Moving the needle
Alithya’s Women in Leadership committees are out to level playing field
Although women account for approximately half of the Canadian workforce, statistics paint a picture of underrepresentation in professional leadership positions. In fact, it seems Canadian women hold less than 20% of seats on the boards of Canada’s top 500 companies, and hold less than 10% of the highest-paying positions in Canada. Despite ongoing inequality, women have continued to make great strides in the workforce, becoming role models for the next generations of young girls who may find themselves asking a different question one day soon: Why should women have to ‘make strides’ to be treated equally anyway?
At Alithya, diversity and inclusion are engrained in the company’s corporate culture, and numerous internal initiatives, such as employee ressource groups, have been implemented in recent years to address a wide range of much-needed discussions and actions. One such initiative has been the Women in Leadership (WIL) program, whose mission it is to bolster leadership roles for women, both at Alithya and within the broader IT sector.
The Global Steering Committee of the WIL program recently announced the appointment of regional committee members who will help advance the initiative’s events and upskilling activities, with representation from English and French Canada, the US, and France. We spoke with Talisa Aguilar, a member of the Quebec committee, to discuss the challenges, aspirations, and next steps of the Women in Leadership program from her viewpoint as a member of the Quebec Committee.
How has the WIL initiative unfolded thus far?
We have a really great level of diversity within our committees, some with no IT backgrounds, and others who are pioneers in the IT field. Each regional committee is responsible for brainstorming and packaging ideas to present to the global oversight committee. We have had a couple of meetings so far, and each one has been marked by displays of enthusiasm from participants eager to transform planning and ideas into actual events and activities with a broader reach.
And what is the primary responsibility of the Quebec Events committee?
The main focus of our committee is to propose events for our region and or globally in the case of virtual events. Our sister committee for Quebec does the same thing fortraining-style events We have been brainstorming on ideas for events that will be influential and/or educational, with the goal of helping women to prepare for, advance in, or embark upon, leadership roles. Part of the committee’s early work has been focused on researching organizations and events that fit with that goal, and our long-term objective is to identify industry speakers and coaches who can participate in a full calendar of events.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in getting things started?
One common denominator is that, for decades, women have struggled to compete in a male-dominated world. So, how do we put forward issues that address that commonality, that captivate people, and that inspire them to act? One theme that we have identified in that regard is ‘the art of negotiation’, which is a topic that women at all levels of the corporate ladder have struggled with at one point or another.
Is this initiative restricted to women?
Absolutely not. Although the focus is on content tailored to women, men are definitely part of the solution and welcome to not only attend events, but also to speak about initiatives that they may have participated in to help women reach higher levels of leadership. Additionally, WIL is an opportunity to involve men in the conversation, and to sharpen their understanding of issues that women have been facing everyday in their work environments. It’s important for men to understand the role that they can play in helping women in their own teams to advance.
What was your own personal motivation for getting involved?
I have more than a decade of professional event planning experience, and that was certainly a good fit for a committee focused purely on events. However, more importantly, my past experience was marked by struggles that are common themes for women. I was engaged in a male-dominated industry, and I had to learn how to replace my soft, playful self with a hard exterior just to stand my ground. It never felt natural, because it wasn’t. So, in joining the WIL committee, I see an opportunity to share my own personal experience with other women, and to reinforce the message that they don’t need to step out of their own skin in order to prove themselves as leaders. It’s also a great opportunity to meet women and men from around the company that I otherwise would not cross paths with!
What is the biggest takeaway from your engagement with other women thus far?
It is evident that most women have struggled with nuances of the same issues all of their lives. Where women have been labelled ‘nitpickers’, men have typically been deemed to be exhibiting leadership qualities. We have been given confusing messaging since we were children. While things have evolved a great deal with each new generation, we are on a quest to ensure that young girls in the future will be raised in a spirit of equality, and that they will arrive in the workforce armed with all of the tools necessary to take on the world in an authentic and meaningful way.