Women are falling off the career ladder: What can you do?

The proportion of women in senior positions has stalled in the last 10 years. What can you do to change the pattern in your workforce?

Women are falling off the career ladder: What can you do?

The proportion of women in senior management positions in Canadian companies has stalled at just over 20%, despite years of discussion and programs to change the pattern. So what are some of the best companies for diversity doing to fight the trend?

This year’s Catalyst Honourees show that while the overall trend may be slow to change, many big organizations are taking strong steps to change it.

“It hasn’t been a core business priority for many organizations and the status quo is very powerful,” Executive Director, Catalyst Canada Alex Johnston said. “It’s not easy to make big changes and the status quo can be quite powerful for keeping people in one place.”

However, there are good signs that change is coming, she said.

“People have been talking for a long time, but now people are planting their flag more firmly.” From the federal government to oversight organizations, more people are

So what can you learn from this year’s honourees?

Metrics and benchmarking

One advice given by all the honourees was that it was important to benchmark how your company is doing now, so you can track progress. It’s a good way to analyze where you’re starting to lose diversity, and to figure out which programs aren’t being used.

“If you’re in the HR function and you’ve got great functions but no one’s using them there’s a reason,” PwC Canada Assurance Partner Susan Allen said. “It could be that it’s not accepted and is considered a negative to put your name forward for something. If they’re not being used, find out why not and maybe you’ve got the wrong programs.”

What’s holding women back?

Many organizations find that when they track where women start to disappear from the management track that maternity leave is one of the biggest culprits. Although men and women can split parental leave in Canada, many mothers choose to take up to a year after their child is born. Having two or three children can essentially put a woman two or three years behind their colleagues.

McCarthy Tétrault chief diversity and engagement officer Lisa Vogt said two programs in particular have helped address this inequity.

A mentorship program ensures that women are kept in the loop during their parental leave. Invited to events, informed of firm developments and supported on their return, the program puts someone in place who is invested in the woman’s success and can help make sure they can progress along the career path of their choice.

The firm also found that some women were missing out on partnership because they missed specific windows of opportunity. A more flexible approach to making partner means all lawyers can take a few more years if needed to reach that milestone.

On Page Two: Making the change



“We developed a very sensible manual or brochure explaining gender diversity in the workplace and some of the differences in how men and women react in specific situations,” Allen said. “Having it out there in the open helped start conversations about where there were unconscious biases in our assessment system or promotion system.”

A common talking point for the honourees was that the conversation needed to become standard across all levels and departments so that even when HR isn’t in the room, someone is still asking “Why aren’t there women on this team?” or “How does this contribute to diversity?”

Beyond just a “women’s issue”

If fixing gender diversity is only seen as a women’s issue then it’s going to be impossible to change, said Kate Broer, Partner and Canada Region Co-Chair, Diversity and Inclusion, Dentons Canada LLP.

“Some organizations are not doing enough to make every person who has authority understand how this is important to them and it’s not just the issue for women,” Broer said. “It needs to be engrained into the core of the business.”

Who’s getting the opportunities?

“The frontline manager needs to be there to make sure that all members of their teams get access to opportunities. You need to be thinking about it all the time and reminding yourself,” McCarthy Tétrault chair and CEO Marc-André Blanchard said. “Making sure everyone has access to opportunities, and that everyone gets a second opportunity – if we make a mistake that we get the feedback and the next opportunity to succeed.”

This focus on feedback and new opportunities helps foster a culture of transparency and respect, and ensures everyone gets the same chance to excel. It’s a key area where front line managers can make a vital difference by ensuring that all the people in their team get an opportunity to take on stretch assignments, and to make mistakes and improve.

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