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Women in Business: Measures Businesses Can Take

International Women’s Day, March 8, is an opportunity to take stock: what about the representation of women in senior management positions?

According to Louise Martel, Partner in Human Resources Consulting, while the current situation does not yet reflect the acknowledged determination regarding women in senior management positions, a balance should be achieved in the not-too-distant future. What’s more, companies seem to be more likely to recruit women to occupy the highest levels of management.

Several studies indicate that Canada is a leader when it comes to gender equality. For its part, Quebec is among the most equalitarian societies on the planet. Despite the similar results of numerous studies in this area, as shown in a study published by Grant Thornton International, Women in business: building a blueprint for action, it’s important to temper these findings with the following data.

Women’s roles:

  • 34% are chief financial officers (CFO);
  • 20% are chief marketing officers (CMO);
  • 18% are chief operating officers (COO);
  • 16% are chief information officers (CIO);
  • 15% are chief executive officers (CEO);
  • 7% are partners.

What’s noticeable about these numbers is that the percentage of women in senior management positions drops as you move up the hierarchy, even though women are just as ambitious as men.

The glass ceiling that seems to be preventing women from reaching the highest levels is primarily due to archaic structural phenomena still present in today’s society. For example, restricted networking opportunities and caring responsibilities outside work are hurdles that women have to overcome.

On the other hand, men are three times more likely than women to move from manager to vice-president. To say the least, we still have a long way to go before full gender parity is achieved.

Another fact that modifies the picture: in the past 20 years, there has been virtually no progress in gender parity and, if things don’t change, it will take more than 30 years to bridge the gender parity gap.

The winds of change are blowing, the profile of tomorrow’s business leaders is evolving

Organizations, whether they are in the public, parapublic or private sector, want to hire women for senior management positions. Many businesses are preparing for tomorrow’s leaders. The next generation of leaders will be more eclectic and the presence of women will be stronger. The growing awareness of diversity has led organizations to review their positioning and consider that tomorrow’s leader may well be a woman.

Diversity is good for business

It seems that women’s representation on boards of directors helps increase profitability. Although the cause-and-effect has not been proven, some experts have proposed the following explanation: the diversity in expertise, culture and points of view helps improve the quality of discussions on social issues and, hence, leads to better decision making.

The skills women bring to the table complement those of men. Generally, women are more objective when making decisions. They use a methodology that meets the organization’s needs. They are able to take a step back and have the ability to question themselves, which fosters innovation. Several studies show that a gender mix on a board of directors has a significant impact on business growth.

Evolving behaviours

Men’s behaviour and perceptions have evolved considerably in recent years. You will recall the #MeToo social movement that shed light on the full extent of the problem of the relationship between men and women. This collective awareness has not escaped the notice of the business world.

We are seeing that a number of economic players are starting to adopt new measures, such as flexible working hours, to attract women who want to build a career and still maintain a family life.

What actions can businesses put into place?

Businesses must assume their responsibility and play a key role in this initiative. This must be reflected in and conveyed by the corporate culture. Businesses must support women talent internally, hold awareness meetings with senior management, define quantifiable objectives and implement measures to help women reach their full potential and advance their career internally. One such tool could be mentoring.

The next few years promise to be exciting for women’s place in the highest corporate levels. If businesses implement certain measures, women’s representation in senior management should improve. Nevertheless, women must overcome certain preconceived ideas and learn to put themselves forward more than ever, because great business opportunities await them.

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