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My 2021 Challenge to Women: Raise Your Hand!

My 2021 Challenge to Women: Raise Your Hand!

Every once in a while you hear a statement so powerful it stops you dead in your tracks. One that doesn’t just hit you in the moment but sticks with you, and you can’t help but keep replaying it over and over in your mind.

A few weeks ago, I attended the 2020 Women on Boards Global Conversation on Board Diversity and heard such a statement. Melinda Gates, one of the many speakers at the event, said: “In 2018 there were more Fortune 500 CEOs named James than there were women on the list.”

Whoa!

Of course, I had to go and check it out for myself. And there it was – an irrefutable fact staring me in the face.

Melinda went on to say, “If you think that men named James have more to offer than all women, then you’re at the wrong conference.” In fact, I’d say if that’s what you think, you’re living in the wrong century!

While 2020 has been challenging for women in the workplace, it also marked the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women's constitutional right to vote. Thanks in large part to this major milestone, women today have higher education, higher salaries, and more economic power than the generations that came before us.

Still, women have yet to achieve parity in the boardroom. According to the 2020 Women on Boards Gender Diversity Index Report, the percentage of women on Russell 3000 corporate boards has increased from 16 percent in 2017 to 22.6 percent as of June 2020. Having surpassed its goal of 20 percent of women in Russell 3000 corporate board seats by 2020, 2020 Women on Boards will now change its name to 50/50 Women on Boards. The organization’s new campaign will advocate for gender-balanced boards, with the goal of women holding half of the corporate board seats on all public company boards.

As a Diamond Global Sponsor of 2020 Women on Boards, RBC Wealth Management is committed to helping reach that goal. But that commitment can’t be just financial – it has to be deeper. And it has to start long before the boardroom.

In order to be considered for board positions, you must first have leadership experience. According to Catalyst, in 2019 the proportion of women in senior management roles globally grew to 29%. While that was the highest number ever recorded, it’s still far from parity. And with women making up more than half of the workforce population, it’s certainly not an adequate representation of the pool of qualified women available in the pipeline to achieve 2020 Women on Boards’ new goal of 50/50 Women on Boards.

So the question in my mind is, what can companies do to promote more women into leadership ranks? At RBC Wealth Management – U.S., this has been our mission for the past several years – both at the corporate executive level and among our client-facing operations.

In fact, of RBC Wealth Management’s 11 executive committee members, four are women. In our client-facing operations, we doubled the number of women in leadership roles from 2017 to 2019. In 2020, it grew by another 28 percent.

These are certainly big steps in the right direction, but we’re just scratching the surface. That’s why in almost every conversation I have with strong, talented women – both in the home office and in the field – I challenge them to think about raising their hand the next time there is a call for leaders in their area.

For many, this does not come naturally. So often women say no without giving an opportunity to lead serious consideration. They feel they may not be ready. They think they are less qualified than other candidates. Or, as I’ve seen time and time again, they assume that because they don’t meet every single criterion for the role, they don’t stand a chance.

My advice to them is to stop thinking about what they don’t bring to the role and start thinking about what they do bring.

So, as we step into a new year, I’m calling on all women to raise their hand when an opportunity to step up and lead arises. Let’s change that mind-boggling statistic that Melinda Gates shared!


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