Women’s Empowerment Group Catalyst Canada Says It Believes In Strength Of Male Leaders

CIBC president and CEO Victor Dodig listens during the company's annual and special meeting of shareholders in Vancouver on April 5, 2016.

When you’re choosing leaders of a team meant to increase workplace inclusion for women, it seems natural to pick a woman to lead that initiative.

But as Bloomberg put it with a headline that could have been ripped right out of The Onion, “Man Named to Lead Canadian Women’s Advisory Board — Again,” Catalyst Canada did not go that route.

Previously on HuffPost Canada:

The non-profit research organization announced this week that Victor Dodig, president and CEO of CIBC, has been appointed to chair the Catalyst Canada Advisory Board. He also chairs the 30% Club Canada, an outfit that has a goal of ensuring 30 per cent of board members of major companies are women.

Though honestly, we can’t help but wonder how they’ll ever achieve that when men keep getting appointed to the top positions.

Colleagues at business meeting in conference room

Of course, there’s a good case to be made that in order to achieve gender equality in the workforce, there needs to be a buy-in from men, who currently dominate almost every industry. And that seems to be the tact Catalyst Canada has taken.

“Since joining Catalyst [in September 2016], my mission, our mission has been to change the conversation on how to advance women in the workplace from being a women’s issue to being a business issue, a talent issue and a societal issue,” Catalyst Canada executive director Tanya van Biesen tells HuffPost Canada.

I’m asking Victor to leverage his leadership role in engaging men so that he can engage other men to advance the mission.

As van Biesen points out, the reality is that 95 per cent of Canadian companies are led by men, and their influence is necessary to change the landscape.

“I’m not asking Victor to act like a woman. I’m asking Victor to leverage his leadership role in engaging men so that he can engage other men to advance the mission,” she says.

Team brainstorming, high angle view on the table

Dodig, for his part, recently changed his senior management team at CIBC, promoting one woman in a strategic business role in a move that he told the Financial Post would “provide an opportunity for the next generation of leadership.”

And there is, van Biesen says, a distinction between what Catalyst does and and what organizations, such as Women of Influence, does.

We have to look at the makeup of organizations, which contain many men, and talk to them as well.

“Our work is directed at affecting culture change within organizations,” she says. “We have to look at the makeup of organizations, which contain many men, and talk to them as well. We have to have them in the conversation.”

It calls to mind the backlash Sophie Grégoire Trudeau received around International Women’s Day, after she posted an image of herself and her husband, Justin Trudeau. Her caption drew the ire of some critics.

“This week, as we mark International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the boys and men in our lives who encourage us to be who we truly are, who treat girls & women with respect, and who aren’t afraid to speak up in front of others,” she wrote.

Are you ready to ignite change? This week, as we mark International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the boys and men in our lives who encourage us to be who we truly are, who treat girls & women with respect, and who aren’t afraid to speak up in front of others. Take a picture holding hands with your male ally & share it on social media using the hashtag #TomorrowInHand. Together, we can create a movement that inspires more men to join the fight to build a better tomorrow with equal rights & opportunities for everyone… because #EqualityMatters. 🤝 Êtes-vous prêtes à faire des étincelles pour allumer un changement ? Cette semaine, à l’occasion de la Journée internationale des femmes, célébrons les garçons et les hommes qui nous encouragent à être qui nous sommes vraiment, qui traitent les filles et les femmes avec respect et qui n’ont pas peur de parler haut devant les autres. Prenez une photo main dans la main avec votre allié et diffusez-la dans les médias sociaux avec le mot-clic #DemainEnMains. Ensemble, nous pouvons susciter un mouvement qui incitera davantage d’hommes à lutter avec nous pour des lendemains meilleurs, l’égalité des droits et des chances pour tous … parce que l’#Égalitécompte.

A post shared by Sophie Grégoire Trudeau (@sophiegregoiretrudeau) on

While some people supported the message, many felt it was the wrong time and place to convey it, with one commenter noting, “I think I’ll spend International Women’s Day focused on the women who encouraged me to be who I am instead. I can get back to celebrating how amazing men are the other 364 days.”

So while Catalyst Canada — whose advisory board currently exceeds the 30 per cent female goal set out by Dodig’s other gender-specific affiliation — is on the right track, there’s certainly room for improvement, particularly when you’re out to set an example for the country.

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Author: Rebecca Zamon