Five things companies can do to encourage more female leaders and executives

Mississauga entrepreneur Connie Clerici has built a health care services business from scratch to nearly 800 employees. She knows a thing or two about how to promote and nurture female executives.

The issue has been front and center in business circles in recent months, but Clerici says a key thing at her company and other successful firms is to promote excellence in the workforce and encourage all employees – men and women – to perform at their best.

“By doing so, people are going to ask (women) to do things that were historically were only ever positions held by men,” she told YourMississaugaBiz.com. “But if they’re the most qualified, they’re going to be in the position where they have to be hired.”

Clerici is the president and CEO of Closing the Gap Healthcare Group, which offers rehab therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, home care, nursing and other services. Headquartered in Mississauga on Hurontario St., the business employs nearly 800 people across Ontario.

Clerici’s success with Closing the Gap garnered her an award last year as the Mississauga Bord of Trade’s business person of the year.

In addition to serving on the board of directors for Salus Global Corporation, Darling Home for Kids and Trans Research Lab, Clerici is also on the advisory board for the Richard Ivey School of Business and Women of Influence Inc.

Clerici’s suggestion is one of many tips experts say could help companies close the gender gap in their executive suite:

Businesses should feel obligated to help make their employees become their very best.

“By doing so, people are going to ask them to do things that were historically were only ever positions held by men,” Clerici said. “But if they’re the most qualified, they’re going to be a good candidate for the job.”

Bring in guest speakers

University of Toronto Mississauga management professor Sonia Kang said if you do bring in speakers, it’s important to make these messages accessible to everyone in the company. “So it’s shared and becomes part of the organization’s culture,” said the diversity specialist. “Spreading that message and making it’s accessible to everyone is key.”

Get buy-in from the current leadership

Kang also said if the gender equality is a genuine priority of the company’s executive or key leaders, that will help increase its adoption by other employees. “I think it sends an important message,” she said.

Clerici said women in existing leadership positions shouldn’t be afraid to speak up more. “Don’t be afraid to change the status quo,” she said, before quickly adding, “As long as you have the evidence to back up what you’re saying.”

Provide support for employees coming back to work from parental leave before they leave

University of Toronto professor and executive director of Rotman’s Initiative for Women in Business Beatrix Dart said the Back to Work program sponsored by TD Canada Trust is a great example of how companies can help proactively provide support for employees on maternal or paternal leave.

The free program offers various three-to-four day tutorials about topics like industry developments, presentation of self, value-proposition and new parent guilt.

“It’s a very forward looking way of looking at connecting with those moms,” Dart said, highlighting the program’s opportunity for women to practice giving a presentation. “That’s pretty scary when you’ve been out of the workforce for three or four years.”

Kang said alerting employees about training opportunities and programs like TD’s also encourages more men and women to take leave with less worry about the long-term impact to their careers.

Give more opportunities for project management.

Dart said it’s important to create visibility for those women who are performing well but are less likely to assert their ability is a major challenge. Company leaders can overcome this by proactively giving them opportunities to shine, such as allowing them to take on larger responsibilities or special projects.

“They are the best performers in the company but you wouldn’t necessarily know it,” she said. “To give them this kind of exposure is super important.”

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