Celebrating Our Progress Toward Gender Parity on Boards and Charting the Path Forward
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March 9, 2023
The Empire Club of Canada Presents
Women Who Lead: Celebrating Our Progress Toward Gender Parity on Boards and Charting the Path Forward
Chairman: Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Lori-Ann Beausoleil, Board Director, Empire Club of Canada, Corporate Board Director, retired PricewaterhouseCoopers Partner, Strategic Advisor, Wildeboer Delellce
Distinguished Guest Speakers
Qi Tang, CFO, Skyservice Investments Inc.
Stephanie Coyles, Non-executive Board Director, Sun Life Financial Inc., Metro Inc. and Corus Entertainment
Jennifer Reynold, CEO, Women Corporate Directors (WCD)
Head Table Guests
Kate Bagshaw, Senior Commercial Energy Advisor, Bruce Power
Jenna Donelson, 3rd Vice-President, Empire Club of Canada, Director, Public Affairs and Strategic Engagement, Humber College
Jehan Karsan, Executive Director, Empire Club of Canada
Taylor McKenna, Government Relations Advisor, Bruce Power
Sal Rabbani, President of the Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada, Managing Partner, BDC Advisory Services, BDC
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau; literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.
It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.
Welcome Address by Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon. Welcome to the 119th season of the Empire Club of Canada. I'm delighted to be here with you and our esteemed speakers today. Thank you for your participation and support. Our role at the Empire Club is to inspire thought leadership and learning. As a trusted forum for conversations that matter, we provide a platform for the professionals of our community to profile their expertise. We hope to spark meaningful connections and productive dialogue, by giving you, our incredible colleagues and peers, access to this nation's diverse wealth of knowledge and leadership. Welcome. My name is Sal Rabbani, and I'm the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada.
To formally begin this afternoon, I would like to acknowledge that we're gathering on the traditional and treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. We encourage everyone to learn more about the traditional territory on which you work and live.
Today, we come together to celebrate International Women's Day. A day dedicated to recognizing the immense contributions that women have made to our society, and to honour the progress that has been made towards gender equity. As corporate professionals, we all have a vital role to play in creating a more equitable workplace, where women feel empowered and valued for their unique perspectives, skills, and abilities. However, despite significant strides made over the years, women still face significant barriers in the workplace, including unequal pay, limited opportunities for advancement—among other things. This is why it's crucial for us to continue pushing for change, by actively promoting diversity and inclusivity in every aspect of our organizations. This means actively seeking out and supporting talented women and championing their advancement. This year's Empire Club of Canada's annual “Women Who Lead” event is about the significant milestones reached in the work towards achieving equal representation of women on corporate boards.
According to Osler's Annual Diversity Disclosure Practice Report in 2022, women now occupy one-quarter of board seats across TSX-listed corporations. And in the first time in the report’s history, S&P/TSX Composite Index companies have no all-male boards. The panelists you will hear from today prove gender parity is possible and are currently sitting on boards with fifty percent—or more—women. So, on this International Women's Day, let's commit ourselves to building a better and more equitable world for women. Let's continue to break down barriers, empower women, and ensure that they have an equal voice, equal rights, and equal opportunities to succeed.
Turning to today's program, I would like to recognize the Empire Club’s distinguished past Presidents, Board of Directors, staff, and volunteers; thank you for your contributions to making this event a success. The Empire Club of Canada is a not-for-profit organization, and we'd like to recognize our sponsors, who generously support the club and make these events possible and complementary for our online viewers to attend. Thank you to our season sponsors, Bruce Power, Hydro One, and TELUS.
If you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We're accepting questions from the audience for our speakers through the Q&A portal under the video player.
It is now my pleasure to invite the moderator for today's event, Lori-Ann Beausoleil, Corporate Board Director, retired, PriceWaterhouseCoopers Partner, and Strategic Advisor, Wildeboer Delellce. Lori, welcome.
Opening Remarks by Lori-Ann Beausoleil, Board Director, Empire Club of Canada, Corporate Board Director, retired PricewaterhouseCoopers Partner, Strategic Advisor, Wildeboer Delellce
Thank you, Sal. It is an absolute pleasure to be moderating this panel today. As Sal said from the various reports that he quoted, we have seen some real great success. But everybody, we still have a long way to go. And I'm excited to have a panel with experience on the journey of getting gender parity. But you can't talk about gender parity unless you talk about where we are today. So, yes, Osler’s report has said that we've made progress, but they do say it continues to be slow for women regarding seats in the board room; and you're going to hear from our esteemed panel. Also from our esteemed panel, visible minorities, Indigenous people, and persons with disability, we are still seeing very slow progress in this area on corporate Canada boards. And Osler is even suggesting a need for reform.
And lastly, to put context to this conversation, the Prosperity Project 2023 issued their report, and they said that women at senior management level—who will become our future board members—the pipeline to senior management has actually decreased since 2021. So, we all have a role to change that statistic for those talented young female executives in our organization. And of course, the Prosperity Project also highlights, women of Colour hold 9.4 percent of women-held leadership, which is an increase from 2021, at 6.2 percent. So, that journey has started, and we're beginning to see success.
