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Think Tank

How to Get More Women At the Table

What's the Big Idea?

The cooperative model is an alternative way of doing business that aims to share the wealth equitably among members rather than shareholders, and it's gaining traction thanks to the exemplary way many coops have weathered the turbulent global economic climate.

With assets of over $190 billion, Desjardins is the largest financial cooperative in Canada and one of the most successful in the world. Just four years ago, in 2008, in the midst of the crisis, Monique Leroux managed to get herself elected (yes, elected) as the first female CEO in the organization’s history.

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She believes it was the combination of speaking with conviction from her heart and head that won her the job (Romney and Obama: take note). “I made sure to come with values and convictions,” she says. “So it was not just to talk about financial objectives, but also what I wanted to achieve with the people at Desjardins Groups.” 

What's the Significance?

One of those objectives was helping raise more women to power with her. "It's quite important to have more [women] on boards," she told Big Think in a recent interview, "but a significant impact will be first to work to have more [women] in senior management positions. That's a context where the CEO has a more direct influence." And the more women who land in senior positions, the larger the talent pool you have for candidates to go on to become board members or executives. 

Leroux's strategy for bringing about change was directly and aggressively reaching out to other women herself through coaching programs and initiatives, rather than just sitting back and hoping that the situation would work itself out. Equal representations starts at the top, she says, requires a serious commitment from those in power, male or female. That means taking active steps to evolve new protocols and ways of doing things when it comes to recruitment and promotion. 

"Personally, as a Chairperson of Desjardins Group and CEO of our organization, I’m very committed to have better representation...  If you don’t have that commitment, it will not happen.  There will be a lot of issues, problems -- anti-selection, if I may say it that way --that will eliminate some very good candidates to go to the top positions." 

Of course, Leroux has seen plenty of good candidates eliminated that way, but she's also positive about the ability of individual women to fight their way to the top. She's used to being the only woman in the room -- whether that's the classroom, the boardroom, or her old office at an accounting firm -- and she sees it as a privilege, not just a challenge. Reflecting on her career, she recalls, "I was often very anxious to get the right advice at the right time, but overall I felt that being the only woman in a group of men was a neat opportunity." It's always a question of ambition and attitude, she says, and perhaps she's right. Today, more than sixty percent of the senior managers at Dejardins are women.  

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com/Everett Collection.

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