Women in Leadership Breakfast Event
Hosted by the TRSM Leadership Centre

Written by: Serena O’Brien, WiLA’s Content Curating Officer

Monday January 29th 2018, the Ted Rogers MBA Women in Leadership Association was fortunate enough to have a roundtable discussion organized by the TRSM Leadership Centre, and moderated by the President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto, Leanne Nicolle. The main topic of discussion was on women in leadership, with an emphasis on how women can strive to bridge glass ceilings and break down barriers faced in the workplace. What was unique about Monday’s conversation was that we weren’t debating the statistics which highlight the dire need for more women to fill executive level roles-it is evidently clear that there is an overwhelming need for more women to balance the scales at the table, where men dominate in positions of power. Instead, our dialogue served to highlight the ways in which we can aim to solve pieces of the problem, and create a holistic solution to mitigate gender biases in the workplace, increase accessibility for women to achieve leadership roles, and increase the likelihood of women pursuing, achieving, and remaining in executive level positions. The following themes emerged during our discussion:

If Old Boys Can’t Be Taught New Tricks…

One of the main issues discussed was the notion that, if discrimination in the workplace is a systemic issue, and “Old Boys” can’t be taught new tricks, then the solution lies in what, and how, we teach our future generations. If there are males in executive roles who are presently ridden with unconscious (or conscious) biases, then we (men and women) need to start by teaching our sons that these biases towards women are not justified, nor acceptable. We need to teach our future generations that equality and inclusivity are necessities for not merely fostering equal opportunities for women to achieve leadership roles in the workforce but, also, for increasing diversity of thought in the working environment. However, the solution does not merely end here.

Engaging Men in the Conversation

In addition to combatting unconscious or conscious biases, and cultivating equality and inclusivity from a young age, we need to engage men in the conversation of fighting gender discrimination in the workplace. If men are predominantly filling the C-suites, and chairs at the table, then we need to work with them to be more willing to help mentor women climb the corporate ladder. It is through collaboration and being receptive to what female leaders bring to the table, that we can begin to rectify gender imbalances at the top of the ladder.

Women (and Men!) Empowering Women Through Mentorship & Sponsorship

Alongside engaging men in the conversation, and collaborating with male leaders to serve as mentors for aspiring female leaders, we need to have more female executives offer their support and guidance towards other women. If empowered women empower other women, then we need to have females in executive level roles mentor other women in their pursuits to achieve more powerful positions at work. Better yet? Combine female executive mentors with sponsorship opportunities to wholesomely help women thrive and accomplish their leadership level goals.

Shedding Stereotypes & Embracing our Authentic Selves

We need to become comfortable with the discomfort of going against the grain in shedding stereotypes that no longer serve us, so that we can achieve progression in the realm of gender discrimination in the workplace. Furthermore, women and men, alike, need to embrace their authentic selves by dissolving the need to act in traditionally masculine or feminine ways to further their success in the workplace. An issue that we see in the work environment today is that women are now are expected to act more stereotypically masculine in order to have any hopes of obtaining leadership positions, because the men who sit at the table have set the expectations for what characteristics a leader should possess (ex. assertive). However, a woman is ironically penalized in pursuing executive positions if she comes across as being “too” masculine in her approach, leaving a very fine line for women to walk on when climbing the corporate ladder. The remedy to this problem? Men and women need to learn to embrace their natural and authentic mix of masculine and feminine characteristics, and use this balance of traits to their advantage. As an example, men can strive to embrace their vulnerability (a trait traditionally considered to be feminine) so that they may become more empathetic leaders (see Justin Baldoni’s “Man Enough” social movement), and women can seek to shed their self-deprecating ways and embrace confidence (a trait traditionally expressed by men) so that they may seek to achieve their full potential.

Key Takeaways

Overall, the only way we may collectively begin to abolish gender discrimination in the workplace is through taking a multi-faceted approach. Some steps in this approach include: recognizing and re-framing unconscious (or conscious) biases directed towards women, creating greater opportunities for women to fill leadership level roles, recognizing and intentionally appointing highly qualified women to an executive team, C-suite, or CEO position, have female and male leaders serve as mentors to help other women achieve executive positions, increase mentorship opportunities for women, combine mentorship with sponsorship opportunities to help women fully achieve what they are capable of, increase equality and inclusivity for all in the workplace, and shed gender stereotypes aside.

What additional strategies can we employ to break down glass ceilings? What other ways can we work to remedy gender discrimination in the workforce? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

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