(As originally published on LinkedIn, 1 March 2017)

Time to fast-forward women leaders in private companies

  • Share

By: David Fabian, Partner and Canadian Co-Leader with EY’s Private Client Services practice

Women make up more than half the population of the world. Yet they continue to be overlooked as a vital talent resource by many companies. Working with Canadian private businesses, I’m amazed by how few female leaders hold key positions that can prepare them for future leadership opportunities. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as reported in EY’s study Women. Fast forward, it could take another 170 years for women to achieve gender parity in the workforce. That’s simply unacceptable — and impractical.

Capitalizing on the talent of women leaders makes good business sense. The global economy is driven by sustainable value and business growth, which depend on attracting, optimizing and retaining top talent. Think about the immense potential that private companies could unleash if they tapped this immense talent pool!

So what can private companies do to accelerate women leaders and help close the gender gap?

Put gender on your agenda

To eliminate the gender gap, businesses must first acknowledge that there’s both conscious and unconscious bias in their current mindset and build supportive work environments that promote inclusive leadership. Owners must acknowledge that bias is unacceptable and demonstrate through training programs and organization-wide messaging that diversity and inclusiveness are not “nice to haves” — they’re must haves. A balanced workforce of men and women — as well as diversity in a wide array of forms — stimulate innovation and generate new ways of approaching problems, all of which lead to better decision-making and results.

Support women family business leaders

Family businesses are a dominating force in the Canadian economy, and there’s a new generation of women leaders who have a keen interest in taking the reins. To help the next generation succeed — and develop necessary leadership capabilities — it’s important to enlist the help of key management, advisory boards or professional coaches. Providing transition support and empowering women to become strategic visionaries encourages growth, innovation and job creation. Women are welcome in family businesses. With more women transitioning into top management roles, family businesses can help put gender equality on the map for private companies in Canada.

Lead by example

When I think back to the great leaders I’ve learned from over my career, I fondly recall the mentors who’ve inspired and taught me along my journey. For up-and-coming women leaders in private businesses, it’s critical to find mentors and build networks of women who have experienced similar paths. Either fellow leaders have been there before or are going through a similar experience and can add valuable advice and insights around challenging business problems. Actively developing personal and professional networks can offer valuable sounding boards for career advice and personal growth. Building a network to share experiences can provide you with encouragement, support and guidance along your leadership journey.

Even more effective than mentorship is sponsorship. Senior leaders often sponsor — or informally advocate for — promising people in the organization. Unfortunately, women are often less likely to be sponsored than men. A sponsor doesn’t just offer advice, but acts as a long-term supporter as the individual they sponsor grows and moves up in the organization. This can be very effective in building long-term success — not only for the individual, but for the whole company.

There’s no doubt: women in leadership positions are a powerful economic force. To accelerate achievement of gender parity, we need both men and women business leaders to take purposeful action to recruit, retain and advance women in equal proportion to their numbers in the workplace. It’s in every organization’s economic interest is to maintain diverse teams — capitalizing on the talents that women can bring to the table can accelerate the company’s success.

Will you #BeBoldForChange on International Women’s Day 2017 and beyond by taking meaningful actions that drive the greatest change for women? It’s long overdue.

To learn more about how EY’s Private Client Services practice works with private companies in all industries, visit us at ey.com/ca/private.