Op-ed: Inclusive workplaces prove their value

Paying top female executives what they’re worth is just one element of a blueprint that sets local firms such as ADGA and Shopify apart, Janice McDonald writes

In her recent acceptance speech after winning an Emmy for her role as Broadway legend Gwen Verdon in the miniseries Fosse/Verdon, Michelle Williams championed the need for equal pay for equal work.

“When you put value into a person, it empowers that person,” the Hollywood star told the crowd, earning a standing ovation for her powerful statement.

Williams also reimagined her industry as a place that allows women to succeed because of the workplace environment and not in spite of it. 

Other industries should be working toward the same goal. The good news is there are companies in our community that are creating exactly those kinds of workplaces, but plenty of work remains to be done.

Making strides

According to OBJ’s 2019 Book of Lists, fewer than 10 of Ottawa’s top 96 highest-paid private-sector executives are women. Is that surprising? Not really. Disappointing? Absolutely. 

While women are making great strides in terms of being fairly compensated for their work, rising to the top while earning equal pay to their male counterparts remains a challenge. 

A forward-looking orientation to talent recruitment and retention enables every company to address and remove any unintentional challenges women face in their organization. 

For example, Fran Gagnon, CEO of local defence and security powerhouse ADGA Group, is helping to change her male-dominated industry for the better. 

As she shared on the Fearless Women Podcast, Gagnon has taken specific steps to encourage more women leaders in her company and is creating a pathway for women to follow. As she often says, “You can’t be her if you don’t see her.” 

Gagnon wants more women to see the possibilities of forging a career in the industry. The defence and security sector generates $10 billion in annual revenues and employs more than 60,000 Canadians, so the opportunity for more women to join and become leaders in the field is significant.

Diverse and inclusive workplaces offer many benefits. A recent Harvard Business Review study found the most diverse enterprises were also the most innovative. With the pace of change accelerating daily and competition for skilled workers growing more intense by the year, smart companies know they need to tap into the best available talent to innovate and win. 

Widening the aperture on talent has been a smart strategy employed by another trailblazing Ottawa company, Shopify. The e-commerce giant has become one of the most desirable local companies to work for, and with good reason. 

At Shopify, women leaders can be seen throughout the ranks. 

New CFO Amy Shapero is the city’s top-earning executive at a publicly traded company in 2019. Brittany Forsyth, the firm’s chief talent officer, has been part of the organization since there were only 20 employees. 

Forsyth has said that finding and empowering the right people while fostering an environment focused on solving tough problems is her daily focus. Shopify strives to be a workplace where talent can thrive and younger women leaders have role models to follow and be inspired by.

The latest research from IBM highlights the benefits realized by companies such as ADGA and Shopify that make advancing women into leadership roles a formal business priority. 

These “First Movers” follow a road map that secures accountability by getting leaders on board, creating specific measurable goals and milestones and ensuring processes are designed to promote parity between men and women. 

Culture of inclusion

The result? In First Movers companies, the best people are retained for future leadership. These employers have created workplaces where all talent can thrive because a culture of inclusion is valued and a feeling of belonging is achieved.

So while the list of the city’s biggest earners includes only a few women in 2019, future lists could look very different if the positive trends initiated by smart companies in our community continue and more companies decide to use the First Movers blueprint to advance women into leadership roles.

For a chart illustrating the First Movers road map, click here.

Janice McDonald is founder of the Beacon Agency and creator and host of The Fearless Women Podcast.