Written by: Karen Cvornyek
As we began preparations for the 4th CABC Business Forum early last year, the leadership was quick to acknowledge the lack of female representation on the Board. It was an omission that everyone recognized was serious and the idea to readress the balance by creating a Women’s Forum ahead of the main event this year, was born.
I was delighted to accept the honour of putting together the first CABC Women’s Leadership Forum and I was equally determined that it couldn’t be another event about “how women can get a seat at the table”. The world has changed since women had to fight for a place in business by playing by the old rules established by men. We’re living in a time of unprecedented change and disruption and, in many ways, women are leading the transformation. We knew this was our focus and anyone who was in the room for the inaugural event needs no further proof that change is afoot. Change that we should all embrace and seize for the great opportunities it presents to do more business – and better business – together, across boundaries.
Her Excellency Lynn McDonald, High Commissioner to Singapore set the stage by describing the sea change taking place in Canada as a direct result of the feminist vision and leadership set out from the very top by Prime Minister Trudeau’s government. Today nine out of 12 of Canada’s ambassadors to the ASEAN are women, and we were lucky enough to have Both Her Excellency Lynn McDonald, and Her Excellency Julia Bentley, High Commissioner to Malaysia participate in the forum.
The morning’s programme featured six inspirational women speakers who each described their own personal journey to leadership; Jan da Silva, President at CEO of Toronto Region Board of Trade, Marie-Claude Dumas, President of Clean Power and SNC Lavalin, Mairead Lavery, Senior VP Business Development at Export Development Canada, Le Hoang Lan, Co-Founder of LABO, Humera Malik, Founder and CEO of Canvass Analytics, and Lavinia Thanapathy, President of PrimeTime Business and Professional Women’s Organization.
Common themes quickly began to emerge. First, the numbers simply don’t add up. All evidence points to the fact that companies with greater gender diversity at the leadership level demonstrate greater returns on investment, yet there are only 26 women leaders in the Fortune 1000 companies. Women are less likely to be promoted or considered for senior positions. Too many young girls are still encouraged into creative or caring career paths and away from scientific, engineering and technical fields, and the list goes on.
In a world where solutions to big challenges are critical not just to success, but to survival, how can we expect to achieve breakthroughs in innovation if the people trying to solve the problem all look the same and come from the same background? If everything remains on the trajectory it’s on today, it’s estimated that the world will achieve gender parity 217 years from now. The consensus is that we should not wait – nor can we afford to.
Our goal for the day was to disrupt the system in some small way because we know that predictable processes get predictable results. To this end, we tried something different. We invited all participants to join us in a World Café – a process created to foster collaborative dialogue, share knowledge, and discover opportunities. We hosted a series of conversations addressing big questions aimed at discovering the transformative impact we can have on business, government, and society if we foster greater collaboration between ourselves and our nations. The level of participation and the energy and passion these conversations generated left no doubt as to the power inherent in these networks.
Our conversations revealed many great opportunities from leveraging technology to unleash new markets and carry education to every corner of the globe, to the importance of having more open and transparent conversations. Having the courage to call out and challenge behaviour that impedes inclusion and actively seeking better role models for females AND males that challenge gender stereotypes and give young girls and boys reason to believe in a future where their dreams become possible.
The resounding conclusion of the day was that many of the answers to today’s problems are within our capabilities TODAY. We don’t need to wait for tomorrow. By strengthening our networks, sharing our ideas, finding better ways to collaborate with each other and, most importantly, not just asking ourselves, “what can we bring to the other?” but also, “what can the other teach us that we can bring back?” we have everything we need to build the future we want, beginning now.