QUESTIONS FOR Tanya van Biesen (Rotman MBA ’00)
The Executive Director of the leading non-profit working to accelerate progress for women talks about the power of an inclusive workplace.
You are known for your ongoing dedication to advancing inclusive workplaces. When did you first embrace this challenge?
About 10 years ago, when I was a partner at Spencer Stuart, I noticed that many of my clients were asking me to help them bring more female candidates to the table at the Board and executive level. It quickly became clear to me that this was no easy task — both as it related to developing candidates and convincing board members and senior executives that a female candidate might be the best candidate. Soon after that, I took on the leadership of the firm’s Canadian Diversity Practice, where I was responsible for ensuring that we were putting forward diverse candidates. I actually coled the search to place my predecessor, Deborah Gillis, in the role that I occupy today; Deborah has gone on to become the global CEO of Catalyst.
Much has been said about the ‘business case’ for diversity and inclusion. How do you define it?
At Catalyst, we see diversity of talent as being equal to diversity of thought; and if you are not tapping into 50 per cent of the workforce, you are clearly missing out on huge talent opportunities. On a more micro level, our research shows that having women in the boardroom and on executive teams is linked to better business results. Some of the benefits we have seen through our research include stronger financial performance on core indicators; a greater ability to attract and retain top talent; more innovation and creativity;
greater client insight; and better performance on nonfinancial indicators such as social responsibility, corporate reputation and productivity. We have found that all of these things correlate with having more women in positions of power.
Currently, 65 per cent of Fortune 100 boards have 30 per cent board diversity, compared to just under 50 per cent for Fortune 500 companies — and the Canadian data is similar. What are big companies doing differently?
If you look at Canada’s 100 largest publicly-traded companies by revenue, over the past five years, they have moved the dial on female representation on their boards from 15 to 25 per cent, on average. That is substantial change among Canada’s 100 largest companies. On the flip side, 45 per cent of publically-traded companies in Canada did not have a single female board member in 2016.
So, what are the largest companies doing differently? A number of things. First, there is very intentional, active leadership on the topic of diversity and inclusion, and that is probably the number one, two and three reason for the progress we are seeing. There is also a growing belief in the business case. Frankly, these companies are also under greater scrutiny — whether it be regulatory or shareholder scrutiny
In effect, we are building a lower-skilled workforce than we could have.
— and increasingly, they are being asked about their plans from a diversity and inclusion perspective. All of these factors are having on impact.
In a recent study, Catalyst found that just one year out of an MBA program, women were earning $35,296, compared to $42,918 for men. What are the implications of this gap?
Ensuring equal pay and opportunities for women and men boosts growth, promotes diversity and reduces economic inequality. That’s the most important thing, and that would be true whether we were talking about MBA grads or work- ers in the developing world. Simply put, income inequality is bad for any economy.
In the research you cite, we followed 3,345 post-mba grads, and in addition to a substantial wage gap, we found that women also, on average, started at a lower level than men after completing their MBA. This is problematic, because it has knock-on effects. The wage gap starts out at $8,167 dollars, but it widens over time. If you layer on top of that the fact that woman generally get less access to ‘hotjobs’, like profit-and-loss responsibilities and international assignments — jobs that get the attention of senior management — many women tend to lower their ambitions and ‘opt