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What it Really Means to Win WXN's Top 100 Most Powerful Women Award

01/20/2015 11:58 EST | Updated 03/22/2015 05:59 EDT

Recently I was welcomed into the incredible community of the Women's Executive Network (WXN)'s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. This is a huge honour and distinction. The WXN Top 100 summit and gala hosted in Toronto was truly fabulous. But now that the celebration is over, it is time to reflect.

What does it really mean to win this notable award? Not surprisingly, it is far more than a photo in a magazine, a party or celebratory tweets. Winning a WXN Top 100 award is actually a call to action -- and a compelling one at that -- to do more. I quickly realized that in addition to being recognized for what I had achieved, I had been tapped on the shoulder to do more -- to become an advocate for women's equality and advancement.

And there is still so much to do. Listening to the many amazing women leaders speak at the WXN event about how far we have come but how far we still have to go has inspired me to commit to do what I can to accelerate positive change.

Really, we shouldn't need to have special women leadership awards. But despite the progress in women's advancement that we have made in Canada, compared to men, women are still underpaid, under-represented on boards, and under-represented in corporate and political senior leadership. Today a woman earns $0.76 for every dollar a man makes. In Canada, women only make up 10 per cent of board representation. And 40 per cent of Canadian boards have zero female representation. Only 5 per cent of Fortune 1000 CEOs are women, and only 21 per cent of federal political leaders. We have work to do.

So where does our system break down? In Canada, throughout our education girls and young women are told we are equal. But when we graduate from school and hit the job market things are different. To achieve our goals, women need help navigating this unexpected world. As Marilyn Emery, CEO of Women's College Hospital, said at the WXN Summit, in order to succeed women must actively do three key things:

1) Network, 2) Seek leadership opportunities and 3) Get mentors. Women also need to find champions within their organizations who will actively advocate for their advancement. We as WXN Top 100 winners must play an active leadership role in mentoring and helping women leaders find sponsors who will support their advancement.

And it doesn't stop there. There is a role for male leaders too. For example Purdy Crawford, the Canadian business icon who passed away earlier this year, was justly celebrated for his role in developing promising young female talent into leaders in both the business and public sectors. He mentored several notable female leaders including former Home Depot Canada chief executive Annette Verschuren and Bertha Wilson, the first woman on the Supreme Court of Canada.

In addition to individual mentoring efforts, organizations need to establish mentoring programs. At LoyaltyOne, we have a Women's Leadership Initiative which is dedicated to the advancement of women within our company. The Initiative includes a robust mentoring program and after four years we are pleased to have almost 25 per cent of female associates participating. LoyaltyOne recently won top employer in Canada for the sixth year in a row, and our Women's Leadership Initiative program is an important part of our employee development portfolio that attracts and retains talent.

As Kathleen Taylor, Chair RBC, said in her inspiring keynote speech at the WXN Top 100 gala, "With great recognition comes great responsibility." As WXN Top 100 winners we have an obligation to use our influence to continue to forward the women's movement in Canada. But we can't do it alone -- all female and male leaders in our great country need to make this social change a priority. There is a Buddhist saying that thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the single candle will not be diminished. Let's start lighting candles -- we have nothing to lose and much to gain.

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