As we prepare to once again recognize International Women's Day on March 8, we find ourselves at an interesting inflection point.
For much of the last half of the last century, the focus of the women's movement has been on advancing women's rights with the overarching goal of achieving equality.
Now, as we find ourselves in 2023, I believe this focus has deepened. From the lingering effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to the rising cost of living, society has evolved. Now we are not only focused on the path that lies ahead, but on ensuring that the progress we have made remains relevant to all women and continues to move forward.
As Enterprise Chair of Women at TD – the Bank's area of focus which aims to empower leadership and inspire change for women across the organization – my role is to be an advocate for the support, resources and evolution that women colleagues at TD want to see. Our job is to work with colleagues across the Bank, both women and allies, to help focus on providing a culture where women can continue to excel in the workplace, today, and going forward.
Women at TD
Last year, we renamed our area of focus within the Diversity and Inclusion strategy from "Women in Leadership" to "Women at TD." In many of the conversations I've had with colleagues across the Bank, they talked about how leadership looks different to each person's career journey – and I knew, in order to be inclusive, we needed to ensure all women saw themselves in our community.
So, we took action to ensure our name more accurately reflects our aspirations to build a community where all are welcome, where our colleagues could see themselves reflected, and could understand how to get involved. After all, Women at TD is about our colleagues' entire career at the bank, not just when they reach a certain level; everyone's career path and goals are unique and important.
Embracing Equity and Acknowledging Intersectionality
As I reflect on the incredible progress women have made throughout history, I can't help but think about this year's global International Women's Day theme of 'Embrace Equity'. In my view, embracing equity is important to achieving an even playing field for everyone to succeed. It is a call for us to look with a more critical lens at discrepancies that may exist and to challenge our thinking on how to address them – will they be solutions for everyone or just certain people? We need to remember, what works for some individuals, might not work for others.
Women at TD is an area of focus for the Bank, one that intersects with all of our other areas of focus, highlighting how important intersectionality is to equity. Intersectionality recognizes that women come from different backgrounds, communities and identities – and each have their own unique experiences which we need to take into consideration when we look to how we elevate and support women.
In the past few years, we've seen the disproportionate impacts COVID-19 and economic churn have had on women. It has been significant and requires us to look further.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, South Asian women and Black women in Canada felt the highest unemployment rates with 20% and 18.6% respectively (Statistics Canada 2020). In addition, multiple studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rise of remote work, has had a negative effect on the work-life balance of working women.
While we are all experiencing increased inflation and rising costs in living, according to a 2021 Statistics Canada report, Indigenous Peoples and transgender people, including women, are more likely to experience poverty than other communities, leaving them more susceptible to displacement as costs continue to rise.
There are similar and separate experiences for women from many different communities.
This is where equity comes into play. We need to take into consideration the differing experiences, roadblocks and challenges women with different backgrounds and who are at different stages of their lives and careers face. Without taking into consideration these differences, we're leaving ourselves open to more inequities for certain populations.
As an organization, it is important we understand that without recognizing intersectionality, we can't achieve true equity.
When I first became Enterprise Chair of the Women at TD committee, ‘Break the Bias’ was the theme of my first International Women's Day in seat. It's where I started this journey of being a more public facing advocate for women and where I began to hear and learn more.
Throughout last year, I learned that bias can be hard to identify without peeling back some layers. This practice often centers around reflection.
I looked at my own experiences and how they may contrast to others and looked at my working team and reflected on how they represent me. Have I surrounded myself with individuals who look and come from a similar background to me? What does representation on my team look like and am I actively seeking different perspectives?
Fighting bias calls for us to challenge our thinking. As allies and community members, this is an important call to action for everyone. We must ask ourselves the difficult question of whether or not we've built a community that fosters diversity and unique perspectives.
This isn't an easy one to tackle – no one wants to admit they hold a bias, unconscious or otherwise. Unconscious bias can often be unknown to us until someone points it out.
Fighting bias is a behavioural change.
At TD, we challenge colleagues to lead by example and to self-reflect on the type of organization and culture we want to have. This is a collaborative effort where both women and allies across the Bank play a key role – to identify bias when encountered and to be a part of the action to address it.
If we are to truly advance the agenda of Women at TD, we must go beyond simply having women advocating for women. In order to effect lasting change, allies need to advocate and make space for women.
Allyship, sponsorship and self-advocacy continue to be of the utmost importance.
In my experience, throughout my own career I've been fortunate to have sponsors and allies who supported me along the way.
I've had leaders who advocated for me, who have encouraged me to take on bigger roles and, in some cases, helped me see opportunities in roles I might not have otherwise considered.
At TD, we know that allyship is critical for fostering inclusion and equity. Strengthening allyship across the Bank is a continued focus for Women at TD.
As our colleague Geoff Bertram, who leads the allies pillar for Women at TD, wrote on TD Stories last year: "… true allyship is not a theoretical idea, it's a practice. It’s a set of behaviours that put into action the values of inclusion, diversity and social justice. You can't just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk."
If we are going to create and foster an environment at TD where women can bring their whole selves to work and be the best version of themselves, we can't leave it up to women to be their only advocates. Our ally colleagues throughout the organization must continue their efforts to help advance the careers of the women around them.
Embracing Equity today, tomorrow and beyond
International Women's Day is a time to celebrate and reflect, and also to commit to taking action. Look for ways you can embrace and create equity for your colleagues, family, friends and communities, whether that's through active allyship, challenging bias, and creating inclusive spaces for everyone. Each action we take is another step forward towards embracing equity for all.