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Celebrating Women of Influence’s 2012 Canadian Diversity Champions


A t this time last year and in conjunction with Women of Influence’s inaugural magazine edition celebrating the Top 25 Women of Influence we felt it was important to also recognize and celebrate the leadership of outstanding men at the board and executive tables, who had opened doors, sponsored and mentored upcoming senior executive women and who had each led the way for their own corporation’s innovative diversity initiatives, while championing women in business, not only across Canada, but globally.

In our magazine’s quarterly series column: The Future of North American Business, and within our article Celebrating the Men in the Room, WOI’s 2011 Canadian Diversity Champions’, (WOI Magazine, Winter 2011), we recognized close to 100 male leaders across Canada that were making a significant mark on the diversity front, in the hope that it would inspire many more across corporate Canada and indeed globally to get on the diversity bandwagon.

Within that article, we noted the statistics we are all aware of: in the U.S., the number of women on S&P 500 company boards was approximately 16%, according to recent Bloomberg rankings. The statistics at the CEO and senior executive level, while improving, were similarly slight. Catalyst, the leading global research organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business, reported that women held 14.4% of executive officer positions in Fortune 500 companies. Further, Forbes.com noted, “that men still make up 92% of the highest paid positions within major U.S. corporations.” In Canada, recent Catalyst research found that women currently held 17.7% of corporate officer positions, and that 30% of FP500 companies in Canada had no senior women officers. Further, Catalyst found 40% of Canadian public companies still did not have a single woman on their board of directors.

It’s hard to ignore the evidence that more women on boards and at the executive table simply makes good business sense. McKinsey’s Women Matter study found that, “companies with the highest share of women on executive committees outperformed those with all-male executive committees by 41% in terms of return on equity and 56% in operating results.” In addition, Catalyst research has consistently demonstrated that companies with more women in corporate officer positions and on their boards financially outperform those with fewer women.

Although the 2012 statistics have not yet significantly changed on either side of the border, what has changed dramatically in the past year is that the business case for diversity is really catching on, globally. This was never better evidenced in Canada, than from the immediate response from board directors, CEOs and senior executive team members from Canada’s leading corporations when asked “Why does diversity matter to you, your team, your business and to Canadian business broader?” The response across the country has been nothing short of inspirational and overwhelming. To our delight this year’s Diversity Champions list has more than tripled in size as it includes both men and women leaders and its reach is Canada wide in scope. Today close to 300 individuals are being recognized across Canada in the 2012 WOI Canadian Diversity Champions list, each and all of whom have made an individual and collective mark on the diversity front within Canada and will be recognized as a WOI 2012 Canadian Diversity Champion.

The business case for diversity is well understood by these outstanding Canadian leaders, including the CEO’s of our Canadian banks. For Rick Waugh, President & CEO of Scotiabank, it was the knowledge that “great organizations become so with great people. Scotiabank recognizes the importance of attracting the broadest spectrum of talent (and) the evidence is clear: diversity generates more innovative thinking, better decision making and stronger business results.” Bill Downe, CEO of BMO concurs. “The first thing to understand about diversity in the workplace is that it comes down to profits. It’s important that all banks in Canada, especially because we are Canada’s biggest employers, take responsibility together and show leadership. This is not an issue we can be complacent on. It is about many of your key employees, your customers, and in the end it is all about good business.”

Without question, it’s evident we still have a long way to go on both sides of the border, and that there is much work to be done to remove barriers that stand in the way of full participation for all. What’s inspiring and encouraging however, is just how many of these current board Chairs, CEOs, and senior executive leaders, are engaged, not only as part of the diversity conversation, but are innovatively and actively leading the charge as champions for change. What these transformational leaders share in common is that each of them, individually, truly understand the business case for diversity, globally.

We know for certain that sustainable leadership and change initiatives are, and must be, driven from the top. Persuasive, strategic and inspirational leadership, from both board and senior executive levels by leaders that are individually and collectively driving change to open doors and promote women and those with diverse backgrounds and experience into senior leadership roles, is both essential and has already proven effective. These champions of diversity, those that understand it’s a business imperative can, and are, acting as significant influencers and agents of change across corporate Canada, and further serve as powerful role models to inspire many other business leaders to become diversity champions.

