Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of manufacturing company Linamar, is among Canada's top female executives.
Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of manufacturing company Linamar, is among Canada’s top female executives. Photo by Glenn Lowson /Postmedia Network

By Sarah Mushtaq

In the business world, there has been a lot of talk about the number of women in executive positions and on corporate boards. Depending on the industry, the number of women can be minimal at best

At the beginning of this year, women held nine per cent of the highest paid positions at Canada’s 100 largest publicly traded companies by revenue, says the 12th annual Rosenzweig Report. That translates to 48 women in roles such chief executive, chief financial officer or vice-president of a company.

Women held 12 per cent of the corporate board seats at 677 companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2016, according to provincial regulators who analyzed annual reports. Although 55 per cent of companies had at least one female director, 45 per cent did not have a single woman on their boards.

Sarah Mushtaq Photo by DAN JANISSE /Windsor Star

As an MBA student, this is of great interest to me and my female colleagues. We know that research shows having women in leadership and board positions increases financial success, taps into the top talent of half the population, increases innovation, improves corporate social responsibility and provides insight to better understand client needs and improve overall effectiveness. However, this is not always reflected in reality.

For example, when Windsor hosted the Memorial Cup, the Odette MBA class at the University of Windsor had a session with staff from the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Many of the questions were about managing a sports team and leadership skills. At one point, however, the staff were asked about women in sports management and what was being done to improve the numbers. The answer was disappointing at best: they know the sports industry is archaic when it comes to promoting women and they need to do better, but they look for the best candidate to fill the role.

The women in my class not impressed, to say the least. Looking for the best candidate sounds fair but it is often done within already established networks – and in the sports industry, which tends to be an old boys’ club. If you’re looking to diversify, it is difficult to change anything if it is done through the same methods as always.

This applies to many industries. Marlin Williams, entrepreneur-in-residence in diversity and inclusion at TechTown Detroit, touched on recruiting and diversity at a panel with Windsor Hackforge. She mentioned that companies in Detroit would bemoan not being able to find qualified individuals of African-American heritage when they were criticized for having companies which did not reflect the makeup of the City of Detroit. In reality, they were not recruiting in the right places. She was able to take companies to local universities with computer science and engineering graduates. The company officials were floored by the quality of these grads. Sometimes it can be as simple as looking elsewhere and implementing policies to set quotas, which force a company to actively recruit and find candidates outside of the typical networks.

Ensuring women stay in these positions is also important. Often female executives are appointed to their positions when a company is failing – known at the “glass cliff effect” – hampering their chances of success and potentially preventing future female hires. Mentorship is important for female leaders to mitigate this as they work their way through the company ranks – although it’s not a perfect solution.

Wayne State University held a conference earlier this year for female MBA students put on by the Committee of 200, an organization made up of successful women business leaders. The panels touched on several topics, such as entrepreneurship, personal branding and community service. When asked how to balance a family with a career, the answer from several leaders was to hire a nanny or au pair – completely out of touch with the reality of average students.

Clearly, we still have a long way to go to inclusivity. The more we support women in leadership, the more we will grow and the more society as a whole will benefit.

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