So, why are we here today? We have to continue to have these conversations that we're about to have with this panel, to make sure we continue to focus on board diversity commitments. Because without it, we will not perform as well as others in this global market—and look forward to hearing from Jennifer who can give us a global perspective.
And I love quotes; so today, before I kick off this panel, for all the men and women on this call, please remember this Martin Luther King quote: the time is always right to do what is right. And I just can't help but not pause, because as I kick off this panel, this is the time to do what is right. Gender parity is critical for not just economic success, but for success for our female potential corporate board members. So, remember that the time is right. So, with that, I am going to pass it over to my esteemed panel to do some introductions. And I'm going to start off with Qi Tang.
Qi Tang, CFO, Skyservice Investments Inc
Thank you, Lori. First of all, I want to thank the Empire Club of Canada, and to invite on this, such an important topic, to be on the same panel with this, you know, esteemed moderator and panelist. So, thank you very much for that. My name is Qi. I'm a Senior Finance Executive and Corporate Director, with about 25 years’ experience. I certainly, throughout my career, have worked for a number of public-traded and private companies. Currently, I’m the CFO of Skyservice Investment Inc, which is in the business aviation sector. Prior to my current role, I was the CFO of RioCan REIT for almost five years, as well as a number of other senior finance roles. I'm currently the Board of Director and Chair of the Audit Committee for Dream Office REIT, which is a TSX-listed company in the office sector, as well as another TSX-listed company called ADENTRA, which does lots of basic wholesale distribution of architectural product, mainly in the US. So that's a quick introduction, and I turn the mic to the next.
Thank you. And I'll turn to Stephanie.
Stephanie Coyles, Non-executive Board Director, Sun Life Financial Inc., Metro Inc. and Corus Entertainment
Thanks Lori-Ann. And as my colleague has mentioned, I'm really honoured to be joining this panel. I'm looking forward to the conversation; I think it's a really interesting one. And it had me pausing and thinking about when the first International Women's Day occurred, and I was seven years old. And I recognize now how I stand on the on the shoulders of giants, and the challenges that they faced in the 1970’s, and the progress that has been made has been tremendous. And I think that the conversation going forward has, has new challenges, new areas to focus on. So, I am really looking forward to, to that conversation. As you highlighted Lori-Ann, my background now is I sit on three publicly-traded boards, Metro, Chorus, and Sun Life—all who have really embraced the concept of creating inclusive environments, both at the board and senior management, and throughout the companies. I’m very proud of the progress that all three are making in those dimensions. Prior to that, for the most part, I was a partner in a large international consulting firm. And so that, I always like to joke that I'm a recovering consultant. And it's hard to get that out of me sometimes.
Thank you, Stephanie. And now, Jennifer.
Jennifer Reynold, CEO, Women Corporate Directors (WCD)
Thank you. Well, I'm just delighted to be here today, talking about a very, very important topic with a great panel. So, I’m looking forward to the discussion, and questions that may arise from the discussion with the audience. But my background is financial services, 25 years in financial services, most of that in capital markets, in investment banking, a little bit of time in the venture cap industry as well. I currently serve on three boards, two public—one in the insurance industry, one in the agri-business industry—and one private, in the asset management industry. And my day job is the CEO of Women Corporate Director Foundation. And it is a very interesting organization; I've been in the role now for about a year. It is made-up of 2500 female corporate directors around the world, on six continents, about half in the US, but the rest spread throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe. And so, these are really an incredible group of women, so I'm fortunate to go to work every day with women who have thrived in the corporate environment, and who are definitely advocates for others to follow in their footsteps.
Fantastic. And thank you, Jennifer. So, audience, we have some conversations that's going to be held very shortly, but please send your questions. This team is so experienced, so we can pivot—because what we really want is for us to answer what's important to you. So, please use that chat for questions, and I will navigate accordingly throughout the conversation. And I really want this to be a conversation. So please, I can't ask enough for you to use the Q&A.
So, I'm going to start off with success. Today, according to the Osler’s report, we have 27 companies on the TSX 60 that have fifty percent or more of their board members being female. So, I do think, for all of those organizations that have intentionally made that—I consider it a Herculean effort, and a wonderful statistic. I do applaud you. If we were in the audience, we would do a formal applaud, but since we're here, hybrid; thank you.
But let's understand how these organizations got to that fifty percent. And both Qi and Stephanie sit on boards that have achieved that phenomenal statistic. So, I'm going to turn it over to Steph, to give us a sense of, for those organizations where you sit on the board, how did you get to the fifty percent? Talk us through that journey, so we can learn from that success.
