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Episode 1 – Attracting and Retaining Women: The Transformative Power of Flexible Work

Are you looking for a secret weapon in the hunt for talent? The first episode of Informed Conversations lets you in on the strategies and insights developed by two creative leaders who’ve been there, done that, and have the success credentials to prove it. They joined Shari Graydon at Verity Club in Toronto to explore how flexible workplaces can enhance gender diversity.

Shastri Ramnath is President, CEO at Exiro Minerals Corporation and Executive Chairman at Orix Geoscience Inc. Jane Griffith is a Partner in Odgers Berndtson’s Toronto office and the firm’s National Diversity Leader. They discuss how their own experiences motivated them to improve workplaces for women. 

Shastri launched her own company partly to circumvent the glass ceiling in the mining sector. At every stage of her career, she encountered bias — from being assigned menial tasks while men with similar qualifications were assigned technical work, to being paid significantly lower wages. But now, as President and CEO of her own company, her flexible approach to talent management is attracting both women and men.

Orix Geoscience’s benefits plan is adaptable, rather than following a strict list of rules. For example, there is no firm policy around bereavement leave. If you require time off because the aunt that raised you passed away, you will receive the length of leave that’s appropriate for that relationship. Women can return to work or take full parental leave, as well as negotiate a flexible arrangement for work, and parents can take advantage of the baby cribs and resources on site. Shastri notes that responding to employees on a case-by-case basis creates a more human, thoughtful environment.  

She also offers flexible and continuous learning opportunities through support for tuition and/or cost sharing scenarios that allow employees to reimburse educational fees through payroll deductions. Employees are also free to request leave for extensive travel or to achieve other life goals.

Jane was motivated to make a difference when she encountered gender bias while pregnant. Although male colleagues whose wives were expecting were given more assignments, Jane had to fight to keep her portfolio intact. Now, as a partner in her firm, she helps her clients become more inclusive in their executive searches. She encourages them to avoid all-male hiring committees and she carefully crafts recruitment notices with language that focuses on genuine requirements rather than perceived “fit” — a subjective criteria that often ends up eliminating women candidates due to bias.

She also asks her clients to focus on essential requirements for another reason. For many years, prestigious MBA programs were the near-exclusive preserve of men. Requiring applicants to have a minimum of 15 years of senior experience immediately disqualifies many otherwise qualified women. Jane recommends losing the “senior” reference in order to attract a larger pool of diverse candidates.  

While women’s representation on boards and in CEO positions remains abysmal and progress in male-dominated fields is still fraught with bias, Jane and Shastri demonstrate how women in positions of power can accelerate change.

As the hunt for top talent continues, those relying on outdated policies designed for the sole provider scenarios of the 1950s and ‘60s will be left behind. But incorporating more women in leadership positions with the power to set policies responsive to employees’ needs is likely to increase organizations’ ability to accommodate both the realities of dual income-earning families and the desires of millennials seeking greater work/life satisfaction.