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For decades women have complained that senior posts in the information, communications and technology sectors have been dominated by men. Over time a number of programs in the Canadian industry have been launched to make a dent in those numbers.

Today a group is making another effort, one they say is unique and has the potential to make a difference this time.

Dubbed the Protégé Project, it will see a number of CEOs or their executive teams sponsor a woman who is a few years from reaching a senior or C-level position. Unlike a mentorship, which is usually one person advising a junior person within the same organization, sponsors will be helping women who work for another company and perhaps in another industry.

Behind the effort is a group called Women in Communications and Technology (WCT), a Canadian association of women who work in the communications, digital media and technology sectors;  Catalyst, an international nonprofit organization working to expand opportunities for women in business; and broadcaster Shaw Communications.

“What we’re really hoping for is a ripple effect to advance women’s leadership,” Janice McDonald, chair of WCT’s national board of directors, said in an interview.

Asked why this project will succeed where others have failed, she said that “when you have an executive champion who wants to help you get to the next level in your career, that can make a difference.”

Meanwhile “the rising star” has “an opportunity to learn a different leadership style and industry insight.”

While mentorship is critical in career advancement, she said sponsorship involves a person who has an interest in promoting and directing the protégé.

Women can apply for one of the 10 sponsorships by filing out an application on the WCT’s Web site. It is hoped sponsors will begin working with their proteges in January.

So far 10 C-level executives have agreed to be sponsors, including Shaw chief marketing officer Jim Little; federal CIO Corrine Charette; Jeff Boyd, a regional vice-president of the Royal Bank; Wendy Freeman, president of CTV News; Jean LaRose, CEO of Aboriginal Peoples Television Network; Sara Diamond, president of OCAD University; Namir Anani, CEO of the Information and Communications Technology Council; Elmer Hildebrand, CEO of the Golden West Radio radio network; Raja Khanna, CEO of Blue Ant Media, Dale Hooper, chief brand officer at Rogers Communications, Grace Palombo, TD Bank’s head of human resources and Goldy Hyder, president of PR agency Hill + Knowlton Strategies.

Hyder said he agreed to be a sponsor in part because the PR industry in Canada has a history of offering opportunities for women to rise. At H+K a woman heads the technology practice, he said, and leads the three-member Canada IT team.

“Our job as sponsor is to help them advance in their careers in a measured way and map out and track that (progress) forward, based on our own experiences to help them achieve their goals,” he said.

Around the world women are lagging in advancing in technology-related industries, both in tech and business positions. Last month Catalyst released a report on the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries showing women are less likely to enter tech-intensive industries and more likely to leave once they join.

For example, only 18 per ent of women opted for a business role in a tech-intensive industry immediately following their MBA, compared to 24 per cent of men. Just over half of women who started out in a business role in a tech-intensive industry post-MBA left to take a position in another industry, compared to 31 per cent of men.

Less than 30 per cent of senior management positions in Canadian communications, media and technology sectors are held by women.

Among the initiatives to change the balance, last month securities regulators in nine Canadian jurisdictions across set new rules requiring publicly traded companies and security issuers to disclose policy practices regarding the representation of women on boards and in executive officer positions.

The idea of a protégé program came from some brainstorming at WCT, said McDonald. It was announced at the group’s annual gala in April. Today’s announcement reveals the CEOs who have signed on.

McDonald described sponsorship as more of an alliance than mentorship, “where the sponsor will play a role in promoting and developing the protégé, opening doors for them. In the simplest terms, it’s helping them get to ‘next’ (in their career) faster.”



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