Elevating women in the workplace with a blueprint for gender equity

ATB among 19 Canadian companies that worked on special project with the UN Global Compact Network Canada

By Erika Stark 1 December 2020 4 min read

“Things are trending in the right direction" when it comes to advancing gender equality at ATB, according to Neetu Sidhu, Director, Everyday Digitization & Integration (front row, second from left). (Photo from 2019)

When it comes to the importance of gender equity in business, ATB’s Neetu Sidhu often refers to a common phrase: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

In other words, representation matters. The more women in leadership positions at an organization, the more likely other women are to advance in their own careers, explained Sidhu, Director, Everyday Advice. She’s also a leader of the Ellevate team member network at ATB, which aims to influence the advancement of women in the workplace.

And while ATB has made great strides towards advancing gender equality—half of the board directors are women, as are 38 per cent of senior executives—Sidhu acknowledged there’s always more work to do, particularly around advancing women from entry level roles into more senior roles, as well as increasing meaningful representation of women of colour.

“Things are trending in the right direction,” she said.

Sidhu is hopeful that a recent project with the UN Global Compact Network Canada (GCNC) will help ATB—and other Canadian businesses—to continue elevating women in the workplace. Since early 2019, Sidhu and the Ellevate team have been part of a project called Gender Equality Leadership in the Canadian Private Sector. The project, which engaged 19 companies in various sectors including ATB, Nutrien, TELUS, IKEA, Starbucks and Stantec, focused on developing a blueprint for gender equality in the private sector, a resource database, and a maturity model assessment tool for businesses.

Blueprint for gender equality leadership

Since being invited to join the project, Sidhu and her colleagues worked closely with the GCNC and participating businesses to develop the guiding principles of the blueprint.

“The blueprint is essentially a guide for any company in Canada that wants to advance gender equity in the workplace,” she says. The project offered Sidhu and her team the opportunity to analyze ATB’s performance against the three pillars of the blueprint:

  • Bold and visible leadership
  • Creating an inclusive culture and work environment
  • Transparent and accountable systems

“The blueprint has reinforced to me the areas we are strong in, but it’s also highlighted to me the areas where we have work to do,” said Sidhu.

One of those areas is the gathering of data and development of targets for gender equity.

“While we have bold and visible leadership at ATB, we won’t be able to make systemic change if we don’t set quantifiable targets,” Sidhu said. “You can have leadership that supports gender equity, but we need a baseline measurement and goals to advance beyond that baseline. Until we get there, we won’t be able to substantiate that we’re actually committed to driving that change.”

Having that data helps an organization to determine where the system might be creating challenges or roadblocks for women, explained Sidhu. For example, while 62% of all team members at ATB are female, 62% of positions from the director level to the senior leadership team are held by men.

Creating inclusive experiences

There are a multitude of reasons to elevate women in the workplace—according to S&P Global, publicly-traded companies run by female CEOs outperform the market and the market index. But the reasons to pursue gender equality across the business go beyond the financial; diversity of thought helps ATB to provide the right kind of services, products and advice to a diverse customer base, as well as create the right environment for team members, Sidhu says.

“At ATB, we’re designing experiences that put the customer at the centre of everything we do,” she explained. “To create something that will actually resonate with a diverse customer base, it needs to be created by leaders, budget holders and designers who actually have that lived experience.”

Tara Lockyer, ATB’s Chief People Officer, agrees.

“As a purpose-driven organization, we want to contribute to equality on the social front,” she said, “so if we can create that internally, that can bleed out into the markets and communities that we’re working with.”

“Diversity comes with different experiences, and women have different experiences than their male counterparts,” Lockyer added.

From an internal perspective, Sidhu pointed again to the importance of representation when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent.

“When an accomplished and talented woman looks at a company that has consistently been ‘pale, male and stale,’ in senior leadership, she can’t see herself there,” she said. “She won’t feel that it’s a progressive and inclusive organization, or that she’ll ever be given the opportunity to rise to her full potential.”

“As we think about a talent strategy, profitability, customer experience and inclusion, it’s pivotal we recognize that gender equity isn’t just a woman’s issue,” Sidhu continued. “Left unpursued, it’s a real business risk.”

Prioritizing diversity and inclusion

To strengthen our dedication to all Albertans, ATB has committed to hiring a head of diversity and inclusion.

“The intent of the role is to identify those things that are really going to drive change in the organization,” said Lockyer. “First we have to understand where the biggest problems are and then we have to put some pragmatic execution plans in place and go for it.”


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