Moving the needle on C-Suite diversity

In part three of strategy’s diversity series, we examine what brands and agencies are doing to address the issue in their senior ranks.

Last month, strategy examined why companies should be paying attention to the gender and ethnic makeup of their senior ranks. (Our conclusion: in the long run, it’s profitable.) In the final instalment of our diversity series, we examine what brands and agencies are doing to address the issue, offering up some solutions worth adapting for your own organization.

PepsiCo Canada didn’t have to create a diversity program. After the U.S. head office rolled out its government-mandated diversity and inclusion program, Dave Moncur, VP of human resources, says they began to talk about the need for a similar program here.

“We didn’t have to – we’re not federally regulated,” he says. “[But] we think it’s a competitive advantage.”

Diversity, he says, brings new ideas to the table, while inclusion drives employee engagement, both of which increase productivity and quality of ideas, and decreases turnover rates.

So in 2002, the Canadian CPG company unveiled its diversity and inclusion – or D&I – program, specifically geared at creating a work environment that reflects the population. Early on, a big focus for the organization was to educate employees – from senior managers to front-line workers – on the importance of diversity, Moncur recalls.

“You’ve got to make sure people understand why you have a [diversity agenda] and build the business case for it,” he says. “If people feel you’re hiring [someone] because [she's] female or African-American, there is a backlash throughout the organization.”

Pepsico rolled out Pride, Asian and Women’s networks (and is rolling out a Millennial group) to help people connect, get involved in the organization (such as acting as in-house product testers) and offer a space to address issues unique to different groups.

“It’s not just about bringing all the women in the network together for a lunch. [We host lunches] that address the challenges of being a female leader,” Moncur says.

While there are no programs geared specifically at increasing the diversity at the senior ranks, he says the existing D&I programs have laddered up.

The company runs (and did so before the D&I initiative took off) accelerated leadership programs for everyone from new university graduates to senior executives. These are hand-picked, high-potential employees viewed as future organizational leaders, and they feed the pool of candidates for top jobs. Moncur says in 2002, 75% of those in the program were white men. Now, that’s less than 50% (with diverse candidates making up as much as 70% in lower-entry positions).

And that’s also meant a change at the top. “In 2002, I believe 10% of our executive population was female. Today we sit at 34%,” he says. “We fundamentally need to make sure we’re setting ourselves up for the future.”


On March 19, Unilever, alongside Coca-Cola and aluminum manufacturer Alcoa, won an award for its global work in breaking down gender barriers.

“[But] we shouldn’t need to have rewards to have people work well with women,” says Alison Leung, marketing director, foods, at Unilever. Leung, who heads up the company’s Women’s Interactive Network (WIN), adds, “Our global CEO would say the day we stop rewarding ourselves for [advancing diversity issues] is the day we’ve achieved equality.”

WIN is the local adoption of the company’s global plan to increase the number of women in senior ranks to 60% (representative of female university graduates entering the job market), which began just over a year ago. Locally, the biggest company change has been its decision to make it easier for mothers (and fathers) to balance home and work life, she says, something the U.S. and U.K. offices did years ago.

Smaller changes (“quick wins,” Leung calls them), include simple things like pairing women on maternity leave with an office buddy to keep them informed of changes while they’re away, and getting rid of company-wide golf tournaments in favour of gender-neutral volunteer days. Senior female leaders are given more exposure to women in more junior positions through roundtable discussions and lunch-and-learns, where they act as role models and provide career aspirations to strive toward. In addition, a formal mentorship program was put in place for both men and women.

One problem that Sharon MacLeod, VP marketing, highlights is that after a certain seniority level, female applicants tend to drop off. “So when women leave, we were often replacing them with men,” she says.

Leung says they’re working to bolster Unilever’s external image as a great place for women to work. While still in the early planning stages, she says they’re looking for women-in-business conference sponsorship opportunities and attending university recruitment drives.

