Women in leadership a ‘business imperative’

Mentorships, transition support will help next generation of female leaders
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/24/2011

Women in Leadership: The business imperative for diversity and inclusion and, in particular, having more women in leadership — as seen at CBC — was discussed at a recent Strategic Capability Network event in Toronto. For more information, visit www.scnetwork.ca.

Women in leadership a ‘business imperative’

Upward progress of women stalled (leadership in action)

When is a woman better than a man? (Strategic capability)

Powerful women ‘arrogant,’ powerful men ‘task-focused’ (organizational effectiveness)

Women in leadership a ‘business imperative’

By Amanda Silliker

In January 2011, Kirstine Stewart was named executive vice-president of CBC’s English services, which has a budget of $785 million covering multiple media platforms across Canada. She had been in the role since August 2010 on an interim basis and, prior to that, was general manager of CBC Television.

Stewart’s rise through the ranks at CBC is something the company strives for through its inclusion and diversity strategy.

“We set workforce goals for the overall representation but also for different roles at various levels in the organization,” said Elizabeth Dalzell, executive director of HR, people and culture at CBC in Toronto. “So it’s not just, ‘Do we have a diverse workforce?’ Yes we do but, ‘Do we have them at every level of the organization?’”

While diversity may be a priority for CBC, women are still not equally represented at the executive level. Slightly less than 18 per cent of senior executives at Financial Post 500 companies in Canada are women and 14 per cent are board directors, according to the March 2011 release of The Catalyst Pyramid: Canadian Women in Business by Catalyst Canada, an organization devoted to expanding opportunities for women and business.

For these numbers to continue increasing, employers need to see diversity as a business issue, said Dalzell.

“The real impetus for us is ensuring our workforce properly reflects the continuously changing Canadian population,” said Dalzell, who spoke at a Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) event in Toronto in April. “Diversity and inclusion, it’s just part of doing business — it’s a business imperative.”

And there is plenty of research to show it pays to have women in senior positions, said Marjory Kerr, consulting services manager at Development Dimensions International in Toronto.

The companies with the highest representation of women in senior management teams achieved a 34-per-cent higher total shareholder return, according to a 2004 Catalyst study of Fortune 500 companies in the United States.

“This matters to businesses — this is better business outcomes,” said Kerr, who presented the research at the SCNetwork event. “Organizations want the best talent at every level and diversity offers better business decisions.”

The European companies with the most gender diversity in top management saw a 10-per-cent higher return on equity and a 48-per-cent higher profit before interest than industry peers, according to a 2007 report by global consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

And women make better business leaders than men in all but two areas of management, including strategic drive, people skills, innovation, risk-taking and values, according to a 2008 survey by Peter Berry Consultancy in Australia.

“Organizations should make an effort to help women develop into leadership roles because it increases the leadership cap right across the organization,” said Kerr. “Why exclude a significant portion of the employee pool on something that is not related to performance, such as gender?”

There are many ways employers can help develop the next generation of female leaders. The first is to provide young women with a mentor, said Alison Konrad, professor of organizational behaviour at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. Mentors coach women throughout their career and provide valuable insights on their personal progress, she said.

Transition support is of particular importance for the next generation of female leaders. When a transition occurs, such as into a higher-level position, women suffer if there are not adequate supports in place, said Kerr.

“We don’t want you to survive, we want you to thrive,” she said. “So ask, ‘How can we make sure when you step into that next level, you are so ready for it, you’re going to do it very well?’”

Employers should also provide meaningful recognition for performance. With downsizing, leanness and increased global competition, there is a lot of pressure for maximizing productivity and the next generation expects to be praised for its hard work, said Konrad, who also spoke at the SCNetwork event.

“Most of us look at a pile of incomplete work at the end of the day and feel inadequate and that feeling is trickling down to our younger people, so there’s a greater need for appreciation and encouragement,” she said.

And, lastly, employers must provide family-friendly HR policies to make it easier for women (who still take on the majority of family care) to have both a career and a life outside of work, said Kerr. These policies will be expected by future generations, so organizations need to take them seriously to retain key talent, she said.

