#EqualityCan’twait – breaking down barriers to success for the next generation of female leaders

By Alix Edmiston

Is gender parity in Canada a half a century away? That’s what the World Economic Forum (WEF) is predicting in their Global Gender Gap Report that benchmarks success in closing the gender gap around the world.

This alarming reality has spawned the #equalitycantwait global movement led by Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to mobilize everyone’s talents to help break down the barriers and accelerate the timeline to empower our next generation of leaders.

Last month partners Microsoft Canada and Red Hat Canada – led by Noureen Syed, Microsoft Canada’s Director Commercial Market Strategy Group and Claude Reeves, Country Manager Red Hat Canada — demonstrated their commitment to the movement by rallying their communities for an interactive workshop called Equality Can’t Wait – Managing Critical Milestones Stalling Next Generation Leaders.

The objective was to pool ideas and collaborate on successful solutions that can be customized and implemented by others. This is the second client workshop hosted by Red Hat Canada to deepen discussions from their annual Women + Leadership event. The fourth annual is being held on January 23, 2020.

Suzanne Gagliese, VP One Commercial Partner & Microsoft’s executive sponsor of Diversity and Inclusion, welcomed everyone and shared how her granddaughter inspires her because she doesn’t want her to spend most of her career fighting for equality.

“At Microsoft we are constantly looking to broaden our aperture and find talent in new ways and we hold all of our leaders accountable to this. While I am proud of the work we are doing with universities, government and partners like RedHat, there is much more we need to do as a company and as an industry because the reality is this: If we’re going to make a step change, it’s about inclusion — keeping people in, keeping them engaged, keeping them feeling passionate about what they do.”

Syed moderated a panel of accomplished tech leaders to share their personal stories about supporting equality, best practice initiatives, and successful corporate strategies in tackling barriers. Here are some highlights on how the panelists are supporting #Eqalitycan’twait.

Claude Reeves: Country Manager, Red Hat Canada: Pay Equity

“You have to make sure that pay equity and the whole idea of a diverse workforce and inclusion are all tied together. At Red Hat Canada we no longer ask – directly or indirectly — during the interview process how much someone presently earns. The implication of this is not trivial. Let’s think about an example of two people. A woman and man, same level of experience, years in industry, and qualifications apply for a role. Assume that the woman’s present salary is $80,000 and the man’s salary is $100,000. The salary for the roles is $115,000. If we ask each candidate their present compensation, and make offers accordingly based on a 15% pay increase to entice them to join Red Hat, we are perpetuating the problem of pay disparity. Red Hat sees this as fixing a problem and paying people what they are worth. We know how much the role is worth. We don’t care who you are, you’re going to be paid properly if we think you’re the right person for that role.

Carolyn Byer, SVP HR, Microsoft Canada: Commit to Diversity and Inclusion as part of their performance and development plan

“Back in September of 2008, we asked all of our employees to commit to Diversity and Inclusion as part of their performance and development plan. Microsoft has relaunched our values, respect, integrity and accountability. Our CEO, Satya Nadella has actually asked all of us to participate in a four-hour conversation on our values. This is really about us coming together and ensuring we have a shared understanding of what that means. But, more importantly, it’s really about how would we hold ourselves and others accountable? And just to put that in perspective, we are a 130,000-person organization and located in 190 companies. When you’re asking all of these employees to take four hours of their day, it is a real strong message from the top that we are focused on our culture and creating a space where we all feel that we can belong.”

Nicole Mumford, CEO, AirGate Technologies Inc.: Moving beyond gender and cultural diversity all the way to neurodiversity

“One of the things I’m most proud of is not just that three-fifths of our senior management team are women, or that we speak 18 languages and have more than eight religions represented in our organization, but that we have been able to successfully create an absolutely inclusive environment where we are all able to succeed regardless of our differences. We’ve gone beyond gender and cultural diversity all the way to neurodiversity. In fact, we have amazing individuals with autism in our organization who are so involved and so exceptional that customers are requesting them specifically to work on artificial intelligence and machine learning projects. Diversity is a superpower that just makes tremendous business sense for us. So that’s truly transformative in our view.”