MacLeod adds Unilever is trying to be more flexible with career planning. “We’re saying; It’s okay if you don’t take that promotion [and] keep doing your job without working weekends,” she says. “And when you’re ready to be aggressive about your career – we can talk.”


At L’Oréal Canada, the decision to increase diversity came directly from president and CEO Javier San Juan, who joined the company in 2006. Upon his arrival, he shook up the senior executive team, bringing in new staff from around the world, including CMO and CCO Marie-Josée Lamothe, who at the time was stationed in France, to balance out the senior team, which is now made up of five women (out of 11) and six different nationalities, Lamothe says.

“He recognizes the value of debate from a lot of different backgrounds.”

L’Oréal has taken diversity to the next level, she says, making generational training – teaching people how to work with different age groups – mandatory for all staff. This includes a full-day leadership course for director-level employees, where they learn how to be effective leaders for different generations.

Beyond this, managers are also encouraged to find career advancement opportunities for staff (with a focus on women) outside of the L’Oréal offices, such as sitting on boards of non-profits (giving them board experience, which can be difficult to come by otherwise) or attending industry conferences (offering employees, especially those in more junior roles, a chance to network).

Finally, the senior staff members are evaluated annually against diversity benchmarks. “So [we're asked], are we aware of different stereotypes? Do we have diverse profiles within our teams? Are we willing to challenge the status quo?” Lamothe says.


Digital agency Blast Radius, which has offices in Toronto, Vancouver, the U.S. and several overseas, reports that globally 32% of its creatives are female. It’s not a great number, admits Minda Sherman, EVP human resources, but it’s a work in progress. (They don’t track visible minorities for privacy reasons.)

“I think within the last four years it’s something that, within the senior and human resources team, we’ve [become conscious of],” she says. “And we’ve made sure we have in place certain initiatives to further our [diversity] objective.”

The agency tries to maintain formal family-friendly policies, such as having core hours in the middle of the day (while kids are at school) with flexible hours around that, emergency parental leave and a month-long sabbatical program every three years.

To attract and retain a visibly diverse population, Blast has always tapped into its global network for talent, which Sherman says has meant the agency was never a white-dominated workplace. And while it doesn’t have diversity targets or quotas, she says they try to cast a wider net when filling more senior roles. “We’re not just dipping into the Canadian talent pool,” she says. “We recruit all over the world.”

Talent, she says, is first and foremost, but all other things being equal, they’ll default to the minority or female candidate – something recruiters know and are encouraged to help with, which ensures that the candidate pool is more diverse. “Too often there’s this notion that you either go with the member of a racial minority or the woman – or you get the best candidate for the job,” she says. “And that’s just not the case.”

Minute mentoring with Edelman

On a warm March morning, before the subways are packed with commuters, seven 20-something ladies from a mixed group of backgrounds sit around a conference table at PR firm Edelman’s Toronto offices. At the head, Lisa Kimmel, general manager, is talking about what women need to do to “have it all.” A slide on the screen brings up her final point, “find a man.” The jokes start flying about needing more than eight minutes (the designated speaking time for each participant).

Kimmel’s point – that women need to find a man – doesn’t mean women need a good husband. Rather, she wants to make the point that in the overly (white) male-dominated corporate world, those who want to get ahead need to have a sponsor to advocate for them when they’re out of the room.

She’s conducting a “Minute Mentorship,” a speed-dating style event where young people in groups of five to eight move from room to room, chatting with the most senior people in the company, gleaning valuable information on how to get ahead, balance home and work and deal with the potential guilt of having a family and career.

“When we looked at the data of our global workforce, women account for approximately two thirds [of employees], but only 34% at the most senior levels,” says Kimmel. “So [Richard Edelman, global president and CEO] made the commitment that by 2016, 50% of people at the senior management level would be women.”

