We for She conference offers strategies to increase much-needed diversity in the workplace

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      Every decade, women make greater strides towards equality in the workplace. But despite the increasing numbers of women in employment, Canada is still a long way off from gender parity. For every $1 made by a man, women make 87 cents. Women are more likely to have to perform unpaid labour. And in the private sector, women make up just 25.6 per cent of the country’s senior managers.

      For David Harper, CEO of the Discovery Foundation, that’s a real problem. Coming from a background in academia where women are often better represented, Harper discovered when he entered the business world that meetings were invariably staffed almost exclusively by men. Upon his appointment to the Discovery Foundation—a charitable organization that aims to stimulate the growth of science and tech industries through funding and training—he made it a personal goal to push for greater diversity and inclusion in B.C.’s companies.

      “Increasingly, modern society is being shaped and created by technology,” he tells the Straight over a downtown coffee. “If those technologies—in our pockets, in our homes, in our workplaces—are just created by white men, then we’re being forced to adhere to one solution. We need to have a world that isn’t just designed by white guys. Men and women, and people of different communities, see problems in different ways and come up with very different results. When you get a more inclusive group decision-making process, you get a better answer because there are more ideas on the table. If we want a better future, we’re going to need a more varied workforce.”

      Harper makes a point of getting involved in as many projects that advance gender equality as possible—and few are as high-profile as the annual We for She conference. Now in its fourth year, the event is one of North America’s largest gatherings of women’s organizations, companies, experts, business leaders, and advocates. Aiming to give students and young women a greater understanding of their career options and potential, the conference features 18 speakers including Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, senior managers of global companies like Deloitte, EY, and Airbnb, and UNICEF Ambassador and retired Team Canada soccer star Karina LeBlanc. It’s an impressive lineup.

      “The conference started when Christy Clark was the premier,” says Harper, who is part of the We for She committee. “I remember her saying a good phrase which was, ‘You have to see it to be it’. It’s about how individuals need to have visible role models. People attending are encouraged to bring their children to the event, and there’ll be a lot of school kids there too. Some women I know will be bringing their sons, and that’s important as well. It’s part of the former premier’s ideas of how we can move the needle—if we want to have true integration, men have to be included in the discussion.”

      For Harper, it’s clear why more women should be involved in business, particularly in science and tech. As well as highlighting the moral importance of inclusion, he points out the statistics. Companies that are founded by women, and have more women on the board and at senior management level, are more successful. Female-run organizations are more likely to support the idea of the triple bottom line: ascribing equal weight to making profit, being environmentally sustainable, and doing social good. And in B.C., businesses started by women have a greater tendency to stay in the province rather than sell to American companies.

      “I really believe our value proposition as Canadians is diversity,” he says. “I think we can beat other countries like the U.S. who are walking in the other direction. We will offer a competitive advantage.

      "Creating better inclusion is morally the right thing to do, it’s socially the right thing to do, and it’s financially the right thing to do," he adds. "There’s no reason not to do it.”

      We For She conference is at the Vancouver Convention Centre (East) on Friday (November 17). More information and tickets are available here.

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays