(As originally published on LinkedIn, 7 March 2017)

Be bold for change, every day

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By: Trent Henry, Chairman and CEO at EY Canada

Each year, I find it heartening to see how more and more companies are speaking up on International Women’s Day. The day makes people reflect on the state of gender equality here at home and around the world. But I have to ask — why do we single out one day to focus on such a vitally important issue? How can we keep the dialogue going every single day of the year?

It’s an issue that’s very important to me personally. My wife Lisa and I have always worked hard together to foster the ideal of gender equality in our two boys. If the next generation is going to carry on the cause, they need to see it in action with the people they most look up to. You have to walk the talk both in the boardroom and in the living room.

Corporate executives can take that leadership and steer their organizations in the right direction. But it’s not just up to CEOs — everyone in the organization, regardless of gender, has a role to play in advancing gender parity.

I’d like to share three key measures that I believe companies can take now to keep the momentum of International Women’s Day going year round:

  1. Be a sponsor and encourage more leaders — women and men — to do the same

    Sponsors can help unlock opportunities for up-and-coming women leaders to valuable assignments and connections, and make a difference by supporting and believing in them. Sponsors can help by ensuring potential hiring managers are better informed of high-achieving women on the team.

  2. Create an inclusive culture

    “Culture” is the key word here. Inclusiveness can’t just be an initiative — it has to be truly rooted in the way people think about their work and the organization. When it comes to flexibility, for example, it’s about more than simply saying it’s available; it’s about encouraging your employees to actually use that flexibility. Make sure there’s no stigma for anyone who wants to take advantage of these benefits, and no expectation that it should only be women who should do so. After all, as EY’s Global Chairman and CEO Mark Weinberger said at the White House Summit on Working Families, women don’t want to be singled out, and men don’t want to be left out.

  3. Look at every level of the organization

    It’s important to support and promote women into top leadership, but it’s just as critical to look at this issue at all levels of the organization. If women don’t get the right opportunities and support earlier on in their careers, their chances of making it into the top roles are even lower. So build a real culture of support at all levels; it will pay off throughout the organization.

I know there are many forward-looking organizations like ours that have programs in place to address the issue of gender balance in the workforce.

At EY, we have a robust Professional Women’s Network; in 2016, 45% of all promotes to the partnership were women; and 36% of our market segments and service lines are led by women partners.

The EY Women. Fast forward initiative is designed to help accelerate the advancement of gender parity; and the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women program identifies a select group of strong women entrepreneurs in Canada and the US whose businesses show real potential to scale up — and then helps them make it happen.

Of course, we still have work to do at EY to achieve our goals of gender parity, but we’re committed to staying on track. I urge every business leader to put gender on your agenda. Keep the dialogue flowing and build on the momentum of International Women’s Day tomorrow and every day.

How are you being bold for change throughout the entire year? Share your ideas below.