Yeah, it's a great question. And you're right, at Sun, currently, 6 out of our 12 board members identify as female. And I, I would argue, even more importantly, three out of the four chairs of committees are women. So, it's not just about representation, it is about leadership roles, in addition, right? So, Sun has always been a, a real believer in the power of inclusivity, and creating that kind of an environment. And it starts at the board; it does not end there. There's a real focus on, how do we create an inclusive environment that is tailored to the global realities. Because we're talking, here, in a North American—and in particular, a Canadian—context. As you deal with the concept of gender parity, there are—and inclusivity—there are some implications as you go into international environments. But in all instances, we're committed. And that commitment starts at the CEO, and the Chair, and the board, but runs throughout. And how did we, how did we get here? I mean, there is a purposeful 2025 DNI [indiscernible] that helps guide the conversation at the MRC, which is the Human Resource Committee. At the board, we look at this topic on an ongoing basis. But specifically, at the board level, I think it starts with true commitment from the leadership to an evolution at boards, to focus on skillset.
So, if you look back 10, 15 years ago, even 20 years ago, the idea of really understanding the skillsets that you wanted to have on the board weren't there. And I think we've really moved, now, to a recognition that you have to think about bringing alternative points of view to the table, in order to create the right kind of dialogue, and that is grounded in understanding skillsets. That's been a key to unlock. I think a key to unlock at the board has also been thinking about term limits, so that there's change. Because if you have people sitting in roles for too long, you, you're going to be limited in your ability to bring in. I think there's also been really good thinking around mentorship, so we ensure that as with new women board members come on board—all board members, by the way—that we have a mentor plan in place to help you contribute. So that, it's been very thoughtful at, at each stage. But really, the key to unlocking this is a recognition that if you want to create the right kind of environment around the boardroom table, you need to embrace diversity of thought. You also need to tap into fifty percent of the workforce that's out there, which is women. So, you you've got, you've got to have this as an objective.
Perfect, thank you. And as I said, the question board is lighting up. So, I do want to address the questions. And there are two which I believe Qi, in your conversation, you will handle, and I’ll also pose one to Jennifer. So, Qi, when you bring your conversation about the “Fifty Percent Club” on the board that you sit on, give some thought to, as the women that Stephanie talked about—and I am one of those women, I am and 1980s person, I started my career in the 80’s, so don't like to say what year, pretend I'm younger than I am—but you know, one of the questions is, you know, there was a time when women were barred, you know, from corporate boards. Today, we're hearing about boards that have fifty percent women, they've got diversity policies, you know, as they do their turnover, they're looking to bring more diversity of thought. And so, I'm interested, as you’ve talked, Qi, to address the question, how do your boards promote diversity, as you're talking about the success of hitting the fifty percent?
M'hm (affirmative). And thank you, Lori. As you know, I sit on the Dream Office board, which, you know, out of the seven board members, four are woman. And you know, two of the committee chairs are women as well. So, if anything, I would actually say, I'm the director, I’ve directly benefited from Dream’s philosophy in promoting women in leadership and women on board. I think, fairly speaking, Dream—in my view, at least, you know, for the industry I'm familiar with, real estate industry—is always ahead of the industry overall in this, in this aspect. You know, our chairman and founder CEO, Michael Cooper, really believe in women and leadership, and you know, women on board. So, way before—in my mind—before the, you know, women on board become a trend, you know, a pressing matter; and he's already taken efforts in promoting women in leadership.
As you know, in my career prior to, you know, me joining the board, prior to RioCan, I actually worked for Dream, Dream Globe, one of the entities under Dream. So, I know what he’s like. So, he has that general philosophy, not just for the sake of, you know, women on board, what's the statistic—because they truly embrace the idea, right? So, I experienced it when I was an executive there, and certainly benefited from, you know, the philosophy once I had become one of the board members. So, I think that's absolutely critical, and you know, is really, you want to not just for the sake of the statistic is to be one of the, you know, person who can click, you know, tick a few boxes, but really, we want to be part of the board and organization that truly embrace women in leadership, and believe in women's abilities. So, I think, you know, beyond what the company believe in and what they promote, but also I think we have a lot to thank for the other, you know, female executive, female board members that's before my time, or before me and currently on the same board with me. Because for what they are able to deliver, what they are demonstrate, right? It really illustrates the ability.
Frankly, in my experience in one of the organizations—not this particular board—I literally heard one of the CEO made a comment that, you know, historically he may be a little more older school, right? And as he bring in more female executive on board and women on board, he actually particularly made a comment saying that he truly appreciate why the importance of having women on board and women in the executive team. I think that's thanks to all these women executive and board member who collectively demonstrate what we’re capable of, right? I think that's absolutely critical.
And of course, every organization—like, in Dream’s case, as you know, Dream has a number of public companies within the group of Dream companies. And we have, you know, women board chair, certainly, committee chairs, we have women CEOs. So, they really embrace it, and promote not just on the board, but at the executive rank as well. And certainly, when we select the board members, the skillset, the, you know, different diversity on the skillset, that's very critical as well, as Steph already highlighted. So, there's really a variety of thoughtful things to take into account in selecting the board members.
Fantastic, and thank you. So, those that are listening, there's three key points that she said: culture, the organizations that are achieving fifty percent already have a culture that celebrates diversity, and inclusion, and parity, and equality; number two, we heard from Steph, there's intention, they are intentionally making sure their board is the best board, based on skillset and otherwise. And guess what? They know that board, to be number one, has got to have diversity. And they're achieving diversity with intention, but also making sure that they've got the right skills sitting on the board.
