Catalyst honours champions of women in business

Leaders at RBC, KMPG and Desjardins awarded for efforts
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/08/2011

With two daughters in their early 20s, Jennifer Tory likes to think they won’t have to worry about a lack of women in senior roles, partly because of her career success — she’s been regional president of Greater Toronto for RBC for the past five years — but she knows there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“We’ve been championing it for a long time and it’s amazing we haven’t made more progress,” she said.

Even at RBC, where there is a real focus on the issue, there can be years where there is little change, she said. “It’s going to require us to have continued focus or it’ll backslide — the demographics will take care of that.”

Tory has been instrumental in the advancement of women and other diverse groups at RBC as a member of its Diversity Leadership Council. She has restructured regional market leadership roles to create development opportunities and built a pipeline of representative leaders by selecting five junior, diverse employees to develop and mentor each year.

“We have a plan but we revisit it regularly so it’s not just an add-on to our agenda, it’s actually part of how we do business,” said Tory, who also introduced strategic learning opportunities by supporting participation on external boards, committees and special programs for women and minorities, and by exposing talent to varied work experiences.

Tory’s passion and dedication to the cause were recognized recently by Catalyst Canada, which honoured three individuals for their championship of women’s advancement in Canadian business. Also recognized were Michael Bach, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at KPMG, and Monique Leroux, president and CEO of Desjardins Group.

“When we look at their individual records, we see three leaders who have really put their reputation, their influence, their credibility on the line in their organizations to help make a difference in the careers of women they work with,” said Deborah Gillis, senior vice-president of membership and global operations at Catalyst in Toronto. “They’ve done some really creative things organizationally in terms of programs that they’ve put in place, to ensure women in their organizations are given a real opportunity to take on leadership roles.”

KPMG sees progress in numbers

In 2007, KPMG took a look at thenumbers around women’s advancement into its equity partnership over a 10-year period.

“Quite frankly, they were at a glacier pace,” said Michael Bach, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at KPMG in Toronto. The numbers had moved about three per cent and were only at about 10 per cent to begin with.

By setting targets for women becoming partners at the firm, the rate has now reached 18 per cent and the proportion of women and visible minorities in new partner classes at KPMG has gone from 40 per cent in 2009 to 51 per cent in 2010.

“We obviously still have work to do but, since 2007, we have moved the dial and it’s because we’ve consciously thought about it,” said Bach. “This isn’t to say we’ve promoted anyone into the partnerships because of their gender or ethnicity, that’s far from it. It’s to say we’re looking at every single individual who we believe has potential and having open, honest conversations, giving them the tools they need to succeed and helping them to achieve that goal.

“If you don’t think about it, if you don’t have that kind of conscious approach, you tend to fall into your old patterns of, ‘Oh, I’m going to put my golfing buddy on the team.’ We’re a tribal people — we end up going towards that we’re most comfortable around, the least challenging for us.”

In looking at any number of studies, it’s been proven diversity within any team, whether it’s gender, ethnicity or thought, is much more beneficial to work than a homogenous team, said Bach.

“The reality is that the issue’s just not going to go away and it’s not going to solve itself and I think we’re kidding ourselves if we continue to have that attitude of, ‘Oh, you know, we just have to wait until the next generation.’ Well, yeah, we thought that about two generations ago and we’re still where we are.”

Leroux focuses on the pipeline

As the first woman elected chair of the board, president and CEO of Desjardins Group and the first woman to lead a top-10 financial institution in Canada, Leroux has taken steps to increase diversity at Canada’s largest financial co-operative group. She implemented an organizational restructuring, establishing 10 multidisciplinary task forces with equal numbers of men and women on each who came up with proposals around strategic projects.

“It was fantastic and from there, in terms of succession planning, we were able to identify interesting talent, people who were not so well-known by the organization, who were able to show they were able to contribute,” she said.

And when it was time to do a reorganization, Desjardins possessed improved knowledge of its talent base and was able to promote some of the women who were not in the succession funnel, said Leroux.

While focused on creating fair and transparent talent management processes, Leroux is also a mentor and sponsor to women, speaks regularly to women’s networks at Desjardins and has established several programs to build a strong pipeline of women in banking.

“One of the things that is very important in my approach and in our approach is to make sure we can identify diversity. It’s very important in each line of business, each major function, that we can see, ‘Do we have the right talent pool, do we have young people, middle-aged people, women, men, people from cultural communities?’ and we can see where we have gaps,” she said. “When we know there are gaps, we can, of course, start to work on those.”

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