We can do better than 18 per cent (Editor’s notes)

Low number of women in senior roles can be helped by mentors
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/08/2011

Eighteen per cent. That’s a low number, by any standard. Even in baseball, where the best players are lucky to get a hit one-third of the time, batting .180 would quickly earn a spot on the bench, a one-way ticket to the minor leagues and likely mark the end of a career.

Yet 18 — actually, 17.7 to be precise — is the percentage of senior positions at Canadian companies held by women, according to Catalyst Canada. That figure has barely nudged in the last decade, rising just four percentage points between 2002 and 2010.

So why is Canadian business batting so poorly when it comes to promoting women to senior ranks? A lack of awareness shouldn’t be an issue. Catalyst has well-quoted research showing a strong link between return on equity, sales and invested capital — simply put, companies with more women in senior roles significantly outperform those that don’t. And Catalyst is hardly alone on that front. Women Matter, a report by McKinsey & Company, found companies with a lot of women in senior ranks perform better.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the 2011 Catalyst Canada Honours: Celebrating Champions of Women in Business event in Toronto. The room was packed with a who’s who of corporate Canada, including people such as Scotiabank president Rick Waugh and BMO Financial Group president Bill Downe.

But it wasn’t just the banks showing up in force. More than 60 CEOs could be counted among the 700 or so dinner guests. Catalyst Canada’s advisory board includes CEOs from companies such as McDonald’s, Bell Canada, Xerox and Pepsi. While waiting to check in, I was standing behind John Manley, a former federal cabinet minister and current president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives — that gives you an idea of the crowd taking an interest.

They heard powerful stories from this year’s three award winners — Monique Leroux (Company/Firm Leader); Jennifer Tory (Business Leader); and Michael Bach (HR/Diversity Leader). You can read their stories in Sarah Dobson’s article (“Catalyst honours champions of women in business.”).

HR professionals should be proud: Bach represented you very well at the event.

“As I stand before this room, made up of some of the most powerful individuals to hold office in corporate Canada, the questions begs: Why haven’t things changed? For my entire lifetime, women have accounted for at least 50 per cent of all undergraduate degrees,” he said in his acceptance speech. “Yet, today, women make up a fraction of the CEOs… As the saying goes, if Lehman Brothers were Lehman Sisters, would we be in this mess?”

Bach said that, as a man — and particularly a Caucasian man — he has privilege.

“Privilege is not something you gain,” he said. “It’s something you are born with. It is something I have chosen to use for good, rather than evil.”

He laid down the gauntlet, challenging everyone in the room — particularly those who share his “privilege” — to do something about the lack of women in senior roles. “What are you going to do tomorrow to be bold?”

Bach’s gauntlet is one every organization should pick up. Not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s the right thing to do for the business. Diversity is paramount throughout every rank of an organization.

So what can business leaders do to be bold? That’s easy — Catalyst has already provided the answers. If you’re in a senior role, carve out some time to mentor and, just as important, sponsor a high-potential female employee. You won’t have to look far — every organization is teeming with them.

Share your knowledge about how you got to where you are today, and talk the person up in meetings, especially when promotions are on the agenda. Use your influence to drive change. Look around your boardroom and, if there is a dearth of women, ask why.

Simply put, challenge the management team to do better.

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