The Global Women’s Executive Network (GWEN) was created in 2011 and hosts mentoring events, such as the Minute Mentorship, as well as an intranet where senior women offer up insights and advice in blogs and video profiles. The company also invites clients to the networking events, encouraging senior execs to bring along a high-potential woman in the early stage of her career. Since GWEN’s inception, Edelman has seen a 20% increase in women promoted into senior roles, Kimmel says.

A different take on diversity

In January, when strategy hosted a roundtable discussion to open up the conversation on diversity, participants expressed an interest in learning what other industries were doing to attract and retain a diverse workforce. From chief diversity officers to a diverse job-board strategy, here’s what the legal, tech and broadcast fields are up to.

Ten years ago, law firm McCarthy Tétrault brought in Catalyst, a global organization dedicated to breaking down gender barriers, to map out its demographic profile and create a gender benchmark, says Lisa Vogt, chief diversity officer at the firm. But rather than simply create a women’s network or taskforce – as was the norm for firms responding to client demands for more women at the helm – McCarthy created a diversity steering committee.

“We realized that only focusing on women wasn’t inclusive enough,” she says. “So we brought to this group the visible minority perspective.”

On top of family-friendly work policies and affinity groups (such as a Pride network), each year, senior management re-articulates the business case for a diverse work force, while employees go through diversity training every few years.

In February, Vogt became the first chief diversity officer at a Canadian law firm.

“This issue goes nowhere unless there is leadership from the top. [And] it’s not leadership support you need, [but] leadership ownership. So to appoint a CDO to keep [diversity] top of mind for everyone was a really important piece for us,” she says.

Her role is to fight “diversity fatigue” and find new ways to keep the conversation going, as well as act as a direct point of contact in the company’s C-suite.

McCarthy has increased its female income partners (the feeder group to the most senior team) to 45% women, up from 27% in 2004, while at the most senior level, 50% of new equity partners (who have a direct stake in the company’s finances) in 2013 were women.


A big focus for advancing women’s careers at Google Canada is to help them build their own brand and career paths, says Sabrina Geremia, integrated solutions sales leader and executive sponsor of Women@Google, a global initiative brought to Canada three years ago.

The search and tech giant began by hosting a speed-dating style event for writing biographies (bringing in experts to weigh in on ladies’ company bios) and a professional photographer to take headshots. This led to the creation of Google’s speaker database – a matchmaking service that pairs appropriate people with speaking events, she says.

“[Participating in speaking events] really helps you understand the industry you’re operating in and build your connections.”

On top of the speaker’s bureau, Women@Google runs a mentorship program, roundtable discussion around career concerns specific to women, and is working with HR to highlight courses for career advancement (offered through Google’s internal .edu training program).

“Our role at Women@Google is to encourage women to access the resources available [and] have your own personal development plan: knowing where you…want to be in two, five, 10 years, and the steps you need to get there,” she says.


Though Corus Entertainment is a federally regulated organization, it truly believes it’s a business imperative to reflect the communities to which it broadcasts, says Kathleen McNair, EVP human resources and corporate ommunications.

Women and visible minorities make up 45% and 12% of all employees, 43% and 12% of managers and 33% and 11% of senior execs respectively, while its board of directors has gender parity. The company was recently named one of Canada’s most diverse places to work by the Globe and Mail and Eluta job search.

Since its inception in 1999, the entertainment co. has maintained a women’s network created to advance the careers of women. Originally designed as a two-day training program for senior women, it has since evolved into a more networking-focused organization that hosts quarterly learning seminars on topics such as the communication differences between men and women.

To attract a diverse workforce, Corus has moved beyond traditional broadcasting job boards, partnering with organizations like the CNIB, ACCES Employment (which specializes in connecting companies with diverse employees) and other community-focused groups.

“I think expanding the scope of where you’re looking is smart business,” says McNair.”You can find gems in new places. And sticking with the traditional broadcast outreach means you’re going to get a lot of traditional candidates that are reflective of you and perhaps not of the communities you’re serving.”

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Stuck in a Mad Men era

Diversifying a white man’s world