What’s unique about Women of Influence’s Diversity Champion recognition in Canada, is it recognizes the individual for their dedication and commitment (not just the company or organization) and intentionally does not limit it to the top 50 or 100 ‘best’. The intent is to include and recognize the vast scope of leadership shown both individually and collectively across industry sectors that are truly making a difference across Canada with the belief and the knowledge that it’s going to take a village to move the needle on the existing diversity statistics and in the hope that it encourages other individual leaders to join and get with the diversity program. And what a community of innovative leaders this is! When you read the inspirational responses across the country on Why Diversity Matters (further details below) and examine the extensive individual and corporate leadership on innovative diversity initiatives taken on behalf of corporations and organizations across Canada, and the “who’s who” on our list, its pretty hard to remain anything but optimistic and impressed with the leadership these individuals have shown on perhaps the most important issue for Canadian business.

As a few examples, our Diversity Champions include board members who dedicate their time and thought leadership to Catalyst Canada, the leading global research organization committed to expanding opportunities for women in business, to mentors of WomenonBoardTM an innovative initiative dedicated to advancing the placement of women on boards through their mentoring program which strategically matches Canadian directors with senior executive women as mentees. It includes board members and advisors of Women in Capital Markets (WCM), a non-profit organization that promotes the advancement of women in the Canadian financial industry, to dedicated advisors to the Canadian Board Diversity Council (CBDC), whose goal is to improve the diversity of Canada’s corporate boards by increasing the representation of women, visible minorities, Aboriginal People including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, persons with disabilities and members of the LGBT community. It includes sponsors and advocates for Pride at Work Canada, an organization dedicated to improving the climate of inclusiveness for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and LGBT employees in the workplace. It includes members of the Canadian founding advisory team of Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) whose goal is to develop diverse leadership within the foodservice industry across Canada. It includes Managing Partners and diversity and inclusion advocates from our leading Canadian law and professional services firms, leaders involved in city based initiatives like DiverseCity and Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), as well as thought leaders that have made their mark in the community and in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors on the diversity agenda, speaking out on a variety of diversity panels and throughout the national media. It also includes General Counsels from over 60 corporations across Canada, each individual signatories and members of Legal Leaders on Diversity, an extraordinarily successful initiative dedicated to “promoting diversity within their own corporate departments, to consider diversity in their hiring and purchasing practices and to encourage Canadian law firms to follow in their example”.

Each of our WOI 2012 Canadian Diversity Champions are exceptional examples of Canadian board directors, CEO and/or senior executive leaders, celebrated by Women of Influence and recognized for their consistent dedication and commitment to i) sponsoring and mentoring senior executive women, ii) advancing women in business, iii) leading and developing innovative diversity initiatives and programs across Canada, iv) championing diversity in the workplace and boardroom and v) contributing significantly to thought leadership in the areas of diversity and inclusion. The list is intended to be wide and inclusive, as we hope by demonstrating the depth of commitment by each of these leaders to the business case for diversity, that it continues to inspire many other corporate leaders across Canada, the U.S., and globally, to follow in this visionary path.

Due to the incredible response to this initiative, and at the request of numerous Diversity Champions, Women of Influence has also just announced that there will be additional recognition in the Spring 2013 WOI edition of our WOI magazine, distributed in The Globe and Mail, and all of the Diversity Champion quotes on Why Diversity Matters and their bio photos will be highlighted at a dinner celebrating and recognizing all 2012 Champions. This dinner will also give our Champions an opportunity to meet other key diversity leaders across industry sectors from across the country. Should you be interested in being considered or would like to nominate an exceptional Diversity Champion for next year’s WOI Canadian Diversity Champion list, or want to share your active involvement and achievements on the diversity front with us please do so at lheidman@bedfordgroup.com. We want to know about you. For a complete list of WOI’s Canadian 2012 Diversity Champions and their individual responses to Why Diversity Matters, please see www.womenofinfluence.ca/2012DiversityChampions in early Spring 2013.

In the meantime, a special thanks to all of you who are making such a difference on the diversity agenda, and the warmest congratulations to all WOI’s 2012 Canadian Diversity Champions from all of us at Women of Influence!

Lisa Heidman, LL.B., Senior Client Partner, The Bedford Consulting Group, North American Director of Bedford Legal, brings over 15 years of Legal, Board and Executive Search Experience working with Boards and their Senior Leadership Teams, placing Board, CEO and C-Suite Executives across functions. Appointed to the Board of Directors of Women of Influence in 2009. Lisa can be reached at lheidman@bedfordgroup.com.