But Jennifer, you've got the global lens. You get to see this across the world. You get to see what we believe right now is, in our 27 companies—and yes, there are hundreds more, like, I want to be clear that we need to help them up, and stand them up through this journey—but Jennifer; give us some context and some, I guess, helpful hints on what you're seeing globally in this particular area of gender parity.
If we think about Canada relative to others, there's certainly others who are further ahead, who we fast followed or tried to fast follow. Like the UK and Australia; we implemented diversity disclosure in 2014, they had done it prior to that. And so, we've certainly, we've seen great progress. Scandinavia and Europe took a different path in many cases, right, with quotas. And so, the numbers there are higher in terms of proportion on boards. But I think, certainly, you know, we've, I do feel we've got momentum now. And you know, if you go more broadly than sort of the Western world, you know, we have members—as I mentioned earlier—all over the place. And so, others are in a very different place, in terms of their journey on equality for women, and on women's advancement into senior leadership roles. And so, we really do try and pull them up. Globally, the proportion of women on boards now is just under twenty percent.
But I guess, a couple of comments I would make, and this has been alluded to earlier, where we're not seeing progress, or we're not seeing enough progress—and I think this is a global concern, not just a Canadian concern—is in the CEO role and in the chair role. Those numbers are about the same, about five percent—we're a little bit higher in Canada, six or seven percent on the chair role—and they aren't moving. And those are really important roles, those are the leadership roles in the economy. And those can really be the game changers, I think, and drive the cultural changes that are needed in organizations, so that we then start to see that ripple down into the very important executive suite, where—we can talk more about that, that's sort of a separate issue, which is a critical one right now—but those are sort of some of the markers that I'm looking at. We're seeing committee chairs, you know, audit committee, Nom/Gov, some of the committee chairs are in and around twenty-five percent, globally, are women. That has come up. But like I said, the chair of the board and the CEO have been the glacial ones, globally.
And Jennifer, that is totally aligned with the stats coming out of the Prosperity Project. But specifically, you know, when we see a decline in women in leadership pipeline, 11.9 percent, I mean, it's a little frightening. So, here we've got all these great boards looking for all this female talent, but there's no female talent to bring forward—I shouldn't say no. There's a lot, but not enough to fill what I believe is the needs and requirements. So, globally, is there anything that you see in the diversity and inclusion world that they are doing right to get the women, the female pipeline, you know, up, increasing, so that there is a fifty percent chance that they will be able to land a board seat. Jennifer?
Yeah, I think you've got to be deliberate, right? If you want to achieve this goal. And it's hard, it's pushing a rock uphill, often, it feels like, for those who are sort of in the trenches trying to make this happen. But you’ve got to know the numbers at every point in your pipeline and figure out where you're losing those people. And then figure out, obviously, what is the problem. So, those who are tracking it really diligently, and paying attention to where they're failing, and trying to find that specific spot. We kind of know, in different industries, it's usually—you know, women, McKinsey’s done all kinds of studies—it's typically, as you go from that middle management to the more senior management, right? That's where we're losing, that's where we lose momentum as women, that's where we see higher numbers of men get promoted relative to women. And there is a myth out there that that’s because all the women have left. And that's just not the case. Again, that research I mentioned from McKinsey showed that the women were still there, actually, but it was, it really was a dynamic internally. So, you've got to unpack that, right? And understand you can hire diversity, but how are you going to make sure that it's successful? How are you inclusive, really? And I think that applies to the board, but also to the executive suite. So, we have to start asking the hard questions, you know, bringing great talent in that is diverse is step number one. And the really important step is then figuring out, how do you really welcome that diversity of thought, and how does it change the way you do things, and how do you challenge fit? Fit is a really dangerous word. We always use that when we're hiring, and say, “oh, let's get the right fit.” Sometimes that means just someone exactly like me. And so, it's those types of things that we really need to see challenged. So again, it's data and diligence about just tracking what you're doing, and where you're successful, and where you're failing.
So, everybody that's listening to this conversation, you have a role. Is your organization tracking the female executives, and when we do see statistics going in the opposite direction, how are we reacting? What are we doing to retain that top talent? And for those of us that are sitting on boards, are we asking the right questions? Are we getting enough depth into the understanding of that statistic that Jennifer refers to? So, I think all of us, you know, I’m gonna go back to my Martin Luther King, the time is right, the time is right for all of us to start looking at these statistics, being committed to promoting and celebrating female success. But let's be clear, you don't get here without some bumps and some hurdles. We've all, during our journey, experienced barriers. And so, Qi, could you maybe share with this group, you know, obviously, your journey as a racially diverse and gender diverse executive was not easy. But how did you overcome those barriers? What advice can you give to those listening? Both male and female.
