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Closing the gender gap requires commitment of both genders

Luc Villeneuve is country leader, Canada, at Red Hat, Inc., a global open source leader.

I was recently at a diversity roundtable hosted by Ryerson University's Faculty of Science where they shared the interesting work of the Australian Human Rights Commission initiative, Male Champions of Change. The coalition of male business leaders works to leverage their influence to increase the number of female business leaders in Australia. This innovative idea struck a chord with me. Closing the gender gap is a critical business issue that impacts everyone and requires the talent and power of us all.

Women represent 25 per cent of the work force in the Canadian tech sector, according to the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). Unfortunately, that stat has barely budged in 10 years, despite the continual rally cry from ITAC warning of looming talent shortages in the tech sector. According to the Waterloo, Ont.-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, diversity is good for business. Its study, Diversity Dividend: Canada's Global Advantage, revealed a one per cent increase in diversity can deliver a 2.4 per cent increase in revenue.

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Red Hat Canada has doubled in size over the last three years and I am on a mission, with the help of my team, to ensure women are a part of that growth. Three years ago, female salespeople represented five per cent of our sales team, and now they represent 30 per cent. Our efforts are making a difference, but true change requires commitment and an honest assessment of our processes. Here's how we're making changes one hire at a time:

Leading by example

Major transformations require a fully committed leader who models the desired behaviour, according to McKinsey's CEO Guide to Gender Diversity. You can't delegate gender diversity to human resources or to just your female leaders. As a leader, you need to be the champion and rally your team with action and results. You need to embed gender diversity in your goals, support employees in driving change, establish a process to share great ideas and celebrate stories of success with your team.

Change starts at home

We all need to be advocates for our industry, explain the fascinating work being done and the diversity of jobs available. Early on, I encouraged my daughter, Stefania, to consider a career in IT, helped to guide her education and open doors where I could. At 23, she is thriving in a role in technology sales and I'm continually connecting her with other young women so she can serve as an inspiration to them. At Red Hat, we've seen a spike in the number of dads who are guiding their daughters and recommending them for technical jobs. We call it the "caring dad factor" and we hope it continues to drive diversity in our field.

Invest time in building a diverse network

Social media has allowed us to cast a wide net when hiring, but you still must carefully curate your network. I have 4,300 contacts on LinkedIn and, after auditing my connections, I realized the women I was targeting for employment were in my secondary connections. I couldn't contact them directly. I made the mistake of passively building my networking, letting people come to me instead of reaching out and taking advantage of the benefits of LinkedIn. I now spend a few hours a week reviewing connections LinkedIn recommends. I reach out to female IT leaders to connect or request an introduction to their networks, which could lead to good job candidates in the future.

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Wield your influence and take action

Research by Catalyst has shown women need sponsors, not mentors. Take the extra step to go beyond sharing your experience with female co-workers – put them forth for opportunities. I have sponsored three women over the past 15 years to replace me in my role. My most recent recommendation became NCR Canada's first female president. Last year, I launched an event for executive female leaders to provide a forum to network and share professional development advice. Many of the attendees have worked with me in the past and I took the opportunity to publicly honour their success. The event exceeded our expectations. It's going to become an annual event and networking opportunity for women to build deeper connections and support one another.

Hiring

We all have our successful methods that produce candidates. I discovered my process wasn't attracting a qualified pool of females. I sought feedback from female candidates and discovered some similar themes. They told me it was a challenge to meet my hiring deadline because of their commitments to their employer and family. They required a longer lead time to assess the benefits and risks of making a move. Because of this open dialogue, I've changed my hiring approach and I'm keeping in touch with female candidates to plant a seed before a job is available. It takes a commitment in time but it's worth it.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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