The Most Important Tool to Tackle Gender Inequality

Despite progress, myths about gender equality persist because the public and policymakers aren't getting enough evidence, says one expert.

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Can innovation change the conversation on gender equality?

Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Gender and the Economy — Rotman believe that it can. Director Sarah Kaplan works to dispel myths and provide new angles to tackle gaps in gender equality.

“The challenge that we have in society is that despite all of the efforts that have been made, there’s still a gender wage gap,” says Kaplan.

“There’s still a career gap where women are not reaching into the upper echelons of the corporate world nor the policy world. We have only between 2 and 6 percent of all the venture capital money going to women-led businesses.”

These gaps persist despite decades of work since the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s and 80s, and there is plenty of evidence to back it up. The data could help direct conversations that translate into policy and practice.

“We’re trying to really uncover the underlying dynamics so that we can come up with policy and practice solutions that are smarter and that could actually close the gender wage gap,” adds Kaplan.

Beyond policy, there are opportunities to shift the conversation in the broader community.

“People get bombarded every day with things to do with gender equality in the media, but they don’t fully understand what’s going on,” says research associate Carmina Ravanera.

“They don’t know what the evidence is out there, and they really don’t know how to approach those sorts of topics.”

Solid evidence would help discredit common gender myths so that people can talk intelligently about the issues. Together with improved policies and practices, that could equal real change.

“I want to be able to know that we’ve made enough progress that the work that we’re doing here at the Institute for Gender and the Economy has actually moved the needle,” says Kaplan.

“Not just this tiny little dial where we’ve gone from 12 percent to 15 percent or something like that, but where we look across the tables where decisions are made — whether it’s corporate boards, policymakers, the Premiers of our provinces — and we see the entire society of Canada represented. That’s when we’re really going to have made progress.”

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Sarah Kaplan is Distinguished Professor, Director, Institute for Gender and the Economy, and Professor of Strategic Management at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. She is a co-author of the bestselling business book, Creative Destruction as well as Survive and Thrive: Winning Against Strategic Threats to Your Business. Her latest book, The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation appeared in 2019.

Her research has covered how organizations participate in and respond to the emergence of new fields and technologies in biotechnology, fiber optics, financial services, nanotechnology and most recently, the field emerging at the nexus of gender and finance. She recently authored “Gender Equality as an Innovation Challenge” (2017) in the Rotman Management Magazine, “The Risky Rhetoric of Female Risk Aversion” (2016) in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Meritocracy: From Myth to Reality” in the Rotman Management Magazine (2015), and “The Rise of Gender Capitalism,” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (2014). Her current work focuses on applying an innovation lens to understanding the challenges for achieving gender equality.

Formerly a professor at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (where she remains a Senior Fellow), and a consultant and innovation specialist for nearly a decade at McKinsey & Company in New York, she completed her doctoral research at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She has a BA with honors in Political Science from UCLA and an MA in International Relations and International Economics from the School for Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

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