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.

Rotman Management Magazine - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view by Karen Chris­tensen

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

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