Progress Didn’t Pause: Highlights From Catalyst Honours 2020 (Blog Post)
A global pandemic, record unemployment, and social unrest threaten to exacerbate systemic barriers that could erase many of women’s workplace gains. But at Catalyst Honours 2020, Catalyst’s sold-out and first-ever fully virtual conference, leaders from around the world were determined to ensure that progress doesn’t pause.
For three days on October 6-8, 2,000 CEOs, senior executives, inclusion leaders, subject-matter experts, and government officials met to discuss ways to accelerate women in the workplace (and beyond). Attendees and subject matter experts spoke candidly about the challenges facing women and other marginalized groups; they also shared tangible solutions as well as their visions for an equitable future of work.
Each day we explored our theme, Progress Won’t Pause, through a specific but diverse lens: October 6, Advancing Women; October 7, Gender Partnerships; and October 8, Equity and Inclusion.
“Covid-19 has required us to be empathetic as we try to understand the unique lived experiences of all of us and how we bring everyone together,” said Catalyst President and CEO Lorraine Hariton.
This year, we recognized six extraordinary role models of workplace inclusion in corporate Canada as Catalyst Honours Champions:
- Nicole Bourque Bouchier, CEO and Co-Owner, Bouchier
- Guy Cormier, President and CEO, Desjardins Group
- Mark Machin, President & CEO, CPP Investments
- Gillian Riley, President & CEO, Tangerine Bank, Executive Vice President, Scotiabank
- Arlene Dedier, Director, Colliers Project Leaders
- Miranda McKie, Data Architecture and Engineering Manager, Accenture
A Message of Resilience
The conference kicked off with an inspiring talk from Dave McKay, CEO of RBC.
“In the wake of the pandemic, one conversation must not get lost in the shuffle. We need to stay focused on increasing the representation of women in corporate leadership and promoting equal access to career opportunities.”
The Toll on Women
During the “Advancing Women: Present and Future” session, Lean In co-founder and CEO Rachel Thomas shared recent findings from Lean In’s annual Women in the Workplace report. The report revealed that an astonishing one in four women across the US and Canada is thinking about downsizing their career or stepping out of the workforce as a result of Covid-19.
“We’re at risk of losing a lot of women if companies don’t figure out bigger, bolder solutions,” Thomas said. A recent Catalyst survey found that 41% of working mothers and 36% of working fathers have not shared their childcare struggles with their employer over fears about job security. Catalyst’s Tanya van Biesen added that necessary change includes affordable childcare, more trust and empathy in the workplace, and effectible flexible and remote work policies.
Moving Toward Equity
In “Protecting the Gains of All Women in a Time of Crisis,” the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to the Canadian Parliament, asked the audience to recognize the fierce urgency of now: “Each one of us has a responsibility to do something,” she said. Dawn Desjardins of RBC spoke about the need to create a new pipeline of talent that doesn’t leave women and marginalized groups behind. And Ayman Chowdhury of Global Compact Network Canada highlighted the need to engage men in gender equity and implement measurable diversity and inclusion goals.
Actions Men Need to Take
In “Forging Gender Partnerships in Male Dominated Industries,” Akil Bishop of CIBC spoke with Catalyst’s Steve Stall, Vice President of MARC (Men Advocating Real Change). CIBC was the first company in Canada to adopt the MARC program, which helps men champion gender equity. Bishop shared three actions men should take if they want to be gender equity partners: actively participate in conversation; focus on fixing organizations, not fixing women; and be intentional about inclusion. “No one is naturally born as an inclusive leader. You have to work at it,” Bishop said.
Countering Racism and Supporting Black Employees
In a panel discussion, Deloitte leaders Candice Maxis, Max Bazile, and Van Zorbas shared their company’s strategies to support Black employees, including rolling out a national sponsorship program for Black professionals. “We have to do something better for the next generation,” Bazile said. Maxis added that leaders must acknowledge the long-term commitment required for true change.
A Call to Action
In the final day of the conference, Hariton urged business leaders to “invent the future and make it what we really want it to be.” Catalyst’s Vandana Juneja agreed, adding that Catalyst can help companies take a holistic perspective “so that we truly get to some of the root causes to address systemic issues.”
RBC CEO Dave McKay observed, “We can’t miss the opportunity we have in front of us to create a very different future for our society.”
Catalyst Honours 2020 was Catalyst’s largest event to date. From 2010 to 2019, the Catalyst Honours conference and dinner—held annually in Toronto—recognized Canadian corporate leaders representing the gold standard for inclusive leadership.
We thank our sponsors for their support of the Catalyst Honours 2020: Progress Won’t Pause event: RBC, Deloitte, CIBC, CBA, BMO, Bell, KPMG, and Shaw.