Partnering to advance gender equality By Alison Wood and Anna Brabender Committed to fostering inclusivity at Metro Supply Chain and supporting efforts beyond our organization, in 2022, Metro Supply Chain became a corporate partner of the Canadian Women’s Foundation – a national leader in the movement for gender equality in Canada. The Foundation supports women, girls and gender-diverse people to move out of violence, out of poverty and into confidence and leadership. As part of our partnership, we were invited to participate in the Foundation’s Insight Forums, which help the organization understand what’s on the minds of diverse people in Canada when it comes to gender equality. These insights, in turn, help the Foundation shape its public awareness campaigns, policy work and national polling. For Metro Supply Chain, we welcomed the chance to engage our team and create opportunities for them to form connections around shared concerns in a safe, confidential setting. Knowing our people could speak openly and honestly about subjects that really mattered to them within the group dynamic was important to us. So was recognizing that our organization would be contributing to a wider body of research supporting women, girls and gender-diverse people. Due to the nature of the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s donor base, many employees who participate in Insight Forums work in administrative, retail, business service and office jobs. Metro Supply Chain is different. Our fulfillment operations make up a significant percentage of our 6,000-strong workforce across North America and Europe, and it’s no secret that warehousing has traditionally been dominated by men. The Foundation agreed that women and gender-diverse people working in our sites might offer a different and valuable perspective to the ongoing gender equality conversation. So, between October 2022 and January 2023, our Human Resources team invited women and gender-diverse people employed in our Canadian operations to participate in two virtual forums facilitated by experts from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. In total, 25 women and gender-diverse people from a variety of roles and levels, including forklift operators, operations coordinators, managers and supervisors who were both new to the company and long-standing employees, participated. “We were pleased to see the diversity of employees who came to Insight Forums from Metro Supply Chain,” said Suzanne Duncan, Vice President of Philanthropy at the Canadian Women’s Foundation. “There were newcomers to Canada, a range of ages and gender identities, and many points of view. This gave us great insight into topics that we don’t often get to talk about in an Insight Forum. Next time it would be great to see men join, too, because these issues impact us all.” Key themes Although it is imperative for the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Metro Supply Chain to treat the outcome of these forums with the respect and confidentiality they deserve (no one at Metro Supply Chain was provided with the details of the conversations), a few important central themes emerged that we collectively felt could help not only our team but any other organization supporting gender equality. Here are the issues that bubbled to the surface: Safety and mental health According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, safety and mental health often come up in their discussions, and our sessions were no different. When asked about “the one thing they were worried about today as it relates to women, girls and gender diverse people,” participants from Metro Supply Chain said safety in the community (for all women but particularly for young women and girls) was concerning. Being able to walk alone and be safe was brought up as something that would positively impact their daily life in a gender-equitable society. The mental health of women and children, particularly as people spend more time online, was also raised as a worry. “Sometimes, we forget that economies and workplaces are made of people,” explained Duncan. “People need to be safe and supported at work and in their homes and communities. Healthy workers mean healthy workplaces.” The safety of our team when they are working in one of our 98 sites in North America and Europe is paramount to our company, and strict protocols are embedded into our daily operations and continually monitored and measured to maintain a high safety record. “Our strong culture, training programs and policies and procedures such as our open-door policy support not just the physical safety of our team but also their emotional and mental wellness,” explained Leona McLinden, Director of Human Resources at Metro Supply Chain, who worked with the Canadian Women’s Foundation to engage participants in the forums. Stereotypes Universally, stereotyping is also a topic regularly raised in the Foundation’s Insights Forums, regardless of where people work. During the forums, Metro Supply Chain participants spoke about how traditional gender role stereotypes can impact women in the workplace and the community. Interestingly, they also spoke about seeing themselves as trailblazers in the supply chain, given the predominance of men working in warehousing logistics. They saw it as their role to carve out more space for a greater number of women to succeed in their careers. Our participants liked being able to share their experiences working in environments that are more physical and less back office. Moving forward As part of our ongoing inclusivity efforts inside and outside our organization, Metro Supply Chain is pleased to continue supporting the Canadian Women’s Foundation as a Corporate Partner. These Insight Forums were a valuable experience for our team and women and gender-diverse people everywhere, and we look forward to working with the Foundation on more initiatives in 2023/2024.