Top leaders join forces to “hack” diversity gap

Leaders from some of Canada’s most eminent organizations hosted a hackathon-inspired event to address the lack of diversity in senior positions.

Top leaders join forces to “hack” diversity gap
Diverse representation at the senior level is an issue for many Canadian companies but now, it seems some of the nation’s most eminent organisations are joining forces in a bid to find a solution.

Leaders from Deloitte, Dentons Canada, HSBC Bank of Canada and the Government of Ontario all came together to address the issue at a hackathon-inspired event.

Dubbed “Diversahack”, the event resulted in a co-created sponsorship strategy which advocates hope will propel diverse, high-potential individuals into senior positions at leading organizations.

“Sponsorship is a great way of tapping into the potential of an organization’s best and brightest, helping a diverse range of talent realize their full potential,” said Raman Rai, SVP and head of global liquidity and cash management at HSBC Bank Canada. “A good leader often has a strong sense of self, while a great leader also enables others to believe in themselves.”

Research shows that sponsorship—not just as a program, but as a corporate philosophy—is a highly effective way to accelerate women’s careers. In fact, 85 per cent of sponsored women with children continue to work full time and seek out leadership positions, compared to 58 per cent of those without sponsors. 

“Mentors talk to you.  Sponsors talk about you. Having a sponsor in your corner that will go to bat for you, and is invested in your career and growth, personally and professionally – the benefit is unparalleled,” said Miyo Yamashita, managing partner, talent at Deloitte in Canada.

“Providing opportunities for sponsorship is essential if organizations are to create the best conditions for their people to thrive. This will allow for deep engagement and ensure that the best ideas are on the table.”
Despite the progress made over the years, women are still under-represented in leadership roles. According to Catalyst, women occupy less than five per cent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, although the participation rate of men and women in the workforce is roughly equal.

This imbalance becomes even more mystifying when you consider the bottom line benefits of diversity – companies that have gender-balanced leadership outperform those that do not. 

“We’ve found that diverse teams are more engaged, inventive and high performing as they are able to innovate and collaborate more effectively, and in ways that resonate deeply with our clients,” said Chris Pinnington, CEO of Dentons Canada.  “As an effective sponsor you have to put yourself out there, and invest in your delegate in a meaningful way.”

During the event, participants likened existing sponsorship programs to the movie The Hunger Games, where delegates are essentially competing with one another for a single sponsorship opportunity.

To combat this issue, organizations need to foster an environment more like the television show The Voice, where all contestants are each encouraged to succeed. A three-pronged strategy was developed where delegates are identified based on their talent, and sponsors would be incented to act as active champions. To do so, they proposed flipping two core orthodoxies: that sponsors must pick delegates and that sponsorship must be a one-to-one relationship.

Through group sponsorship and providing delegates with the ability to choose their sponsors, diverse top talent across the organization would have equal opportunities for advancement. As well, delegates would hone their skills and team-working abilities, and staff across the organization would be inspired by the strategy’s success.

“Hack-a-thons are a new concept and if you’ve never participated in one it can be hard to imagine how people can come up with solutions in a very short period of time, but it happens,” said Heather Taylor, assistant deputy minister, chief administrative officer, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
“Diversahack wasn’t just a one day event, end of story. It was about creating actionable items that we can take away from today and implement in our organizations.”

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