Look out! Momentum for gender equality is building

International Women’s Day marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. CPA Canada’s Women’s Leadership Council celebrates the day and weighs in on the work that’s still needed.

Achieving gender parity has proven to be a difficult and complex issue. For the first time in years, Robin Taub, CPA, CA, feels like things are changing.

“We’ve already started to see momentum build around gender equality,” Taub says. “For example, the Sony hack which revealed pay gaps between male and female actors working together on the same movie brought international attention to the issue, as did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gender-balanced cabinet. I feel like people are really starting to talk about the issue and we’re finally going to see some tangible progress toward gender parity.”

Eliminating the wage gap

International Women’s Day on March 8 marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. A year later, the forum revised its prediction and suggested the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.

While the thought of taking 117 years to achieve gender parity is discouraging, Taub says we need to celebrate the accomplishments of women. This year, she will use March 8 to recognize achievements a little closer to home.

Taub is the current chair of CPA Canada’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC). The WLC acts as a catalyst for change and promotes a work environment within the accounting profession that provides for the retention, promotion and advancement of women to positions of leadership, without bias, based on gender.

The WLC's initiatives include:

  • the creation of two toolkits: a career navigation toolkit to help women advance in the profession and a female talent management toolkit for organizations
  • free webinars that address issues around career navigation and women’s leadership
  • conference participation: serving on the planning committee and acting as speakers, panellists, and moderators for both the annual American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ (AICPA’s) Women’s Global Leadership Summit and CPA Bermuda’s Women’s Leadership Conference
  • profiles on women who have advanced to leadership positions
  • review and commentary to CPA Canada’s 2015 Member Compensation Study

This past fall, the WLC participated in CPA Bermuda’s first annual Women’s Leadership Conference. Organizers of the one-day conference were delighted by the unexpected 300 attendees, both men and women, who registered to learn more about the challenges women face in the workplace, career development strategies, networking opportunities and personal development.

“There’s a generation of women out there who work hard but are not experiencing the same opportunities as men,” says Annarita Marion, JP, CPA, CA, president and CEO, CPA Bermuda. “It’s important to not only educate women, but men as well so that they can also understand that these issues really exist. We don’t want our daughters or our granddaughters to experience the same limitations that the majority of women today are experiencing.”

Annarita, who’s also a member of the WLC, says attendees were both surprised and comforted to learn that Bermuda is not facing these issues alone.

Empowering women

Mary Bennett knows the similarities that are happening in different parts of the world all too well. As a WLC member, the author of two CPA Canada toolkits for women and the former chair of the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee, she concentrates her consultancy on gender and broad diversity issues. She joined the WLC because of her interest in the similarities between Canada and the United States, and of her passion for diversity and inclusion.

“Men will apply for a job or opportunity when they have 60% of the qualifications, women will apply when they feel they have 100% of the qualifications,” she says. “Confidence manifests itself differently in men and women; women are measured using a faulty scale, because it is based on masculine behaviours.”

Bennett adds that the challenge is beyond career-life issues. Many of challenges faced by women are related to organizational culture, including lack of sponsorship, lack of access to influential leadership and lack of equitable opportunities to develop their potential.

Ruth McHugh, MBA, FCPA, FCMA, ICD.D, is one of the newest members of the WLC. She joined the WLC as a way to formally champion diversity and inclusion.

“I think the benefit of gender diversity is well articulated in a favourite article, by Deloitte, which sets out the business case for inclusion,” she says. “Women think differently than men do and diverse perspectives and experience are critical to solving complex problems and innovating in the midst of change. The more diverse a team, the more likely it will be to make correct predictions in the face of uncertainty.”

McHugh is the chief operating officer with the Office of the Auditor General of Alberta, where they define individual success as professional growth together with a fulfilling personal life.

“Research tells us that women still tend to take on the lion’s share of home and family care,” McHugh says. “Both women and men have unceasing demands on their attention. It is vital to create personal boundaries and a cadence of self-care. Everyone has a unique energy level and personal definition of what constitutes rest and rejuvenation. We operate at peak performance when refreshed — thus we have a responsibility to ourselves, our families and our employers to find ways to enhance work-life quality. When we establish our personal zone of well-being, everyone wins.”