This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
When I began my career at B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) 14 years ago and took a seat at the executive table, all of my peers were men. Fast forward to today and women outnumber men on the executive team five to four. Looking at the company's leadership more broadly, 58 per cent of senior managers at BCLC are female. I often get asked about how we arrived here and the answer is simple: we worked to create an equal playing field for all employees.
Businesses that maintain 'old boys clubs' are doomed
I hire or promote the best person for the job. Period. Although BCLC's diversity has come a long way , Canada's glass ceiling is far from being broken. According to Catalyst, while women represent 47 per cent of the labour force, women account for only 5.3 per cent of CEO positions and 15.5 per cent of corporate board seats.
Reaching gender parity doesn't happen overnight – at BCLC a few strong female leaders set the stage for more women to be confident about their potential to choose an executive career path. If values aren't your driver in reaching gender equality at the top, perhaps you can be convinced by what it does to your bottom line. Countless studies prove companies with mixed-sex executive teams tend to be better governed and they also see significantly higher earnings and returns on equity.
The time is right
I'll never forget hearing David Foot, author of Boom, Bust & Echo, speak at a conference years ago. He asked anyone in the crowd to raise their hand if they were born in 1961. I raised mine. He told us 1961 was the year with the highest birth rate in the baby boom. He then informed us we had a difficult journey in life, competing with boomers born before us who got a head start on their careers and on buying homes. Then he asked if anyone had a child born in 1989. I raised my hand again. He told us the record set in 1961 for births in Canada was eclipsed in 1989 when the echo boom peaked. So, I have passed my legacy onto my daughter in more ways than one. But, I believe she has a better chance than the women born in the 1960s because of the trailblazing they did and the enlightenment of many men – especially those with daughters. I think the female echo boomers will bust right through that ceiling.
Development of employees is paramount
At BCLC, we endorse a build versus buy philosophy when it comes to talent. While we will always need to attract some talent outside our organization, we believe the focus should be internal. Mentorship also plays a key role in allowing employees to push through middle management into senior management and eventually to the C-suite. More senior leaders, including those within my organization, need to step up to mentor and sponsor junior employees with leadership potential. Through recognition, talent management programs and mentorship, we aim to support and develop our people and their confidence.
Practice what you preach with work/life balance
Work/life balance should be more than your human resources manager's favourite catch phrase. Innovative companies that want to attract and retain top talent don't make employees choose between family and the office. However, there may be times in our lives when we do need to focus more on work versus family and vice versa, and organizations need to understand this ebb and flow will occur.
In many cases, female executives unfairly feel the pressure to reach superhero status by doing it all. I once got into a disagreement with a former boss early in my career because I said I wanted to have it all, meaning a balance of a successful career and wonderful family life. He said it was impossible. I could have one, but not the other. Maybe I'll call him about that now. Or maybe I'll call my kids instead.
BCLC is in the entertainment business. By our nature, we must be driven by innovation and our competitive edge is thanks in part to the diversity and passion we've cultivated as an organization. I believe within our lifetime gender equality will be reached in boardrooms across the country. But to get there, it will require a joint commitment from both men and women to change the landscape of leadership by openly discussing goals and obstacles, which will clear the path to a more balanced and dynamic work force.
We've come a long way, baby.
Jim Lightbody is President and CEO of BCLC