Liz McLachlan, Managing Director, Accenture: Seek out the right sponsors committed to your success

“Prior to Accenture I was at a large company where I was encouraged to help start the LGBT group. We didn’t have benefits around same sex, so that was my forte — the start of my D&I journey. When I came to Accenture, I was recruited by our former president, Bill Morris, and he said, “The person in this role is retiring. Why don’t you come over and lead this group?” The next year, Bill said, “I want you to go for partner but you need the right sponsors.” I had Bill and my boss, who runs technology, as my sponsors. It’s a year-long process to make partner at a firm. You go through the interview process and it’s all about leadership DNA. You need to have the numbers, make the impact, and have the leadership qualities around the DNA to be a partner. I’m grateful to be part of an organization that is committed to inclusion and ensuring a strong sense of belonging, and to rewarding its people on the merit of their contributions.”

Fawn Annan facilitated the table discussions to engage the audience in sharing their expertise and personal observations in supporting young leaders. Annan, President and Group Publisher, IT World Canada, is a gender diversity champion who provides a podium for young women to showcase their talents in the pages of her publications and through her industry award programs.

She expanded on the remarks of the panel by stressing how we can’t ignore the impact of men as diversity and inclusion champions – especially when they still hold the balance of power and influence in Canadian organizations.

“A new Deloitte report called The Design of Everyday Men explores the impact of organizations and culture. A key factor holding back gender equality at the senior levels comes down to a current Western culture of “Always on, Always Available”. The good news is that business leaders have a significant opportunity to change organizational cultures to enable men to approach gender equality, not just as a supporter but as an active participant. She highlighted the leadership Reeves of Red Hat Canada is demonstrating.”

An overview of the top ideas captured by each discussion group

  1. What would you like to change/have done to embed parity for employees seeking in-demand skills and education: e.g. AI, cybersecurity, cloud, etc.?
  • In large companies all training is available to all employees — is it possible that less women participate? This needs to be measured
  • Target campaign to encourage parity – eg., One on ones; nominate employees, remove barriers to encourage managers to support
  • Tone at the top – inclusive culture is important for business success
  1. What programs/resources can we offer next-generation leaders to accelerate career advancement? (engage champions via allyship, sponsorships, coaching, flexible work schedules, job rotation, etc. – best practices for attracting for champions)


  • Behaviours
  • Mental models
  • Part of culture values – not PR


  • What is it
  • Why it’s important?
  • How can it be used?


  • Job Rotation/Shadowing
  • Mentorship
  • Company Leadership (stats on Company – number of women in exec positions)
  • Having the dialogue and open conversations
  • Workshops

Job Flexibility 


  1. How do we engage everyone to enhance hiring practices to support gender diversity and different entry paths (new grads, returning to work)?
      • Diverse recruiting avenues
      • Remove filters for recruiting (eg., biases on job descriptions)
      • Unconscious bias training
  1. How do we engage and motivate managers to support and groom next generation leaders? How do we help leaders and their organizations prioritize breaking down barriers?
  • Manage bias – training 
  • Community – bro culture/boys club and confidence of managers (may not be 100 percent ready — imposterism)
  • Motivate managers
  • Take chances on people who may not fit
  • Compensation Through Motivation – needs to be measured appropriately
  • Ask them if they have daughters
  1. Please identify the risks and challenges in the career journey with the highest female drop off? Do situational consistencies exist?
  • Life Milestones – breaks, intrajectories
  • Review of benefits to include, sponsorship, open dialogue, flexible hours, exit – re-entry process, communications and awareness
  • Not seeing future potential
  • Having a glass ceiling
  • Future planning 
  • Undesired behaviours not being checked
  1. How do we support and encourage recognition and acceptance of different communication styles and behaviours? (eg. introvert/extrovert, soft-spoken)
  • Managing Domineering personalities – engage value of others, and what they can bring to the table.
  • Meeting size – one-on-one and smaller groups, challenge in invest in resources
  • Business size – how and what positive impacts they bring to the table

How are you managing barriers and next generation female leaders? We’d like to hear your thoughts. The next Red Hat Canada workshop will be held in early 2020. If anyone wants to reach out to our gender diversity leaders, please contact Alix at [email protected].


Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

Featured Download

IT World Canada in your inbox

Our experienced team of journalists and bloggers bring you engaging in-depth interviews, videos and content targeted to IT professionals and line-of-business executives.

Latest Blogs

Senior Contributor Spotlight