Want to boost B.C.'s economy? Put more women in charge

Group urges B.C. businesses to change their culture and increase women's participation in the workforce

Jill Earthy, co-chair of the WEB Alliance: challenging B.C. companies to do more to encourage women to advance in the workplace 

If you want to boost British Columbia’s economy, put more women in charge.

That’s the advice of a group of female B.C. business leaders and entrepreneurs who have released a report outlining how business culture needs to change in order to encourage more women to rise to the top.

“In 2008, a group of us who were running women’s business organizations got together, we recognized that there were a number of us in the community,” said Jill Earthy, co-chair of the WEB Alliance, the group that produced the report.

“So whether it was focused on women entrepreneurs, women business leaders, women in mining, finance, or law, that we were all doing our own thing and how great would it be if we could come together and collaborate.”

While women represent 47% of the Canadian labour force, women account for just 5.3% of CEO positions and 15.5% of corporate board seats, while 40% of companies have no women on their boards. A study from Catalyst, an organization the promotes women's participation in business, showed that companies with more female representation in senior leadership tend to perform better in areas like return on invested capital, return on equity and return on sales.

Recommendations from the WEB Alliance report include challenging businesses to implement diversity policies; put in place talent management and mentorship systems to encourage women to advance; and develop family-friendly workplace policies such as flexible schedules and allowing workers to work from home.

The report came out of a collaborative session that included British Columbia premier Christy Clark and Kellie Leitch, federal minister of labour and status of women.

“We had First Nations chiefs, we had entrepreneurs, we had people from the trades, we had corporate leaders,” Earthy said. “The point was not to sit and listen to speakers … people rolled up their sleeves and really contributed.”

The group is also recommending business curriculum be added to B.C.’s public school system, even in the early grades.

“We know the provincial government is interested in it and we’re hoping to work with them to start to implement,” Earthy said. “It doesn’t have to be resource-heavy.”

The group has challenged the participants who contributed to the report to effect change in their own workplaces. For instance, said Earthy, one trade union leader, upon realizing how underrepresented women are, committed to hiring more women in senior leadership roles.

At an event in October, the WEB Alliance will follow up with the original participants to see how they’ve done on those goals.

While one of the report’s recommendations is that companies consider offering workers a childcare subsidy, Earthy said a program like $10-a-day childcare, a policy supported by the Surrey Board of Trade, is not something the group has yet considered.

“But we might talk about it in the future,” Earthy said.