Clearing the Path

January 15, 2013Kim Campbell may have said it best twenty years ago, when she commented on her status as Canada’s first—and, to date, only—female Prime Minister.

“I'd be prouder still to say I was Canada's tenth woman Prime Minister.”

It’s great to celebrate the first woman to become Prime Minister, or join a corporate board, or become CEO of a major company, but equality isn’t about the trailblazing women who struggle to reach the top first. It’s about encouraging many women to reach their full potential and maximize their contributions in the workplace.

And the true value of incorporating women’s perspective in political or business leadership can’t be achieved when only one woman’s voice is being heard. That value is achieved only when a critical mass of women is in position to lead and influence corporate culture and corporate decision-making. Research demonstrates that having more women at the top can benefit a company’s bottom line. And women tend to “send the elevator back down” for other women once they’ve reached the top.

Women serve as Premier in four provinces and one territory, but it’s unlikely that Canada will see another woman Prime Minister in the near future. And women continue to be, at best, a minority, and, at worst, invisible in corporate Canada’s senior ranks. But there are signs of a growing awareness that women in senior management and on corporate boards can create value that exceeds the individual.

We see this in the growing number of FP500 companies signing the Catalyst Accord and making the commitment to increase the number of women on their boards. We see it in the number of CEOs who attend and participate in Catalyst events, including The Catalyst Canada Honours.

These leaders recognize that their competitive position, and Canada’s global economic standing, depends upon the most effective deployment of talent, and on each individual being able to work up to his or her potential.

As Kim Campbell once noted, “. . . a lot of men . . . have more in their personalities than masculine stereotypes allow for. So when you get more women in an institution, the men can be more of the things that they are.”

And that’s what works best for men, women, and business. Is Canada ready for this kind of change?