“I can’t emphasize the importance of providing flexibility to the workforce,” said Dalzell of CBC. “We have flexible arrangements and I genuinely believe that has had a huge impact on our ability to attract and retain strong, intelligent women.”

With every new class of university graduates, more and more women are aspiring to leadership, said Konrad. But this aspiration will fall flat unless employers are committed to helping them rise through the ranks of the organization.

“We have a workforce where, whether you’re a man or woman, it doesn’t matter,” said Dalzell. “It just isn’t an issue anymore and I think that’s an environment we would all strive for.” 

Return to top of the page

SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies.

Upward progress of women stalled (leadership in action)

By Helen Bozinovski

Women in leadership — will that ever sound anachronistic or as bizarre as a conference about Chinese, Catholics, Conservatives or Caucasians in leadership? The title suggests the need for special attention on something completely irrelevant to a leader’s job performance: gender. Unfortunately, the statistics illustrate both the need for and the seriousness of such a title.

Women make up only 18 per cent of executives, 14 per cent of board directors and 36.5 per cent of management, according to a recent analysis of Financial Post 500 companies in Canada. While management more closely mirrors the demographics, it’s clear women’s upward progression is stalling.

Not only is the glass ceiling still in place but it’s been supplemented by what Marjory Kerr of Development Dimensions International (DDI) calls a sticky floor. Development programs just aren’t working hard enough for women, with high-potential programs including proportionately more men, men tending to receive more support as they move up (such as coaching, mentoring and training) and women having a harder time accessing developmental opportunities, according to DDI research. Furthermore, global companies looking to gain multinational experience often overlook women whose mobility may be constrained by family obligations.

Rigorous talent management makes a difference. Where HR has effectively implemented good succession planning, criteria-based selection, objective performance management and standardized talent development, women move faster and do better. That’s because in those organizations, promotion decisions are based on capability and performance, rather than being more informally based on a candidate’s visibility or personal network.

Legislation also works. Federally regulated employers governed by the Employment Equity Act have to work hard to set diversity goals and improve upon them. And in those organizations, the diversity gap is significantly narrower. Employment equity obligations have played a part in the progress at CBC, according to Elizabeth Dalzell, executive director of HR, people and culture at the broadcaster. However, success is also thanks to the leadership accountability demonstrated from the top, she says.

The organization monitors succession plans, sets diversity goals and manages representation in leadership and business critical roles. The result? In an organization of 10,000 employees, women represent 45 per cent of the population — at all levels.

In any organization, management makes the hiring and promotion decisions, spots talent, grooms the next generation and models leadership skills. If women aren’t making progress, it’s because there’s an absence of leadership on this issue.

Leadership is key to managing change and creating a sustainable talent culture. It’s up to HR to articulate the need, facilitate executive sponsorship and implement a management engagement plan. Where there’s collective commitment to do the right thing, the selection tools, leadership criteria, developmental support and talent management systems then serve the outcome. The results will speak for themselves.

Helen Bozinovski, a commentator for SCNetwork, is senior vice-president of HR at Aviva Canada in Toronto.

Return to the top of the page

When is a woman better than a man? (Strategic capability)

By Karen Gorsline

As a baby boomer who grew up in the United States, I had the pleasure of meeting women who were pioneers in profiling the abilities and rights of women. I met older women who had been part of the fight to gain the vote and younger women who fought to shake up old paradigms and ways of operating to open the doors to opportunities marked “For men only.”

I met Rear Admiral Grace Hopper who helped create the foundations that made computing what it is today.

All of these women had several things in common — they were fearless, warm and yet still aggressive, inspirational, generous and proud of what they accomplished. They wanted the same rights and opportunities available to men but were also aware of their own strengths — they did not want to be men.

Organizations continue to fail to nurture women because they really want them to be like men. Their answer to gender imbalance is to apply the same processes, tools and criteria and push women through the system. Occasionally, organizations introduce a few tweaks in an attempt to make talent development more women-friendly. But, given the stalled progress of women in leadership positions, clearly this strategy has not been successful in breaking the glass ceiling.