Yes, thank you, Lori. I think, in my view—and certainly, from my experience—the most critical thing will be believing in yourself, right? And I believe sometimes the hurdle, certainly there is the external hurdles, perceptions, or unconscious bias out there. But sometimes, especially like in my own case, as an immigrant—because when I came to Canada, I was already, you know, a young adult, 21 years old, right? So, there's culture differences, even though I could speak English, but it's much stronger accent than I, probably I am today. So, you kind of—as much as I remember back then—as much as I believe in my, you know, my brain power, my intellectual capability, you kind of question, I questioned myself whether how far I can really go. Because, you know, you just recognize there's undoubtedly cultural differences, right? How you adapt to a new country, new different environment.
So, I remember throughout my own journey, the biggest hurdle in my own case is actually myself. Is to get over that view that, okay, maybe—I remember back then, in my early 30s, I was already a VP. And I have so many comments from my, let's say my, my ethnic background, and come to me and say, oh Qi, I rarely see people your age, background, could go this far already. But I know, in my back of mind I thought maybe I chopped it already, right? So, it's that self-doubt. But as I move along in my career—I remember in the middle of my career, I became the CFO of a startup company, where I literally had to do everything from deal negotiations, setting up the whole finance, the administration functioning, you name it, right? And manage your operations. And after a while, I literally tell myself, I said, you know, you know, forget about this, I can do it. Who said I could not be, like, a CFO of large corp, or anything perceived?
So, I think once I get over that, you know, that kind of self-doubt, I think that's make me even more confident in dealing with issues, or any perception issues I had to deal with. And you just overall come across a lot more, you know, confident. And I think, certainly, step-by-step. And of course, come along, I always have people—whether men or women—who believe in my abilities and create those opportunities for me. And of course, sometimes I would say, people create opportunities for you, but you also create opportunities for yourself. I certainly can name a few cases where I, literally, volunteered, you know, especially earlier in my career, where it kind of put you on different paths, right? Which turned out to be a fantastic decision back then. So really, I would say be confident in yourself, right? Focus on the, what you believe in. And don't get deterred or, you know, disappointed by certain temporary hurdles or anything. And then just focus on your goals, and of course, rely on people, your network, your circle of friends and mentors. And, you know, basically, deal with, deal with it one thing at a time. That's my, what I have to say.
I know. And that's fantastic, because believing in yourself is half the battle. You've got to be confident, and you've got to—you know, I think there's a bit of tenaciousness that is required for success. Because as we've faced barriers, gender, race, sexual orientation, we've got to be confident to overcome those barriers. And please, everybody, remember, we're all human. At the end of the day, we're all human beings. And when those barriers are put in front of us, they're tough to break through; and it hurts. I think, you know, female, race, it hurts. And so, I think we've got to bring that human element to this conversation as well. Because we can be confident in ourselves, we can have that network that's confident in us, but we need organizations to appreciate we're human beings. We're willing to grow, develop, but we need the opportunity, and the support, and the respect. So, on that note, Steph, I'm going to change the questions a little bit, because we've got some really great questions in the chat. And I think this one, really, I think, will be great for you, because you've had an interesting journey from consultant in a male-dominated field to a successful corporate board member. And what the people in the audience want to know is, how did you do it? How did you get noticed? How, what is your personal brand that allowed you to get to where you are? If I'm a female starting out, wanting to get a board position, Steph, give us some feedback and direction on how we can achieve success in the boardroom, a.k.a. get a get a board position.
And that's a question that I certainly get asked on a pretty regular basis, Lori-Ann. And I, I'm not sure there's a simple answer. But it does reflect a lot of what we've been talking about. I mean, clearly, the experience of performing at the top in whatever area of business—or not business, academia can be a great source of board members. But being distinctive in what you choose to do is critical, because you do need—for a board to be successful, it's not just about diversity; it is truly about diversity of thoughts. And therefore, they should be looking at you and saying, what is the contribution you are going to make, and how is it relevant to what that company is trying to achieve? So, one thing was, I found myself lucky enough to have developed an area of expertise that was relevant to what boards were looking for. In my case, it was particularly around, kind of data, analytics, digital marketing, which was a skillset that a number of companies desired. So, that's the first thing.
But the second one is back to the point of network. Because particularly, getting on that first board, it's challenging to break through. So, what is critical is that people know of that value proposition that you bring forward, and that's where your network is really important. And I often encourage women to actually think about what they bring, and who they're similar to. So, for example, if I was a CPA-type background, Lori-Ann, I might look to you and say, I have a similar background I could bring. Because you're going to get the phone calls saying, “I need a board member, do you have capacity?” And Lori's going to go, “no, I'm too busy but I know of...” So, that actually, is really important. So, it's understanding what you bring, what you're going to be distinctive about, and then building a network of people who are similar to you who, perhaps, have the experience on the board.
And then the third thing is, actually spend a good amount of time thinking about what you want out of your board experiences. Because not every board is the same; not every board will give you the same benefits. Maybe, you'd actually enjoy private boards more than public boards, maybe smaller boards. You need to spend a little bit of time thinking about why. Why, what will you look for? How—because in my experience, if you don't enjoy what you're doing, if you're not passionate about the companies you're working with, with people you're working with, how you're growing, you're not gonna do a good job. It might look great as a storyline, but it's not going to fulfil you.
