Robyn Quinn recalls how she was once nominated to sit on a corporate board of directors and found herself in a room with five middle-aged white men.
Looking around the room, she channelled a bit of Sesame Street and commented on how ‘one of these things is not like the other’. As she recalled, only two of the five men saw the humour in her observation.
Yet Quinn’s jest was the expression of a valid issue.
According to a 2015 report by the global executive search firm of Rosenzweig and Company, women hold only 8.5 per cent of the highest paid positions in Canada’s top 100 listed companies. As far as corporate boards of directors is concerned, 46 per cent of all companies on the TSX do not have a single female corporate board member.
It’s the sort of gender disparity that prompted Quinn to form Island Women in Science and Technology (iWIST), a group dedicated to furthering the cause of gender diversity at the highest level of the corporate structure, particularly in those companies related to science and technology.
The group recently hosted a conference in Victoria entitled Leading the Way, a chance for female CEOs to share the story of their journeys through the corporate world.
“There is still a sort of frat-boy culture out there wherein management is male dominated with a tendency to want to stay that way. Men are very good at networking and perpetuating the way things are. It may not even be conscious, but it definitely exists,” said Quinn.
Her goal is to show women it’s possible to rise to the “C suites” (those offices reserved for the CEO, and CFO) and to boards of directors, and that the first step is to believe in themselves and allow their ambitions to go beyond the lower levels of the corporation.
“It’s been found that men will make a play for a higher position, even if they have only 60 per cent of the requirements for the job while their female counterparts will hold back from applying unless they can tick off 100 per cent of all job qualifications,” said Quinn. “It’s just a different mindset, and it holds women back.”
Laurel Douglas, CEO of the Women’s Enterprise Centre, spoke at the conference and observed how corporate mindsets are beginning to change and realize the importance of a gender balanced top management and board composition.
“Gender balance gives corporations a cognitive and problem solving diversity more reflective of their customers,” said Douglas, adding the key may lie in corporations recognizing those benefits and adopting a gender balance policy aimed at achieving a more representative top level to their business.
She is optimistic society may be reaching a tipping point where the expectation of gender balance at the highest corporate levels may become a reality.
“Organizations like iWIST, the Women’s Enterprise Centre, and the WEB Alliance (of women’s business networks) are all organizations working to bring about change within B.C. businesses,” said Douglas. “The key is in changing perspectives and giving women the support and mentorship they need to advance through a male dominated corporate world.”
iWist is now preparing for their next stage of operation, having just registered as a not-for-profit society. The designation will allow the group to access grant funding which, in turn, will allow them to hold more education and training seminars and conferences designed to spread the concept of gender equality.