by Claire Toplis, iSisters.org —
The problem of lack of gender diversity in the highest levels of corporations, including boards isn’t new and although the problem has long been recognized, progress to address it has been slow.
But before we can solve the problem of women in leadership, we need also to consider two other vital “L” words: women’s opportunities to contribute their labour and also the critical importance of learning in order for all women to improve their lives.
We all know the problem—across all fields of work, the higher you climb, the fewer women you see, and the corporate boardroom is no exception to this.
What is ironic is that when women get the chance to lead, they actually do so more effectively. The data is in: companies with more women on boards and in leadership positions outperform those with fewer women. Firms would do well to focus explicitly on improving the gender balance of their boards for this economic imperative alone.
More women also equates to better problem solving. Blending different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives within a team leads to cognitive diversity, which can lead to better problem-solving, team performance, and innovation.
So women looking to make an impact should demand their rightful place on boards – because having them participate will be good for everyone. The personal rewards are many, whether you serve on a corporate board or a non-profit:
- Be a leader in your community
- Build your personal networks
- Tap into new professional networks
- Share your perspective and make a difference
- Gain valuable experience and enhance your career
Women represent half of the world’s population, but much less than half of measured economic activity. That means that girls and women are the main victims of extreme poverty in the world today.
We know that eliminating gender gaps in economic participation can lead to big jumps in per capita income, a crucial measure of economic wellbeing. And we already know that when women are able to contribute more, the economy does better. It is women who control the purse strings, accounting for over 70 percent of consumer spending. If we want a more effective economic recovery, then we need to empower more women to generate it.
Without expanded opportunities to contribute their labour, women will not be able to act as leaders in the ways the world needs. Before we can make progress in women’s representation in leadership, we need to see more women to be lifted up from precarious employment to steady jobs that build their economic well-being. We need to help more women obtain the dream of meaningful employment, a career and ultimately the highest levels of the labour force. Then we’ll have a pipeline of women who can lead. Clearly the solutions include providing quality child-care, and making our workplaces inclusive and welcoming. There is much work to be done here.
Learning is the root of it. The education of women, of all women regardless of background, is critical for women’s success in the labour force. Without good quality education, women’s opportunities to attain economic independence are severely limited, leading to a cycle of poverty that can repeat for generations. With society facing one of the greatest challenges in generations during the global pandemic, the need for the skills to use computers and the internet has never been more important. You can’t begin to look for a job if you don’t know how to use a browser; you can’t safely attend a virtual medical appointment if you’ve never used Zoom or Google Meet.
At iSisters, an Ottawa, Canada based charity dedicated to empowering digital awareness in disadvantaged women, we believe that acquiring technology skills is a key component to job readiness.
We must continue to bet on and invest in education, especially for women. We undertake the work we do at iSisters so that our learners will either gain employment or be inspired to go on to additional education. Those are the two most important outcomes from our programs, and ones that we need to see even more often.
Why? Because, when women do well, society does better. Women are more likely to spend their resources on health and education, creating a powerful ripple effect across society and across generations. One study suggests that women invest up to 90 percent of their earnings this way, as opposed to just 30-40 percent for men. Women’s learning, including technology learning, raises us all up.
 McKinsey & Company, 2017
 Harvard Business Review, 2016
Claire Toplis — Claire is the volunteer Chair of iSisters Technology mentoring, an Ottawa-based women’s charity. iSisters Technology Mentoring designs and delivers community-based technology learning programs in partnership with community organizations that support women in need. Through technology skills development, mentoring and coaching we aim to increase earning potential and economic independence for women in need, thereby strengthening the family and the community as a whole.