By Josephine Victoria Yam, J.D., LLM.
2018 March 07

International Womens Day

Last week, I met with the Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) of a large multinational company based in Toronto. He recently engaged B3 Canada to put in place a board matching & training program for his company's senior executives. Gender diversity has been one of his company's top priorities for many years. But he lamented that there was very little progress to show for it. Bottomline, the higher you look up the corporate ladder, the fewer women you will see.

This is a familiar refrain I hear from companies we work with. They have gender parity in middle management. But this gender parity disappears because only a few women move up to senior leadership roles. The fact that there are a few women at the top is not good for them. These companies know that it goes against well-documented evidence that more women in senior leadership roles correlates to better corporate performance.

The numbers bear this out. McKinsey reports that while there are 45% women in entry-level roles in the corporate talent pipeline, only 17% women make it to the C-suite.

Corporate-talent Pipeline by Gender

Why does this happen?

One reason is that companies promote men 30% more often than women during their early career stages. "If entry-level women were promoted at the same rate as their male peers, the number of women at the SVP and C-suite levels would more than double," the report says. Men are promoted more often than women - but it's not because women have opted out of the career advancement track for family reasons. Moreover, the report reveals that women ask for promotions and negotiate for raises as often as men do.

So as we celebrate International Women's Day 2018, we need to pause and ask the question: Why then are there very few women at the top?

One reason is the lack of awareness among men. McKinsey reports that a measly 19% of males strongly agree that women face more obstacles in reaching top management positions than men do. In other words, majority of men believe that women face no obstacles at all and in fact enjoy equal access to the same career opportunities as they do.

This is alarming.

When men are less aware of women's challenges in reaching the top, the more they believe that gender-diversity initiatives are unfair to them. This makes them less engaged and supportive in helping women climb the corporate ladder.

As the report warns: "Unless more men (and men at the top) actively support a gender-diversity agenda, … nothing will change."

So how can men be more aware and engaged to support a gender-diversity agenda?

Here are three powerful initiatives:

Commit to #MentorHer
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
Commit to #GoSponsorHer
Professional women tend to lack effective sponsors. Senior male leaders should sponsor women by using their powerful influence that will provide women access to high-profile opportunities. Men should use their personal reputations and advocate for women's successes. When these happen, women are more likely to make it to top management.
Commit to #WeNeedBoth Panel Pledge
Professional women lack visible opportunities to make their voices heard. So men should invite women to be keynote speakers and guest presenters in all panels and conference events. They should help amplify women's voices by ensuring that women's perspectives and worldviews are listened to. When men actively engage with women in these arenas, diversity of thought is achieved. Diversity of thought leads to inclusive conversations and more effective decisions for all.

Men help women drive the gender-diversity agenda forward by engaging in these powerful initiatives. This results in moving the needle closer to achieving gender equality in companies and in society at large. And inevitably, everybody wins.

As Annette Verschuren, CEO of NRStor eloquently points out: "Gender advancement is not a women's issue, it's a social and economic imperative. #WeNeedBoth to drive change."

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"Diversity and inclusion has become a CEO-level issue around the world," observed Deloitte in its 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report. "The era of diversity as a 'check the box' initiative owned by HR is over. CEOs must take ownership and drive accountability among leaders at all levels to close the gap between what is said and actual impact".

So what happens when a CEO does not prioritize diversity and inclusion?

Let's take the story of global retailer H&M as an example.

According to a 2014 Government of Canada report, women: comprise 47% of the Canadian workforce; earn more than 50% of all Canadian university degrees; represented 47% of students in business and management programs at the master’s level in 2010; and received 34.5% of the Masters of Business Administration (MBAs) given in 2011.

So let’s raise our glasses twice or even thrice, right? No, not just yet.

The Conference Board of Canada

Serving on a nonprofit board involves a serious commitment of time and talent. To be successful as a board director, you need to know the principles of nonprofit governance, the role of the board, the responsibilities of board directors and how an effective board operates.

Join us for this one-hour session (including 15 minutes for Q&A), as lawyer Josephine Victoria Yam walks us through the fundamentals on how to succeed as a nonprofit board director.


  • Alberta's Promise operates within the Government of Alberta’s Department of Human Services. With over 1,800 business, nonprofit and community partners, they help businesses connect with non-profits across Alberta to make meaningful contributions that benefit children and youth ages 0 to 24.

  • CanadaHelps is a nonprofit serving Canadian charities and donors. They increase charitable giving across Canada by making it easier to donate and fundraise online. Because CanadHelps is a charity, their fees are a fraction of for-profit alternatives, making donation dollars go further.

  • The Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations is a member-based nonprofit organization founded in 2002 in Edmonton, AB. They serve the nonprofit and charitable organizations in the Alberta Capital Region.

  • The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) is the provincial network for the approximately 55,000 nonprofit organizations across Ontario. As a 7,000-strong provincial network, with a volunteer base of 300 sector leaders, ONN brings the diverse voices of the sector to government, funders and business to create and influence systemic change.

  • For over 62 years, Propellus has been supporting volunteers and volunteerism within the communities of Calgary. It strongly believes that volunteering is essential to creating and sustaining healthy, supportive and connected communities.

  • The Sustainability Network is a national organization that works with environmental nonprofits to make them more effective and efficient. Their mission is to enrich environmental leaders and nonprofit organizations so that they can help us all achieve sustainability.

  • Founded in 1943, Vantage Point delivers learning opportunities focused on governance, leadership, planning and people engagement for new and seasoned sector leaders, board directors and managers, aimed at advancing not-for-profit leadership.

  • Women Get On Board is a leading member-based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards. They do this through an engaged community of women and men in Canada committed to advancing gender diversity in the boardroom.


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