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A message to my children on International Women’s Day

March 08, 2016
Written by

Kim West

Good morning Claire and Matt – the two greatest joys of my life along with your dad.

I have an extra spring in my step because today is International Women’s Day.

A week or so ago, Claire, you shared that you feel gender is not a barrier to what you want to accomplish in your life. I think that is true for you and I’m proud of your drive.

But here’s the thing. Women make up half of the workforce in Canada and the US. They earn almost 60% of undergraduate and master’s degrees and almost half of all law and medical degrees.

The big BUT is that as women progress in their careers, they are grossly underrepresented and underengaged in leadership at the executive and board level across all sectors including government, academia, business and civic organizations. Even though organizations with women in leadership roles outperform those without gender balance.

Claire, you are pursuing a career in health sciences and leadership in your chosen profession may seem like a lifetime away. In the US, women account for over 78% of the labour force in health care and social assistance and only 14.6% of executive officers and 12.4% of board of directors.

In Canada women comprise less than 16% of the board of director positions and just five years ago, 40% of FP500 companies had no women directors.

It’s brilliant that women are equally represented with men in the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau’s first federal cabinet. By all accounts Canadians are well served by the inclusive and diverse perspectives being brought to the federal government.

It is 2016 and there is urgency to tackle enormous challenges that confront our world such as climate change, poverty, racial and religious hatred, sexualized violence, and economic, social and political disparity. The need for thoughtful, selfless, inclusive leadership has never been greater.

Claire, my ask is that you take your place and assume leadership roles and stay true to “equalism” as you describe the goal. You don’t need to have all the answers but know you have valuable perspective to bring to any discussion and that you can improve decisions. As important, encourage and support your friends to take on leadership roles.

Matt. I am so fortunate that your father supports me and that my male colleagues have encouraged me to pursue leadership opportunities. I’ve been invited to pull up a chair and join discussions, to learn and hopefully contribute a different perspective. I expect you to be a catalyst for good quality, inclusive and balanced decisions where men and women are fully engaged.

Today it is important to celebrate the women and men in all of our lives who are making positive changes and to achieve gender balanced leadership. The job is not done.

Enjoy this fabulous day. Love you forever, Mom.

——— Written by Kim West
Former Partner and Chief Client Officer at NATIONAL’s Toronto office


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