This week’s StatCan report didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know … C-suites in Canada are bereft of women.
They fill less than 20 per cent of the seats on corporate boards of directors throughout public, government and private organizations. And more than half of all boards are made up entirely of men.
It’s been a longstanding challenge in Canada, and there have been multiple explanations of why the problem persists, including the fact that working mothers experience well-documented “re-entry” issues when they return to work from maternity leave. So perhaps, as Mother’s Day approaches, it’s time for us to debunk some of the stubborn myths -- or should we say excuses? -- about why women are failing to make it to the C-suite.
“What about the meritocracy?”
In my past experience at a company with a onetime “woman problem,” this is something the men in power often said when asked why a woman, possibly more qualified, was passed over for a big job in favour of a man. It’s a tired old trope, let’s face it. When I was responsible for hiring at a former workplace, and faced with CVs that were evenly matched, I’d hire the woman. Why? Because if you don’t get talented women in the door, they cannot rise up through the ranks to become the much-needed leaders of tomorrow.
And research has shown that gender quotas actually raise the average competence of all job candidates by weeding out the mediocre men.
“Women are more risk-averse than men.”
This myth leads to outright discrimination against women -- and Canada’s tiny yet dynamic stable of female CEOs proves how preposterous a notion this is. It's also not supported by research. In fact, women and men are fairly evenly matched when it comes to risk. As someone who will cliff-jump when all around me refuse, this comes as no surprise.
“It’s not our fault!”
A common argument, particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, is that there’s a lack of women because they are simply not in the pipeline. That may be part of the problem, but there are bigger, more troubling issues at play, including workplace cultures that perpetuate gender segregation and result in many women leaving the field due to discrimination and bias. That culture also discourages girls from getting into STEM to begin with.
Culture, in fact, is critical in every sector. If your team is primarily composed of men, no woman is going to feel entirely welcome. If you’re a male leader, be mindful of how you set the tone on your team and how you interact with the men on it if you want your female team members to feel truly respected and valued.
So as Mother’s Day approaches, what is your company doing to expand the ranks of women? How are you helping your female employees climb the corporate ladder into the executive suite? Are you easing the transition from maternity leave back to full-time work? Are you ensuring returning mothers are trained effectively on new technologies, are offered the same opportunities and paid as well as men? Are you insisting your team leaders make a concerted effort to hire more women, and demanding the office culture is welcoming to women?
Together, we can -- and must -- work to change the corporate landscape so that one day our daughters will be corporate leaders and C-suites reflect society at large. The time to act is now.