So, those would be my three pieces of advice. One, know what you bring; two, find people who bring similar things and build networks; and three, spend a little bit of time understanding what you are truly, truly trying to get out of your board experience. Because it might lead you down a different path, or different types of boards.
No, excellent. And Jennifer, did you want to weigh in on that question as well?
Sure. I mean, I would echo everything that Steph said. I think that the things I would add there are, you know, really thinking about being strategic, and thinking about, what is the perfect board for me? And you may not actually get that particular one. But pick that one or two—this is the perfect board, here's how I would sell myself, here's my elevator pitch. Like, you really do have to do that, so that, you know, when you're out there talking to people, they'll remember those points clearly, right? “Oh, I remember that Jennifer said she wants this type of a board, and these are the three reasons why,” or whatever it is. And you've got to be top of mind because it is network. At the end of the day, every—I’ve been on four boards—it's all network. Even the one where it was a headhunter called me on it, she knew me outside of, you know, she knew me, so I don't really think that's, that's still network, right? So, you've got to be thinking about that network, being strategic like Steph was talking about, about what, what conversations, events, should I be at so that I'm speaking to the right people? I know, often, we think there's just so much work to go out networking, but that's how you get on board; it is definitely through networks. You spend a lot of time with these people. So, boards, you know, they choose their directors really carefully; there's a lot of risks there for everyone. And so, that's why, you know, in part, it's so heavily network-based, in terms of how those things happen.
Perfect, and thank you. So, in answer to the several questions around this, what did we hear? First and foremost, focusing on what you're good at and what you're actually selling to the board. You know, and when you hand the same board resume to all boards as if they're all the same, then you're not ready. Because you've got to understand each and every board and what they're looking for. They're all different, as Steph said. And they need to understand what value proposition you're going to bring.
The other thing is, once you get past that kind of, ‘what's my personal brand, what am I going to offer?’ then have the strategy, is what we’ve heard. So, get that strategy. Again, you can't be everything to everybody. Find out the area that you're passionate about—both Jennifer, Qi, and Steph all talk about passion—and focus in that particular arena.
But again, you need your network. And here is where women—and generally, visible minorities as well—suffer, because they don't have a network. They've come to this country, they've achieved success, but they didn't have those clubs. And I was fortunate, because people said “well, Lori, how did you do it?” I did it because my job allowed me to meet an array of people, including the women on this panel. I wouldn't have met them through my board work or through my professional services work, but I knew the power of a network. When I had to deliver my revenue, I knew I needed that network to help me deliver. I had to be able to call up Qi and say help. So, that is so important. But we use the word network very broadly. Can we help the individuals that are interested in networking, what does that look like? Can I turn to you, Qi? What does your network look like, and how did you develop it? You said you came to the country at 21, you've got a big network, how did you do that? So that some of the executives on the phone can understand, such.
M'hm (affirmative). Certainly, I would have to say, accumulate it over time, as we all experience, right? As you get more experience and, you know, you get to know a variety of people. So, my network certainly comes from, in my own case, particularly in the real in the real estate industry—because super majority of my career is in this industry, even though our recent year change I changed industry, so that's my predominantly where my industry, you know, my networks come from. But I believe in, whatever you do, whether you're still relatively on the younger side, still mid-career, build up your credentials, or later become an executive, I think every part of what you do, frankly, carries with you. Both in terms of our own skillsets we have developed, the network, and frankly, reputation out there as well, right? So, the network could be colleagues, could be mentors, you know, through other organizations, through your CFO background, through the bankers—whoever the people, your investors, whoever you deal with. So, that becomes a broader, a broader network. And in my own case, particularly, I would say my core network is, at this stage in my career, frankly, is we literally have a CFO group within the real estate industry, at least all the large cap to mid-cap, we all know each other, right? So, that's, you know, certainly we are all CFOs with similar background. If one person got a call and we know each other, you recommend the right person, and as exactly as you just described as well, Lori, if you got a call, we have to balance everything, right?
And one thing I would advise people is don't just get on board for the sake of getting a board. Make sure you actually pick a company that you feel, first, you can add value, and you're passionate about what you do. And to me, it's also very important that I truly believe in the management team like I want to be associated with, right? So, be picky about which board you want to be on, and be selective, right? And especially, as you mentioned, as women—in my own case, the reason I highlighted it, I actually one thing whenever I, you know, certainly when being approached for board, my key consideration will be first whether I, of course, have capacity to do so, whether there's conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest, right? What I want to do, you know, that—you have to balance those factors, and then comes to, is this a company I'm passionate about, I believe in the management. So, there's all these things. But one thing I always make sure is, they come to me not just because I could have a few boxes ticked, right? Because on surface you could say, I certainly have a good career, you know, I've been a large public company CFO, CFO with all the finance executive credentials, right? And certainly, I'm also a visual minority, so I could check a few boxes.
