New program aims to promote women in leadership roles

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell

For many businesses, the number of female leaders just aren’t adding up. But a new program aims to tap into that underused pool of potential management talent.

Positioning Women for Success-Windsor-Essex will examine the resource of female employees, mentor and coach women on building their confidence and leadership skills and help six local employers tackle their own specific issues.

“It makes business sense,” said Greg Schlosser, director of human resources for the County of Essex. “Why wouldn’t we want to grow our people? If we don’t do it, another employer will do it.”

The simplicity of that business case made the program an easy sell according to Project Action director Ronna Hope Warsh, who teamed with Workforce WindsorEssex to land the $241,000 federal grant to fund the project.

Warsh, a former high-ranking City of Windsor executive now operating her own leadership coaching consulting firm, said at least 100 women over the next 30 months will be part of the program.

The organizations involved so far are Windsor’s Green Shield Canada branch, Essex-Windsor Emergency Services, College Boreal, Windsor Regional Hospital, The Victoria Order of Nurses, KPMG LLP Windsor and Enwin Utilities.

The first step beginning in September is to assess the barriers and reasons why more women aren’t represented in senior management.

To ensure a cross-section of representation, Warsh said companies from both male- and female-dominated environments have been included in the program.

For instance, Green Shield has 350 female employees in a local staff of 500 and the VON has 80 of 100. In contrast, Enwin counts 90 women among 330 employees while KMPG has 20 women among its 45 employees and one female partner out of six in the firm.

Each company will identify three or four women to be part of the program.

In January, Enwin will be the first firm to participate in three to four months of leadership coaching and mentorship. Each company will have a workplace champion to aid in the process.

There will be book clubs for both female and male employees with leadership themes and periodic forums headed by female leaders who will share their experiences and business philosophies.

“We want to know if our policies are fostering the best way to create opportunities for women,” said Andrew Ward, executive director of the VON. “We want to know if we need to change.”

The answers promise to be as diverse as the organizations.

Personal reasons and societal expectations regarding work-life balance continue to hold some women back.

Green Shield already has a 50-50 split in management, but its challenge is getting some female employees interested in being promoted.

Monique Diotte, manager of talent development, said she had a recent conversation with one female employee she thought was suited for a promotion.

“The conversation went in a direction I didn’t expect,” Diotte said. “She couldn’t take on any more responsibility because of her spouse’s work situation and kids playing sports and her busy family life. She didn’t have any time for anything else right now.”

Rosanna Kemsley, Enwin’s human resources generalist, said she has frequently experienced women passing up promotions or not even applying for jobs because of a lack of confidence or fear of failure.

“I’ve seen a lack of confidence over and over,” Kemsley said.

However Martha Reavley, an associate professor of management and human resources in the University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business, sees great opportunities for women with a leadership culture that’s evolving.

“We know to lead the millennials, CEOs are taking a more collaborative, team-building approach,” Reavley said. “Those run more to female characteristics.”