C-suite gender equality makes business sense

If you’re not paying attention to gender diversity in your firm’s C-suite and board of directors, you’re leaving money on the table.

Increasing gender diversity in executive officer positions could add $150 billion to Canada’s GDP by 2026, according to a recent McKinsey report. But, right now, women only occupy 15 per cent of the top jobs at S&P/TSX companies. In the finance industry, no Canadian bank has ever had a female CEO. In accounting, women match men in numbers, but less than 20 per cent become partners in their firms. Women have had equal access to education and entry or mid-level positions for decades. Why aren’t we seeing a dramatic growth in women leaders?

THE MID-CAREER DRIFT

In the finance industry, women tend to hit a glass ceiling at mid-career. Seventy-three per cent of women who leave the financial sector to start families don’t actually stop working. They take jobs at smaller organizations or start their own businesses. It’s not a case of women choosing family or opting out of industry.

External factors, such as unconscious gender bias, play a huge role. Male candidates are more likely to fit preconceptions about the type of person who makes an ideal CEO or director. There’s also a tendency to select people for leadership roles who are similar to each other to create a more cohesive and effective team. This unconscious bias can reduce opportunities for women to move up.

Jennifer Reynolds, an investment banker, experienced this unconscious bias first hand. When she decided to have children, her superiors assumed that she wouldn’t be interested in promotions that demand travel or longer hours. Through Women in Capital Markets, a group that helps women advance to leadership positions, Reynolds found a senior-level mentor with a similar family situation and professional experience, which was helpful and eye-opening.

Being able to visualize paths for advancement, along with some of the unique challenges women face on the corporate ladder, is critical. “I understand how important that is for someone’s career now,” she says. “I wouldn’t have had that advice if I hadn’t gone through the WCM mentorship program.”

Today, Reynolds is the CEO of WCM, where she leads Return to Bay Street for women who want to re-enter the profession after an absence. The Return to Bay Street Award offers mentorship and networking opportunities, skill-building workshops, educational funding and a paid contract position to help women get back into the world of finance.

HOW TO DIVERSIFY YOUR LEADERSHIP TEAM

Though training managers to recognize their unconscious biases is a good first step, it’s not enough on its own. Setting hiring targets and holding recruiters accountable to them, is one of the most effective strategies to diversify your team.

For instance, the Royal Bank of Canada aims to fill half of their executive positions with women, and one-fifth with people of colour. In each job competition for an RBC leadership role, at least one leadership candidate must fit one or both of those categories. And, when anyone applies as an internal candidate but does not get the job, regardless of gender or ethnicity, they are offered training and coaching to facilitate success the next time around.

Women also need access to opportunities that will help them develop relationships with influential leaders who can show them the ropes, assign tasks that will add to their skill set and recommend them for promotions.

THE BENEFITS OF WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP ROLES

Fostering a business environment that welcomes women in positions of power isn’t just the right thing to do – it makes solid business sense, too. Companies with more women and visible minorities outperform their mono-cultural competitors by as much as 35 per cent. That’s because gender and ethnic diversity fosters the key elements for business success – being able to attract and retain top talent, improve customer orientation and employee satisfaction, and create competitive advantage.

Learn more about the benefits of gender equality in boardrooms and C-suites, along with how you can start implementing changes in your organization, at this upcoming professional development event:

AICPA Women’s Global Leadership Summit
November 8-10, 2017 | CPD: 20 hours
Chicago, IL or attend virtually