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Event summary produced by The Globe and Mail Events team. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business Magazine celebrated the release of its inaugural Women Lead Here list with a virtual event on September 18, featuring several guest speakers and representatives from the companies appearing on the 2020 WLH list.

The Women Lead Here (WLH) program has been in the works for over a year, and was devised as a method of tracking gender equity among corporate Canada’s most successful companies. To get a sense of how many women are being given the chance to lead the country’s largest, publicly-traded organizations, the Report on Business Magazine team combed through the corporate organizational charts of hundreds of companies across Canada. The goal will be to track how the numbers change in the coming years, and create a sense of accountability for corporate Canada in achieving gender equity.

The creation of the Women Lead Here list was developed with three goals in mind:

  • Creating a benchmark for Canada’s largest companies to determine how well they are performing in terms of gender parity in their executive ranks;
  • Uncovering stories of organizations that have made verifiable internal progress in creating gender parity within their leadership positions;
  • Inspiring more businesses to follow the lead of the companies on the WLH list.

Below, you will find a few key takeaways from the event, but we highly recommend viewing the three recordings of the event posted throughout this article - the clips are filled with incredible insights from our Women Lead Here honorees and guest speakers.

1. There is still much work to be done in putting women in positions of corporate power

As noted above, the development of the Women Lead Here program and the publication of the inaugural list included a comprehensive research and analysis project conducted by Report on Business Magazine’s editorial team. After analyzing the top three tiers of management of 500 of the largest companies in Canada (based on an ROB Magazine list of the country’s Top 1000 companies, which you can find here), the ROBM team found that just 28 of 509 companies analyzed for the project had a female-identifying chief executive officer. Across the board, just 18 per cent of the senior executive positions of these 509 companies were occupied by women, and a staggering 151 companies had no women occupying their senior executive roles.

The numbers paint a picture of corporate Canada as still being predominantly male-led in 2020, with a significantly lower level of influence ascribed to female executives. And since gender parity and diversity have been positively linked to company performance, it may also mean that Canadian companies aren’t necessarily achieving their best results by excluding women from positions of power. “There’s real value in seeking a diverse point of view,” said panelist Eira Thomas, CEO of Lucara Diamond Corporation (a 2020 Women Lead Here honoree company). “I’ve been able to attract some top talent, and a lot of that top talent is women, because we’ve tried to create and foster an environment which is welcoming and is regarded as a good place to work because your viewpoint is respected,” she said.

2. COVID-19 has put us at risk of a “she-cession," and companies must step up to support women

As evidenced by many Globe and Mail headlines in recent months, COVID-19 has placed an enormous amount of pressure on parents who have been pulling a double shift as caretakers and employees while working from home. Unfortunately, this has also meant that certain gender norms have resurfaced, with many women stepping back from their careers in order to take care of children who were no longer attending school in-person for several months during the pandemic.

“It’s really about having flexibility for your colleagues,” said panelist Ida Liu, who is head of Citi Private Bank North America. “For many of us, we’ve had to juggle being a virtual educator and caregiver on top of our day-to-day jobs. We’ve been very conscious about this, allowing flexibility for our team, making sure that we’re supporting them with extra services like daycare.”

“We gave as many resources as possible to our employees, that they felt like there was support and that we would hear their voices,” added panelist Jane Fedoretz, Chief Transformation and Talent Officer for TransAlta. “A lot of [our] leadership had taken steps to be together and connect with their team remotely. I think that notion of inclusion is very important for women.”

3. Approaches to gender parity in the workplace must also be intersectional

Guest speaker Hadiya Roderique is known to The Globe and Mail’s audience as the author of her viral 2017 “Black on Bay Street” essay, and her most recent Globe essay on Black motherhood. She joined the WLH event to discuss how companies might update their approaches to work allocation and performance evaluation to better set women up for success, but she also reminded the audience that any efforts to increase gender equity in the workplace must also consider how race and other attributes might impact an individual’s ability to make progress in their career. When asked what she’d recommend Canadian corporations do to increase gender parity and diversity internally, Roderique recommended looking at how performance evaluations are conducted within the company. “I’d like organizations to look at their last five years of performance reviews, and look at the words that are used to describe different groups – men and women, people of colour versus white individuals, and then men of colour, women of colour, white men and white women," she said. In looking at the words used to describe the same behaviour for different groups, organizations may be able to uncover unconscious bias, and work towards correcting these biases in order to increase diversity and gender parity among executive ranks.

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