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A fight for power is occurring between Suits and Skirts, according to Teresa Freeborn, who started her career at the Tsawwassen, B.C., branch of the Delta Credit Union, later landed an executive post at Central One Credit Union, and was recruited to work in the United States, where she retired in 2021 as president of Kinecta Credit Union.

“We’ve spent decades fighting for equality in the workplace, and the needle hasn’t moved in any significant way. We tried playing nice and that didn’t work; now we’re not going to be so nice anymore. We are demanding what we are due and parity is long overdue,” the Vancouver native writes in the book Suits and Skirts: Game on! The battle for corporate power.

She says research shows having women in the C-suites and boardrooms increases profit. Customers also want corporations to be on the right side of issues such as gender equality. Women work hard and many have the skills for executive positions. But they are told to be satisfied with middle- and upper-middle-management positions. At best, they are treated as followers. At worse, they are treated as a problem.

“We are not the problem. Guys, you are the problem,” she declares.

She stresses that doesn’t mean all men. But many Suits are resistant. Even if excluding women is not a strategy or a deliberate plan, it is a reality, and too few men are actually doing anything to change the situation. And if you aren’t helping women move up in your organization, she insists you are part of the problem.

She believes the major roadblock to women’s success at work is men’s lack of advocacy for them. And that’s not just in the workplace but also on the home front, where too many women are primarily burdened with issues including child and elder care – indeed, couple care as well. “Women should not be penalized for doing what needs to be done in support of our families,” Ms. Freeborn says.

Because many male employers believe women must make a choice between family and career, too many women end up bailing out of the fast track and taking lateral promotions, shifting to roles that require less travel, or working part-time. She says that has been perverted into the notion women don’t want to work, or their careers are less important, or the maternal instinct dominates their lives.

Too many men see no problem with this – viewing it as the way of the world. “Women shouldering the primary burden of child care does not negatively impact anyone but themselves. It does not slow the progress of men on the payroll. In fact, it enables it. Less competition. How handy,” Ms. Freeborn says.

She insists it’s not the children holding women back but many fathers, with their unwillingness to share child care responsibilities equally. She points to a recent survey that two-thirds of men do not expect to equally share child-rearing and home-making responsibilities. “What kind of nonsense is that? I mean, it took two to tango to make the child – it should take two to raise the child – equally,” she says.

She argues men should want the same things women have been advocating for – more family time, less travel and more skill development. Many men are struggling with the same push-and-pull stresses women face, but are perhaps too afraid to ask for help. Senior executives moan about their talent recruitment concerns, but too often fail to change the situation for women, comfortably hiring candidates who look just like them, she says, while bragging how inclusive their recruitment practices are.

“I can tell you from personal experience, no gender equity issue will ever be resolved without a bold (and I mean shout it from the rooftops) top-down initiative supported directly by the CEO and the board,” Ms. Freeborn writes.

Now board chair of Smash+Tess, a fashion brand she co-founded with her daughter in 2014, she implores other senior executives to be a hero, not a villain. Commit to gender diversity, if not parity, for 12 months. “Watch how much better your business starts to become. Watch how much happier and more productive your employees are. Watch as your bottom line begins to increase. Only then will you truly get it,” she writes.

More widely, she suggests men turn to the women on their team and ask what frustrates them about your organization and what progress would look like to them? What do they need? What is lacking? Perhaps it’s a champion or a sponsor or a formal mentorship program – or a clear path to promotion.

“Be assured, they will have recommendations and opinions. What they most frequently do not have is access to someone with power willing to listen and help introduce change. When, if ever, was the last time you actually reached out to the women in your organization to ask them that simple question?” she asks.

Suits versus skirts. That seems harsh and counterproductive at a time when we seek workplace harmony and want to calm the gender wars. The language around gender equality is often timid and nuanced. But she has been watching over the years in Canada and the United States as she climbed the ranks and is anything but timid. Her bottom line: “Dude, you are stepping on my skirt.”


  • The Tallest Poppy study, looking at how people are attacked for success, found 83 per cent of the Canadian women surveyed felt their achievements were undermined by others at work. Men and women were equally to blame. Nearly 44 per cent said friends had cut them down.
  • Leadership guru Tom Peters says we need to replace the notion of “best companies to work for” with “healthiest companies to work for.” They foster radical employee growth and exceptional engagement within their communities; offer products and services aimed at making the world a bit better; and are demonstrable paragons of integrity.
  • Good thinking is expensive but bad thinking costs a fortune, notes Farnam Street blogger Shane Parrish. One way to force yourself to think is to write because good writing requires good thinking.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.