Push­ing for­ward for women in busi­ness

Policy - - Before The Bell | From The Editor - BY DALE SMITH

Given the fo­cus on women’s rights over the past year across mul­ti­ple so­cioe­co­nomic spheres from sex­ual ha­rass­ment to pay eq­uity to po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment, it was no sur­prise the Be­fore the Bell event mark­ing In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day on March 8 was sold out. The panel, com­prised of re­spected Cana­dian pol­icy, po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness voices, dis­cussed with mod­er­a­tors Cather­ine Clark and Susan Dela­court what it will take to re­al­ize Canada’s full eco­nomic po­ten­tial with greater par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in in­dus­try. Ac­cord­ing to the 2016 Cana­dian Board Di­ver­sity Coun­cil An­nual Re­port Card, women still hold only 21.6 per­cent of FP500 or­ga­ni­za­tion board seats, and while women-owned en­ter­prises are grow­ing, there are still bar­ri­ers to suc­cess.

The con­ver­sa­tion came a week af­ter the re­lease of the fed­eral bud­get, which, for the first time, fil­tered pro­gram spend­ing through a gen­der-based-anal­y­sis-plus frame­work. High­lights in­clude money for a new cen­tre for statis­tics fo­cused on gen­der, money for groups that ad­vo­cate for women, and changes to parental leave — but no new money for child­care.

For Ruth Va­chon, pres­i­dent and CEO of Réseau des femmes d’af­faires du Québec (Québec Busi­ness Women’s Net­work), what im­pressed her was the com­mit­ment to boost the share of fed­eral pro­cure­ment from women-led small and medium-sized busi­nesses from 10 to 15 per­cent.

“We were ex­pect­ing the Québec gov­ern­ment would take the lead but it’s not the case,” said Va­chon. “The fed­eral gov­ern­ment took the lead, and we were glad of that.”

Greg MacEach­ern, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions, Proof Strate­gies, of­fered a re­minder that bud­gets are also com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­er­cises.

“They com­mu­ni­cated what im­pact on the econ­omy women can have, do have, or will have,” said MacEach­ern.

As for whether gov­ern­ments need to get women onto cor­po­rate boards, Vassy Kape­los, the new host of CBC’s Power & Pol­i­tics, noted that there is an over­lap be­tween rules and cul­tural change.

“In Ice­land, they have leg­is­la­tion that cov­ers the pub­lic sec­tor, and still very few CEOs are women, and there are very few women on boards in pri­vate com­pa­nies,” said Kape­los, not­ing that change has been hap­pen­ing in Hol­ly­wood be­cause the wage gap be­tween male and fe­male ac­tors has been made pub­lic.

Va­chon noted that while Crown cor­po­ra­tions in Québec were leg­is­lated to­ward gen­der par­ity on their boards, the pri­vate sec­tor has not budged, mean­ing that reg­u­la­tion could be­come nec­es­sary. Va­chon also said that large cor­po­ra­tions need to in­flu­ence the mar­ket, which is why they need to en­gage on ap­point­ing more women di­rec­tors.

When it comes to bar­ri­ers women en­trepreneurs face, Stephanie Karlovits, founder and CEO of EPIC Fit­ness + Life­style, said that it breaks down to three things.

“Fund­ing has been a big one; sup­port and pro­tec­tion, and growth,” said Karlovits, not­ing that her stu­dent debt was an ob­sta­cle to get­ting fi­nanc­ing, and that she feels that she has more pro­tec­tion as a res­i­den­tial ten­ant than she does as a CEO when it comes to com­mer­cial dis­putes. She also laments the lack of sup­port avail­able for when she wants to take time off to have a fam­ily.

“It can’t just be a mer­i­toc­racy and a fight to the death — we need to be sup­ported,” said Karlovits.

Lesley Lawrence, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for On­tario of the Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Bank of Canada, noted that the bud­get set aside $1.4 bil­lion for the BDC to fi­nance women en­trepreneurs. This builds on an ini­tia­tive launched in 2015 to in­crease lend­ing to ma­jor­ity-women owned busi­nesses.

“This is ob­vi­ously an ag­gres­sive tar­get, but we can do it,” said Lawrence. “We have to work with part­ners like other fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions.”

Cur­rently only 16 per­cent of busi­nesses are women-owned, and in or­der to help reach more women, BDC plans to run a se­ries of boot camps to help women en­trepreneurs with fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy and skills. Lawrence said that she is also work­ing with the Cana­dian Man­u­fac­tur­ers and Ex­porters’ com­mit­tee on women in man­u­fac­tur­ing.

“We’re re­ally try­ing to move the nee­dle on

young women com­ing into man­u­fac­tur­ing and skilled trades,” said Lawrence, not­ing that women make up less than 10 per­cent of the sec­tor in Canada.

Cather­ine De­carie, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate af­fairs and sec­re­tary of Ex­port De­vel­op­ment Canada, said that when it comes to women-led busi­nesses in the ex­port mar­ket, the sta­tis­ti­cal data­base lists only 1000 com­pa­nies.

“Ex­port­ing com­pa­nies are more prof­itable, they’re more re­silient, they’re more sus­tain­able longer-term to eco­nomic shock, and they’re more in­no­va­tive,” said De­carie, which is why EDC hopes to help more women-led busi­nesses into the ex­port mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly by help­ing them to de-risk their first steps.

De­carie noted that one of the big­gest chal­lenges that EDC faces is that not enough women-owned ex­port busi­nesses know that they ex­ist and can help. This is why the Crown cor­po­ra­tion plans to fo­cus on its web pres­ence and boost its outreach in or­der to bet­ter tar­get its train­ing to­ward real-world chal­lenges.

Both De­carie and Lawrence note that di­verse com­pa­nies that have more women in lead­er­ship roles, are more in­no­va­tive and more prof­itable.

“Women are very fo­cused on re­la­tion­ships, and we see that with the women en­trepreneurs we deal with,” Lawrence said, adding that women in busi­ness value trust and loy­alty and what it brings.

Lawrence also noted that women in men­tor­ing po­si­tions help other women to en­gage, while Karlovits said that women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions en­cour­age other em­ploy­ees to see them­selves in the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

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