There’s no denying the data: In the workforce, women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. According to Statistics Canada, women accounted for about 45 percent of the decline in hours worked during the pandemic but will only make up 35 percent of the rebound. What gives? And more importantly, how can businesses and entrepreneurial leaders empower women in the workplace to build a more inclusive recovery?

It’s something that Salesforce Canada, the global leader in CRM (customer relationship management), champions every day. Driven by its philosophy that ‘business is a platform for change,’ Salesforce has been vocal about its commitment to driving equality for all of its stakeholders—employees, customers, partners, local communities and society at large. An example of this is its commitment to equal pay for equal work. On an annual basis, the company evaluates pay to address any gaps between genders and races. This year alone, it spent approximately $3.8 million to address any unexplained differences in pay, bringing its total spend to date to $16.2 million. And its interim chief equality officer works hand in hand with recruiting team to ensure equitable hiring practices. Very cool.

In light of the pandemic and the difficult situations it has forced businesses to face head-on, Salesforce Canada launched a virtual-conversation series called Growing With Purpose, bringing together notable leaders who are doing incredible things to help unpack how companies can lead with values in a meaningful way. The most recent instalment, Empowering Women at Work, featured panelists like Canadian hockey legend turned doctor (!) Hayley Wickenheiser, ET Canada Weekend host Sangita Patel and Roots CEO Meghan Roach talking about themes of allyship, the confidence gap, building inclusive cultures and more.

We sat down with Salesforce Canada country manager Margaret Stuart, who also participated in the event, to chat about why businesses of all sizes need to support women in the workplace, what it means to lead with values and the company’s can’t-miss events.

Salesforce has been vocal about using business as a platform for change. Can you unpack this for our readers and help them understand what it means as we emerge from the pandemic?

“We’re at this unique moment in time when companies are re-evaluating their strategies and their values. In Canada, women’s participation in work is at a 30-year low. The cost of women leaving the workforce during the past two years could [be felt] well into the future due to the erosion of skills and decades of gender-diversity efforts. Now more than ever, businesses have a responsibility to step up and help build an inclusive recovery that brings along women from all walks of life—all ethnicities, races, religions, sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses.

But the catalyst for change must come from the top. As leaders, we are in a position of influence, so we have a choice: Follow the same system as before or create something better. When you take direct action on values such as diversity, equity and inclusion, you reinforce why they matter—not only to your organization but to us all.”

Why should businesses step up to help address inequalities in the workplace?

“We are so lucky to live in a country that is made up of people from all walks of life. In Canada, our diversity is our strength, and the same rule applies to business outcomes. Research has shown that businesses with more women in senior positions are more profitable, more socially responsible and provide safer, higher-quality customer experiences. Listening to and amplifying diverse voices unleashes incredible business potential: innovation driven by new perspectives, higher employee engagement and improved collaboration across the entire organization.

Leaders have a role to play in breaking barriers and making room for more diverse voices at the table. We must transform our approach to creating equitable workplaces that reflect the diverse communities around us—and that starts with hiring. For instance, we absolutely scrutinize every job that we have available. If there’s not a need for a university degree, we remove it from the job description. We’re actively training our employees to remove biases and focus on skills in this process.

We’ve also learned that work can be different. We’ve proven that we can be productive and have success from anywhere. It’s our responsibility as employers to empower women—and all employees—to get the job done [on a] schedule that works best for them and provide flexible options. We’re all revisiting the business model.”

How can leaders and people managers take on a more values-led approach?  

“Making values a boardroom imperative is the first step in creating meaningful impact as a company. At Salesforce, our core values—trust, innovation, customer success and equality for every human being—guide everything we do.

As leaders and employees, we must also identify how our own personal values guide us every day. We recently commissioned a survey of working Canadians and found that, coming out of the past year, they rank empathy and integrity as the most desired leadership qualities.

It all adds up. With remote work, we’ve been in each other’s homes and lives more than we ever anticipated. We learned that we’re all pretty messy creatures with messy lives. And now we’re allowed to be much more messy than we were before. And maybe through the pandemic we’ve all allowed ourselves to become more human.

I just think it’s a beautiful tipping point for leadership in general.”

What would you like people to take away from Salesforce Canada’s Growing With Purpose series?

“I’d like audiences to be inspired to be catalysts for change within their own companies. From allyship to hiring practices and so much more, we all have a role to play in creating a truly equitable workplace that empowers women—and all employees—to achieve their full potential.”

Watch Salesforce Canada’s most recent Growing With Purpose conversation on empowering women at work here.