THE BLOG
03/14/2018 13:55 EDT | Updated 03/14/2018 14:14 EDT

When It Comes To Equal Opportunity, We All Need To Step Up

Significant barriers still exist for women in corporate leadership roles. But I am cautiously optimistic that real progress is within reach.

This past week another International Women's Day came and went, but the cause must endure. In fact the cause must accelerate. Once upon a time, posting supportive messages on websites and hosting employee luncheons and receptions might have passed for progress towards gender equality, but in 2018, it rings hollow.

The last six months represent a tipping point for women — and the men who support them. The abrupt fall of high-profile individuals in the realms of business, entertainment, politics and media, coupled with the rise of movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, signals a profound shift in societal attitudes.

Zurijeta via Getty Images

Unfortunately, that shift has not been reflected in the most senior executive suites of Canada's top 100 publicly traded companies.

For 13 years, beginning in 2006, my firm has meticulously tracked and published the number of senior women holding important positions like CEO, CFO and other C-level jobs.

Our latest report shows women hold just 9.44 per cent of these top jobs and men hold more than 90 per cent.

Yes, there has been improvement since we started tracking in 2006 — the number back then was just 4.62 per cent. But the increases have been incremental. At this pace, women occupying 30 per cent of top jobs will take decades.

For more than 30 years, women have outnumbered men in Canada as university graduates, including in MBA and doctoral programs. Their numbers have also increased in the STEM disciplines — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. And yet the numbers are not ultimately translating at the top levels of the business world.

What can be done?

The tide is shifting, and the time is now to accelerate the speed of change.

A key to making real, sustainable progress is collaboration and coordination — getting all like-minded stakeholders to work together to bring about needed change. By working in concert, they have the potential to amplify each other's individual efforts.

A good example would be financial services. Many banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions have developed tremendous programs, and invested serious resources into breaking down barriers and promoting and retaining women. We are in fact seeing some positive signs coming out of these initiatives. But we need this to translate into the highest levels of the C-Suite at a much faster pace. While these organizations do collaborate and share best practices, we would encourage them to do more.

All sectors and individuals, be it in the realm of gender equality advocacy, education, technology, media, big corporate, sports, arts or government can play a better role in collaborating to accelerate the pace of change. We have been heartened that so many voices from various walks of life have joined in common cause to contribute to our report this past year.

The tide is shifting, and the time is now to accelerate the speed of change.

First, women and men are organizing in unprecedented ways. This is taking many forms and addresses many facets of the gender gap issue. A great example is #movethedial, a global movement started out of Toronto and founded by Jodi Kovitz. It is dedicated to changing the face of tech leadership.

gilaxia via Getty Images

Women are mobilizing to mentor and assist one another. This presents an opening for corporations to partner, allowing like-minded stakeholders to work together to bring about needed change.

Second, there is growing evidence that it just makes good business sense to have greater diversity - including gender diversity — operating at a company's most senior levels.

Bottom-line success is always a powerful motivator in business. After examining a decade's worth of data from over 300 portfolio companies, for example, the venture capital firm First Round Capital reported in Tech Insider that start-up teams with at least one female founder performed 63 per cent better than all-male teams.

Indeed, study after study, including from institutions such as Harvard and McKinsey, show that gender diversity increases performance at all companies.

Third, there is the growing realization that if businesses do not step up to the need to advance women, government will intervene.

I am cautiously optimistic that real progress is within reach, if the right strategies are employed.

The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) has already set a target of 30 per cent female board membership — and instituted a "comply or explain" policy. While not yet quotas, there is a sense that could be a next step.

In the past, I have expressed reluctance to advocate quotas or other rigid mechanisms to advance women. But given the slow rate of progress, it's understandable why some advocate this approach.

An alternative worth considering is based on the so-called Rooney Rule, a National Football League policy forcing teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other senior positions. Implemented in 2003, it does not set rigid quotas, but the approach has increased minority selection for top NFL jobs.

Our latest report shows significant barriers still exist for women in corporate leadership roles. But I am cautiously optimistic that real progress is within reach, if the right strategies are employed, and we all strive together to make it happen.

I look forward to a day in the future when, as Sheryl Sandberg projected: "There will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders."

Jay Rosenzweig is Founder and CEO of Rosenzweig & Company, a global leader in talent acquisition, executive search, and emerging tech advisory.