But the last thing I want is, they want me only because of those, right? And I remember, in one of the conversations—frankly, the second board I joined, ADENTRA, that was totally, frankly, through a recruiting firm—the executive recruiter called me. I don't know them at all—I almost said no, because I thought, I've never heard about them, and not my industry, right? But the executive recruiter insisted and said, this is a great company, great, good story, why not you take a look, right? So, I take a look, and it certainly fascinated me, for what they have been able to accomplish. So, I said, “okay, let’s start the conversation.” So, that one I obtained purely through recruiting process. But I remember in the final stage, one of the questions that I actually asked that board—we did the in-person interview with the entire rest of the board—I actually particularly highlighted this issue. I said, “look, I understand, certainly, I fully believe in myself, what I can bring to this board, and I can also say that I can get a few boxes checked from that ESG perspective. But I want to make sure that you want me here, truly, because of my credentials, not because of woman, not because I'm a minority. Because certainly, from an ESG perspective, you could get a few boxes checked. But in the end, what's of value to that management team, to that board, ultimately, is what we bring to the table, right? In terms of our skillset, our strategic thinking ability, a different perspective, right? So, I think that's critically important.
And another thing I want to add is, I feel we owe it not to just to ourselves to be on the right board, but also, we owe to our fellow female executive and fellow female board member. Because how we behave, how we add value to a particular board, speak to some extent what people view about, you know, female executive on board. So, I think all these are intertwined, of course. But mostly important is to be make sure you're on the right board, that you truly believe in.
And I agree with—oh, sorry. Go ahead, Steph.
Yeah, I agree with what's been said. But I wanted to come back on network, because whether we're talking about being successful on corporate boards—or whether we're talking about being successful, period, in life—network is probably the most important thing. And I wanna challenge us to think that women are very capable of being good networkers. And now that we have reached a point—there's still more to go. But if you're looking around thirty-six percent or so, or thirty percent or so, of VP's and above are women. But don't think of networking as being, how many cards I have in a Rolodex—if I aged myself—or how many people I have on my LinkedIn profile. It really is about people that can work together and support each other. It includes men, and women, and every other combination therein, and it requires real work. And it's symbiotic. What do I mean by that? It is as much about you thinking about how can this person help me, as it is about you thinking about how can I help them.
And so, I just, I just wanted to pause and reinforce, if there's one piece of advice for the young women listening on this call, it is about building, sustaining, nurturing, growing, a true support network. Which includes, in the home, in your personal life, as well as in your professional life. Because I know I am successful because I had the support, both in the professional world, as well as in my personal world.
Fantastic, and it's great that Steph answered. I swear, I was going to say the same thing. The power of the network. Before we leave this important topic, Jennifer, are there any networks our community wants to know that, you know, they're that they should join? Do you see any formal networks that are a great place for female executives to join, to start that networking journey, if they're new to that process?
Yeah, I think the obvious ones are organizations like Institute of Corporate Directors in Canada, and other countries have, you know, in the US, it's NACD. So, those are great starting points, because you're getting good content, and you know, you're starting to immerse yourself in the issues, you're immersing yourself in a network of people who are also interested in what you're interested in, as well. So, those are the obvious ones. And then, I think the other networks which are important are more specific, perhaps, to the industry that you would like to be involved with. You know, if it's mining, it's obviously PDAC, or things like that that you would go to. So, I think, thinking about being in the right rooms with the industry focus is equally important there.
But I do encourage people to get involved with these organizations because they are, they're a great conduit to meeting the right people, and getting the right knowledge, and having an understanding, as well, how to position yourself properly. Because interviewing for a board position is very, very different from interviewing for the executive suite. And often, that, those nuances are holding women back from—and other people, but I've seen it with women, in particular—from getting those roles. Because they're just not coming at that interview and thinking about the questions—both their questions and the questions they’re receiving—from the governance perspective, the board level, as opposed to the management level. So, making sure that you're accessing those networks, that education, I think, is a really important piece, too.
Totally agreed and thank you for that. In fact, we do have a question that says, “I have gone to a few interviews, and I haven't been successful because I don't carry a VP title.” So, if you listen very carefully to what Jennifer said, it's not so much the title—because you're not going for a job position—but your experience. So, if you don't have that SVP, C-Suite title, do you have the experience of leading teams? Because leadership is what you need to be a successful board member. Remember, as a board member, you're overseeing not just the strategy, financial risk, et cetera, but the CEO. I mean, it's kind of funny, you are the boss of the CEO. So, to be effective in that role, you need to have some type of leadership experience. So, whoever wrote that question in, I would say to you, perhaps, if you have leadership experience, that's what you should be focusing on the question, versus, you know, I'm not a VP. So, always go in the positive and not the negative.
For those that are asking about tokenism, let's be very clear: this is now Lori Beausoleil perspective. When you get asked to a board, and the board only wants you as chief, articulated, because you're Black, Asian, a woman, and don't really care about the other skillsets, you will be set up for failure. Because you will not be able to be successful in that environment, no matter how excited you are about that particular position. Now, when you also are also that first person to get that opportunity, and they're very interested in your skillset—Steph knows that I got a call, and they said, “listen, we are looking for racial diversity, and—capital A-N-D—these following skills.” I took the call. If the call said, “I'm looking for racial diversity, period,” I won’t take the call. Because I need to be as successful in that board role, and I need it to be known that I’m need it for my particular skillset that I'm bringing.
