my organization and others in the sector were to working together to make a difference when it came to women in STEM. Investments in research and studies found that the imbalance started with young girls and boys. From there, further investments were made to partner with government, school boards and not-for-profit organizations like Actua and Ladies Learning Code to encourage more young people, girls and those in under-served communities, to pursue an education in computer science.

And that’s why I feel strongly that it’s not enough to just “hire more” women, or as the quote above says to “invite them in.” The true measure of an effective diversity strategy is what comes after. That is, the time spent and investments a company makes to ensure diversity and inclusion aren’t mere buzzwords, but ingrained into the organization’s DNA for the betterment of women and the growth of our amazing country.

Lisa Gibson is head of communications at Microsoft Canada.