HR professionals among ranks of ‘powerful’ women

Awards honour senior-level women, provide role models
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/25/2011

Brenda Brown, who has a master’s degree in finance, began her career as a financial analyst at Bell Canada. After a few years, the benefits department was looking for someone with a financial background to redesign the benefits plans.

“Having a financial background actually was a benefit in terms of knowing how a support department costs a company and how you can maximize that value,” she said.

Brown eventually moved into HR field services in support of the telephone technicians, moving up the HR ladder over the years.

“The thing that appealed to me (about HR) was being able to help somebody through a challenge or a problem or an issue, whether it was a big one or a small one. In HR, you have that opportunity to help somebody get through whatever issue or challenge they’re facing and make it a better place for them to work,” she said.

In 2002, Brown landed the role of senior vice-president of human resources at Compass Group Canada. When she started, the food service and support services company had just five HR professionals across the country.

With the support of the CEO, Brown has hired various subject matter experts, in areas such as recruiting, compensation, training and labour relations.

With her team of about 35 HR professionals, Brown has implemented new compensation and onboarding programs and brought recruiting in-house. As a result of those efforts and more, the company was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers by Mediacorp Canada for the past three years.

All of Brown’s accomplishments at Compass led to her being named to Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 list in 2010 by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN), which provides networking, mentoring and professional development to women in Canada and Ireland.

Other HR professionals on the 2010 Top 100 list include Zabeen Hirji, chief HR officer at RBC in Toronto, and Lynn Jeanniot, senior vice-president of human resources and corporate affairs at National Bank Financial Group in Montreal.

HR is becoming an increasingly powerful role in organizations, said Pamela Jeffrey, founder of WXN and the Top 100 awards.

“HR has a critical role to play in recruiting and retaining those individuals who make a company successful,” she said.

Individually, the list recognizes women’s power in several ways, said Jeffrey. This includes her ability to create change in an organization, be a visionary and help her team members succeed in their roles.

And most of the women on the list will say they were able to achieve all of that because of the support they received through their career, said Jeffrey.

“Mentoring has been very integral to the success of many of our Top 100 award winners,” said Jeffrey.

Brown’s first manager at Bell helped her find her way in the organization and got her started on the right track, she said.

“I found that it was so valuable just to have someone to… bounce ideas off of, to get their opinion, just to give you a different perspective on what it was you were facing.”

And Brown has returned the favour, both as a formal and informal mentor to many women over the years, being involved in Compass’ women’s affinity group and participating in the WXNWisdom Top 100 mentoring program this year.

Since 2007, WXN’s program has matched protegés with mentors from the Top 100 list.

“Mentoring is a great way to build your skills and set your career path and have input about your professional goals,” said Alice Longhurst, director of mentorship programs at WXN.

Over nine months, protegés meet with their mentor for four one-hour sessions, either in person or over the phone, and attend 20 hours of professional development in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

The classroom material is provided by Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., and Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

Over the past three years, 383 protegés and 235 different Top 100 mentors have participated in the program, said Longhurst. The protegés come from across Canada and other countries. This year, WXN hopes to have about 130 protegés in the program, she said.

All of the 520 women who have been named to the Top 100 list since its inception are invited to be a mentor, said Longhurst.

“Many of them are very supportive of the program and many of them have been taking on a protegé every year since the program started,” she said.

Being matched with a senior-level mentor affects a person’s salary and likelihood of being promoted, according to research from Catalyst, a New York-based non-profit organization that advocates greater opportunities for women. But men tend to see greater benefits.

Senior-level mentors — those in a position to provide sponsorship — helped women advance further and earn more than those with less senior mentors, but men with senior-level mentors still had greater salary increases than women with senior-level mentors, found the 2010 Catalyst Census of Fortune 500 companies

Not only do the protegés benefit from their mentors, they also benefit from networking with each other, said Longhurst.

“They meet beyond the program structure to continue to support and communicate with each other,” she said.

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