A man in a suit strides through the halls of the Ted Rogers School of Management building. Beads of sweat have formed on his forehead when he briskly re-enters a small conference room where his team of delegates awaits his final opinion of their work.
The team’s task wasn’t easy: they’ve had to find ways a company can redeem itself after being labelled as sexist and unaccommodating to women. It’s a presentation they’ve only had 24 hours to comprise. Minutes remain before they sell their pitch to a panel of distinguished judges. A delegate gulps. Another takes deep, lengthy breaths. Their nerves are high, but so is their passion for gender diversity in the workplace.
“This is nerve-racking, but it’s all very exciting,” said Brian Martins from Team Three.
On Nov. 21, nine teams of students from Ryerson, the University of Toronto, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and York University participated in a strategic case analysis through the Breaking Stereotypes in Business Technology Management (BSBTM) Case Competition. Created by Ryerson student group Women in Technology Management, WITM, the night’s competition addressed the prevalence of gender inequality in the workplace, a complex problem in the world of business.
The teams uncovered these problems within their case study of Clifford Chance, a controversial, global law firm based in London, England. In 2013, the firm faced criticism because their working environment was unsupportive of women. The firm gave gender-specific advice to its employees and was accused of being condescending and sexist. It was a male-dominated workplace with a glass ceiling, as almost half of all associates were women, but only 16.9 per cent were in leadership roles as partners.
“Our job is to find a solution to this problem,” said Waleed Mubashir, a member of Team Nine, the winning team. “We suggested creating additional resources and benefits to make women feel like they can get to those roles. It’s about empowerment, making women feel comfortable through new programs. It’s intimidating when there’s a room full of men, and you’re the female leader. We want to make them feel like it is possible, that they deserve these roles just as much as men do.”
Gender inequality in the workplace isn’t exclusive to law firms. It’s happening everywhere.
“We’re taught in almost all of our business courses that there is a gap for success between men and women, and how the glass ceiling hurts minorities including women,” said Tiffany Chan, the director of marketing at WITM.
In Canada, women earn less than $0.82 to every dollar earned by a man.
In the United States, women earn on average $0.78 to every dollar earned by a man.
In information technology, there’s already a very low female-to-male ratio, Chan said. All of her classes are 80 per cent male or more, meaning it’s easy for women to feel unrepresented.
“It’s hard to find friends that are girls in BITM because it’s so male dominated,” said Reichel Perada, a volunteer at the competition. “In my discussion groups for a couple of my classes, there are only four girls out of 20.”
The same numbers apply to information technology careers. In the United States, only 27 per cent of computer science and math careers are filled by women.
“I was one of two women on the whole fourth floor. That’s [business] IT,” said Ruth Frost, a judge at the competition.
By working collectively with other students from different universities, the competition has garnered recognition for gender diversity in the workplace on a broader level.
“Only 16 per cent of CEOs in America are women,” said Sonali Kumar, a competition participant in Team Six. “Being a part of the competition is empowering because we’re raising awareness about a big issue, even by just talking about it.”
Although the competitors are students now, they’re the future of business, information technology, and beyond. Chan hopes that by establishing the mindset that women are equal and as capable as men in the working sphere, the glass ceiling will break, and gender diversity in the workplace will rise.
Featured image by Evelyn Thompson