It's a tough line—and Qi articulated the same—just make sure, specifically, as you're embarking on this journey, that you're doing it with your eyes wide open. So, I want to make sure that my fantastic panel gets to provide a couple of words of advice for those that are looking to join that board, for those that are looking for that boardroom journey. And I've got, ladies, I'm sorry, it's 12:53, so we've got five minutes. Go ahead, Jennifer. I'll start with you.
Sure. I know it can feel like we're, we have the same discussion, you know, year after year on this. But it is really important for us to continue to push on this. I really believe strongly that we need better diversity in the leadership of our economy. I think Canada will be more productive, I think we’ll be more successful, if we actually start taking advantage of that talent pool. So, I really encourage everyone in this call—whether you're an employer, whether you're trying to get on a board, whether you're on a board—to really keep pushing and ask the hard questions. And again, if you're in a position of power of any kind, push to make this happen. And I would encourage, you know, for those who are looking for their first board, the good news is that it used to be that you had to have been a CEO, or you had to have—you know, there's three or four things they were all looking for; you had to be in your 60’s. And I think that is changing, because the complexity of the issues that boards are facing today is very, very different. I mean, we have sessions—we just had one yesterday in my organization, on the Metaverse—or things like that, which, you know, historically, the technology issues, the social issues, are much more complicated, and companies are now expected to weigh in on a lot of these social issues, not just diversity, but a broad array. And so, that requires different people around the table. So, we're seeing boards really dig into different spots of the organization to that VP level. If that person's got that whatever it is—cybersecurity, or that particular area of expertise—I think they're recognizing that. And I think there's a recognition of getting more intergenerational perspectives on boards, too. So, hopefully that bodes well for us, broadly.
So, what is Jennifer saying? You don't have to be on the C-Suite to get a position. So, I think she's articulated a whole host of skills that were not ordinarily part of the board journey. Qi—sorry, I'm making it quick cause I'm getting the tug—closing remarks from you?
All right, I’ll be quick. I certainly concur with everything Jennifer just, you know, said there, and everything we discussed here. Overall, I would encourage for those, especially, younger women out there trying to look for their first board is, certainly, believing in yourself. And find the right board, the right angle to, basically, demonstrate your skillset that you could bring to the board. And be patient about it. If one time didn't work out, and there's other opportunities, don't be disappointed about it. And of course, that networking is very, very important. And make it known, because, especially for someone relatively younger, people may not even know you're interested in board seats, right? So, make it known within your own network, and then just carry on; but very, very important there. I still think that critical, what executive experience or what experience you have, just continue to build on your skillset, right?
Fantastic, and thank you Qi. And Steph?
Hard to add anything additional other than to be realistic in understanding what you can bring. We need boards to add value. And so, always ask yourself, can I add value in this situation? So that, that that's really the last piece of advice. And be yourself. Because again, I have always said, if you're not yourself in a job interview of any type, then you'll end up in an organization and you won't fit, you won't enjoy it. So, it's okay that that a certain opportunity is not the right fit for you; that's okay. But I am very optimistic. I am amazed at the progress that we have made in my 30 years of working, and I am incredibly optimistic about the next 20 years, and the progress that will continue to be made.
Thank you, Steph. I just wanted to say, not 20 years, let's do it a little quicker. Wow, as a moderator, it doesn't get any better than to have this amazing panel. I tried to answer as many of the questions as I could in the time that was given. You know, if you want some more, please, you know, send them to the Empire Club and I'll make sure that they get responded to by the various panel members. So, in closing, the time is right, so let's keep pushing for gender parity on boards, racial diversity, sexual orientation diversity. Let's continue to push those organizations on their diversity policies. And not making that a piece of paper but making sure that there is intention behind that piece of paper to achieve. So, thank you everybody. And with two minutes to go, I will turn it back over to Sal.
Concluding Remarks by Sal Rabbani
Thank you, Lori, and thanks again to our esteemed panel for your time this afternoon. It was nothing short of a powerful and inspiring discussion. From the importance of shaping the future through culture and intention, and some of the words of wisdom around it, the importance of building, sustaining, nurturing, and growing support networks. I hope everyone joining us today gained rich insights from today's dialogue. Remembering this year's theme for International Women’s Day hashtag #embraceequity, I call on everyone tuning in live or later on demand, to commit to understanding the importance of gender equity and equity in general, and how we can embrace it every day.
Thanks again to our sponsors, and all of you for joining us today. As a club of record, all Empire Club of Canada events are available to watch and listen to on demand on our website. A recording of this event will be available shortly, and everyone registered will receive an e-mail with the link.
Our next event will be at One King West Hotel on Wednesday, March the 29th, and I'll be joined by James Scongack, Chair of the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council, to explore Canada's position as a world leader in the development and use of lifesaving medical isotopes to enable modern healthcare. Thanks again for joining us today.