Women in Leadership: Moving from conversation to action

Community done right is diverse, noted Red Hat Canada’s director of enterprise sales Claude Reeves at the company’s Women in Leadership event, Women + Leadership + Action: Moving from Conversation to Action last week. “But we can talk about the problem forever,” he said. “What about action?”

Red Hat’s Women in Leadership events, now in their third year, are all about action. However, Reeves emphasized, Red Hat’s goal is “not to lead the conversation, not to be the conversation, but to enable the conversation.” It wants to be the catalyst for change.

To spark that conversation, keynote speaker Vicki Bradley, president of Synergistic Leadership Group spoke about how great leaders build trust. Her work is based on the concept of conversational intelligence, developed by the late Judith Glaser, who defined the premise thusly: “To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of our culture, which depends on the quality of our relationships, which depends on the quality of our conversations. Everything happens through conversations.”

Panelist and Ryerson University professor Imogen Coe.

Bradley was followed by Red Hat’s vice president of portfolio product marketing Margaret Dawson, whose lively talk offered Eight things people can do to promote equality in the workplace:

  1. Declare intentional support to others
  2. Mentor, coach, and train
  3. Hire more women (she cited the “Up the Numbers” program from Women in Communications and Technology (WCT))
  4. Level the playing field ourselves – ask the hard questions
  5. Encourage daughters (and sons) to take risks – for example, research has shown that men will apply for a job if they only have a few of the required qualifications, while women tend to only apply if they meet all the criteria.
  6. Be nice to the “different” girl (or boy).
  7. Call out bad behavior by men or women, especially in meetings.
  8. Shine your light on others

The keynotes were followed by a panel discussion: Being a Change Agent: Challenges, Opportunities, and Best Practices in Moving from Conversation to Action, led by Fawn Annan, president, group publisher and CMO of IT World Canada, chair of the Canadian Channel Chiefs Council, and vice chair of WCT. She was joined by panelists Corrine Sharp, president of Sharp Perspectives, Julie Hansen, global executive advisor at Salesforce.com, Kirsten Kliphouse, SVP and general manager of North American commercial sales at Red Hat, Noureen Syed, Microsoft Canada’s open source lead, and Dr. Imogen Coe, founding dean of the Faculty of Science at Ryerson University.

Annan led off by asking the panelists what diversity means to them.

“Diversity to me is everyone,” said Sharp. “It’s not a singular group, it’s not a singular person. It is gender, it is age, it is ethnicity, it is I don’t care who you love or who you choose to be with, and I truly believe when you have a diverse team you have a better, more creative, more collaborative business.”

Hansen added, “Diversity to me often means diverse in thought. It comes down to the fact that everyone is an individual and you all bring things from whatever your experience and background is.”

“When you bring different perspectives together, it’s synergy,” said Syed. Coe agreed. “Diversity is about maximizing potential.”

From left to right: Imogen Coe, Rita Loncar, Fawn Annan, Kirsten Kliphouse, Julie Hansen, and Corinne Sharp. Photo credit: Noureen Syed.

The conversation then turned to actions. Annan asked, “What are the radical things that we need to do to make a difference, to make people embrace diversity, to include more people on their boards?”

“Stop telling women it’s their problem,” Coe said. “Stop telling women it’s something they have to do. Evidence and data in science and medicine, and in other fields, show the strongest indicator of diversity and inclusion in an organization is organizational culture and climate.” That, she went on, comes from leadership, policy, process, legislation, incentivizing appropriate behavior, and consequences for non-inclusion. If a board is told to have 30 percent of its members from diverse populations or explain why it can’t, chances are it will explain, but if the ultimatum is 30 percent or get fined, it will make the effort to find those board members.

“We legislate in Ontario for accessibility, for equity for people with disabilities,” she pointed out. “We don’t tell people who use wheelchairs to try harder, ‘lean in, lean in!’. We say the owner of the building is responsible for making it accessible. The burden of responsibility for change is not on the underrepresented group, the burden of responsibility for change is on the people with power and privilege.”

Added Sharp, “I didn’t realize the problem until I started working in large organizations. A lot of little things added up. In smaller companies the dynamic is different.”

However, she noted, “When a group of women gets together, they will get shit done and men will follow.” Women have to gather together and make things happen as a team.

On that note, Annan concluded the panel, observing, “I think what we’ve heard is that you don’t have to be a person in authority to be a change agent. You have to have a clear vision, and you have to be able to communicate clearly with others so that shit can happen. That I think is the big lesson here.”

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree.

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