What organizations fail to understand is women, whether by nature or nurture, bring different approaches to leadership. The differences might be as subtle as those between teamwork and collaboration but they are something of value organizations should leverage — one style is not better than another.

A more diverse and robust set of leadership styles should be welcomed as it makes an organization stronger and develops leaders who are proud of who they are and what they contribute.

There is no doubt the workforce is quickly changing. Some of the qualities I saw in the women leaders of the 1960s and 1970s will serve us well in the future. Who wouldn’t want a leader who is fearless in the face of dramatically changing times?

The blurring of traditional workplace distinctions resulting from the introduction of virtual workforces — composed of employees, contractors and robots — will put a premium on leaders who can formulate adaptable, collaborative approaches. So how can organizations afford to squander the knowledge, experience and intelligence of a large proportion of the workforce?

In a time where younger workers are looking for sustainable organizations and meaningful work, inspirational leaders who care about the success and well-being of others and generously share their wisdom will be in demand. Leaders who bring their whole selves, their strengths and vulnerabilities, and who are seen as genuine, will be able to influence and stimulate the accomplishment of goals. Those who rely only on the old command-and-control style will find they have few to lead.

Organizations will be worse off if they do not incorporate more diverse leadership styles. Without falling into stereotypes, women bring something to the table that is different and of value. Organizations that recognize the value of the differences and leverage them will be better prepared for the future.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. She has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at gorslin@pathcom.com.

Return to top of the page

Powerful women ‘arrogant,’ powerful men ‘task-focused’ (organizational effectiveness)

By I
an Hendry

What is your mental model of a highly successful female executive? How does she act? Is it identical to a male counterpart? Does Meryl Streep in her role in the movie The Devil Wears Prada come to mind and could this, subconsciously, be the stereotypical view people have of female CEOs? If so, her performance assessment would include descriptors such as “arrogant,” “egotistical” and “manipulative.”

Conversely, would men with similar traits, riding roughshod over company culture, be characterized as charismatic, task-focused and powerful? Is an autocratic style permissible in men but intolerable in women? Do we have a double standard?

Whatever is happening within organizations, the facts are clear: Female representation on boards and executive or senior management teams is progressing, but it’s slow. Women continue to jump off the career ladder for various reasons and, perhaps, modern-day sexism is really about men grudgingly allowing women more headroom, with old attitudes being pushed underground, given societal correctness or legal obligation.

There is no easy answer but for those practitioners and organizations trying to push the needle forward, here are a few ideas that came from the SCNetwork discussion, courtesy of Development Dimensions International, the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, CBC and Women in Capital Markets: Firstly, there is statistical evidence that senior management teams with a higher level of female representation enjoy a 35-per-cent higher return on investment (ROI). If the case for diversity still must be made, then look for compelling facts that support the case.

Secondly, be explicit about the competencies and behaviours required for leadership advancement. Then, evaluate everyone with the same criteria. If you mandate 360-degree performance reviews, make sure there is a woman doing assessments. If you have promotion committees, make sure you have female representation and there is at least one woman on every slate of candidates for replacement positions. If you hire mature professionals, make sure women take part in the interviewing and selection process. Demonstrate a culture of gender equality and this will help address gender blind spots.

In 2006, there were 1.12 million one-parent families, so be sensitive to various family situations and consider unbundling jobs and assessing, objectively, what work can be done at home and what must be done in the office.

Measure quality, not quantity, and eliminate face time as a measure. Consider job-sharing and cover with women or men, who might also want to work reduced hours.

Increasingly, C-suite leaders require international experience and with more stay-at-home fathers than ever before, do not assume women are not prepared to take overseas assignments.

In addition:

• Consider contracting women for assignments during times in their careers when work-life balance is particularly problematic.

• Ensure you have family-friendly policies — diversity and inclusion are good for business.

•Make senior leaders accountable for identifying high-potential females and overseeing effective mentoring to ensure potential is reached. Goals linked to bonus compensation might also be considered.

Ian Hendry is president of the Strategic Capability Network.

Return to top of the page

Add Comment

  • *
  • *
  • *
  • *