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Work Your Way: Putting employees' needs first.

A woman is sitting at a computer in her workspace with a slight smile on her face and an earbud in one of her ears.

It has been called “The Great Resignation.” 

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to reflect and reevaluate their priorities; especially when it comes to their careers and what they want to accomplish. In Canada, an RBC Economics study found almost 100,000 women had exited the labour market, one year after the pandemic began1. That figure was ten times higher than their male counterparts.  

While recent Labour Force Surveys show the Canadian economy has reclaimed all the jobs lost due to the pandemic2, some labour market experts point out, for women, much of the gains have come in the accommodation and food service sectors. The quality of the jobs many women are working has come into question.3  

It’s hard to imagine a thriving Canadian economy with such a growing disparity in talent and equality. Widespread job creation and sustained economic growth in Canada will require the full participation of women in high growth, high paying sectors.  

But how can we create a supportive environment that removes barriers and ensures women, and all employees, have the support they need to flourish at work and at home? 

At 3M, we have listened closely to our employees, and have evolved how we work to avoid experiencing our own “Great Resignation.”  

Here are two actions we can take to help create a more equitable workplace for all: 

Understanding your workforce, and putting their needs first 

We’ve all felt burnout and fatigue through the seemingly endless waves of the pandemic. These are heavy times, but it’s important we don’t carry this weight alone. 

We need to be open and candid with what we’re experiencing, to let others know they are not alone in these challenges.  

At 3M, our Women’s Leadership Forum employee resource network has been instrumental in creating safe spaces for both women and men to share their experiences of adapting to working from home.  

“Through COVID-19 and working remotely, my family responsibilities have been on full display to my colleagues, literally in the background of video meetings! As a working mom, I’ve typically been more private with my work-life demands. But over the last two years, the forced acknowledgement of this shared reality amongst 3Mers has in some way been freeing and helped me be more authentic and accepting.”  

– Maria Phillips, Portfolio Marketer, Consumer Business Group, 3M 

There are so many factors our people are juggling every day. This is especially true for women who, due to societal expectations, often take on much of the household and care-taking responsibilities. Add in the stressors of ever-changing pandemic restrictions and school closures, parents have been walking a tightrope for two years.  

What do our people need the most to find some semblance of balance? Simplicity and autonomy. 

To help meet the unique, individual needs of our people, 3M launched Work Your Way. This new trust-based working model enables employees to establish a customized work routine – whether that is remote, onsite or hybrid that balances your personal needs with the requirements of your role and team. 

Work Your Way has been extremely well received, but our implementation is only beginning.  

We’re striving to find the right balance between individual needs, keeping our teams connected through remote and hybrid work, and discovering new and creative ways to preserve the collaborative, innovative spark 3M has been known for. 

By creating a supportive environment where employees are heard and have flexibility to work their way, we have not experienced a significant number or gender disparity in resignations over the last two years. Our employees have told us they feel supported. 

But we know we’re on a continuous journey of adapting to the pandemic, new technological trends and meeting our people where they are on any given day.  

Uplifting and empowering women 

Along with listening, understanding, and embracing flexibility, we need to uplift women and be champions for equality.  

Sometimes, we need a spark to realize the potential we have. 

Early in my career, I was empowered by a former Managing Director of 3M Canada. He had seen some of my work from afar and while he didn’t really know who I was, he reached out to meet with me (which was a surprise!) and gave me an opportunity as a marketer to work on some larger business projects for 3M Canada.  

The opportunity to take on higher-profile work helped me push my boundaries while making new connections with more senior people within 3M globally. This action helped to propel my career.  

Fast forward 20 years and I am modelling this behaviour as a leader to help uplift others to step into their potential. I spend time connecting with and mentoring other women, challenging them to think differently about their careers, as they won’t always follow a linear path.  

I champion other women on my team by recommending their skill set for larger projects, making sure they have a seat at the table, and calling on their perspectives when I know they have key insights to share. 

I implore all role models to step into the role of a champion and help women advance in their careers. 

Let’s work together to create gender equality 

In decades past, it was difficult for women to advance their careers. Today, the pandemic has turned back the clock and proven again that women face the same expectations of decades past. We must do better for women in today’s workforce, and for future generations. 

As Canada’s labour market moves back towards full employment, and job openings go unfilled, the glass ceiling that prevents women from reaching their potential also places a ceiling on Canada’s economic potential. 

As co-chair of the Canadian Chamber’s Council for Women’s Advocacy (CWA), I have advocated for advancements like affordable childcare, funding for upskilling and re-skilling for women, and programs that help open doors for women to male-dominated fields, including skilled trades and STEM roles.  

These are all critical issues that need to be addressed if Canada is to achieve gender parity and improve our competitiveness on the world stage.  



  1. RBC Economics: COVID further clouded the outlook for Canadian women at risk for disruption.
  2.  Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, November 2021 
  3. CBC News: Is the ‘she-cession’ over? Statistics point to recovery, experts aren’t so sure 

About the Author

[enBio=Penny has more than 20 years of global brand and marketing experience, including Global Marketing Director of 3M’s Safety and Industrial Business Group, its largest business based at 3M global headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota. Penny also led 3M’s 2015 global rebrand: “Science. Applied to Life.™” She started her career at 3M Canada in 2000 and in January 2020 moved back to Canada to take on the role of President. ],[enJob=President, 3M Canada],[frBio=Penny possède plus de 20 ans d’expérience en marque et en marketing à l’échelle mondiale, y compris en tant que directrice du marketing mondial au sein du Secteur sécurité et industriel de 3M, soit le plus important secteur de l’entreprise basé à son siège social mondial de St. Paul, au Minnesota. Penny a également dirigé le changement de la marque 3M à l’échelle mondiale en 2015 : « Science. Au service de la Vie.MC ». Elle a débuté sa carrière au sein de 3M Canada en 2000, puis elle est retournée au Canada en janvier 2020 pour occuper le poste de présidente. ],[frJob=Présidente, 3M Canada]

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