Diversity in Leadership | Building a Culture for Women to Succeed

By BrainStation March 14, 2019

This month, we’ve written about female leaders in technology, tech trailblazers who are leading the way for diversity, and the importance of gender balance in the workplace.

Diversity in leadership and promoting a culture for women to succeed was the central topic of our Leadership in Technology panel discussion this week, which hosted panelists from leading organizations including Wealthsimple, TELUS, feminuity, Ernst & Young, Adobe, and Shopify.

All of our panelists are working tirelessly to promote inclusion and diversity in their organizations and brought unique perspectives to the discussion.

Championing Diversity in Organizations

“We should be building workplaces where people feel like they can bring their whole selves to work. You don’t have to assimilate in order to be successful in the industry,” said Danica Nelson, Senior Marketing Communications Manager at TELUS.

Making a change in your organization takes work, and Leen Li, CFO of Wealthsimple, reminded the panel that it won’t happen overnight.

We are doing a lot of research and trying to implement different initiatives to really improve the ratio. It’s a tough job, and it requires constant improvement day-to-day,” said Li. “I’m really making sure that I can be the advocate at the senior executive level to promote and advance not just women but people of color at Wealthsimple.”

Analyzing the Data

When it comes to diversity, particularly gender-related diversity, many organizations are making an effort to collect data and track their progress. But is it that simple?

Our panelists expressed that while numbers are important, you always have to dig a little deeper with your datasets.

“The capital market space is traditionally a white-male-dominated industry, so we track the stats of getting more women into these spaces,” explained Aziz Garuba, Manager, Advisory Services at Ernst & Young. “But then I ask the question: have we segregated that data by ethnicity? If we’re just saying ‘we’re hiring more women’ without really understanding where we have gaps, we shouldn’t be giving ourselves a pat on the back.”

David Yee, Head of Enterprise Digital Marketing at Adobe Canada, reiterated this point. “The aggregate numbers may be there on paper, but when you actually peel back the onion, you may not be doing a good job.”

Shavonne Hasfal-McIntosh, Diversity & Belonging Lead at Shopify, put it simply:

“It’s dangerous to be data-driven versus data-informed. Have a hypothesis, see what the data tells you, but always question it. Qualitative research is so important and so powerful.”

Taking Action

We talk a lot about promoting diversity, inclusion, and gender balance in organizations, but what happens when it comes to the implementation aspect? Dr. Sarah Saska, Co-founder & CEO of feminuity, pointed out a key issue in the way businesses are approaching diversity.

“Right now we’re seeing a lot of really thoughtful leaders focus on recruitment, and I’m excited that we’re seeing such a keen focus on [this]. But we’re not seeing an equal amount of attention being paid to the retention piece,” said Saska. “Folks are so concerned about getting people in the door, that they’re not investing nearly as much time and energy worrying about what that lived experience is going to be like for people once they are in the organization.”

In order to have a diverse organization, we need to build a culture where women, and all minorities, feel that they can succeed.

Our panelists each shared their advice on ways to take action and make a change:

  • “Put together some kind of unconscious bias training for everyone in the organization, particularly hiring managers.” – Garuba. 
  • “You can’t just rely on the company, you have to take the reigns and play a role.” – Yee 
  • “Involve professionals looking at your company strategy from an outside perspective to give a comprehensive plan.” – Li 
  • “If you have the energy to educate people, sometimes you will find they are quite receptive to learning and to seeing where they’re going wrong.” – Nelson 
  • “When we design employee referral programs, we like to put a caveat with some language that encourages employees to refer someone who is unlike them, whatever that means. We encourage employees to talk about why this person is different than they are and the value they see in that person helping to shape the existing culture.” – Saska

There are many different ways to start addressing diversity in an organization, but the most important thing is that a change is being made.

“Try something,” said Hasfal-McIntosh. “Make sure that you create a safe space for people to be able to give you feedback so that you have a strong feedback loop. And then involve and invite people to the table who you’re trying to solve for.”