2013 is the year of Lean In. Sheryl Sandberg’s book on inspiration and advice for women business leaders may someday be scripture on how to claim their rightful roles in the office and the boardroom. For now, issues remain and progress is never a straight road. While women refuse to jeopardize careers and but must balance their family life, they are finding unlikely allies in the form of working dads who are smoothing the way for a more family-friendly workplace. However, power exec Isabelle Hudon wants to dispel the notion that there is such a thing as balance between work and home life: if you want to break glass ceilings, there will be casualties. Finally, though full and equal representation in the workplace is the goal for working women, there are diverse views on whether this can—or even should—be achieved through legislated quotas in boardrooms.
Edward was at a work dinner with his boss when he first decided to broach the idea of paternity leave. His wife had just given birth to a baby girl—their first child— and he knew he wanted to take a few months off from his job as an IT manager to spend some time at home. His proposal didn’t go over well. “My boss dead-eyed me,” Edward says, “and said he would kick me in the balls if I applied.”
Anyone who read Isabelle Hudon’s resumé would expect she struggled with work-life balance: in addition to serving as president of Quebec operations for Sun Life Financial, she chairs two boards of directors and sits on five more. The 46-year-old might be Canada’s answer to Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO who urged working women to aim higher and push harder in her controversial bestseller Lean In. Hudon spoke with Canadian Business managing editor Carol Toller about the role that women need to play in their own advancement.
Most Canadian business leaders agree that more women are needed on corporate boards—female representation has hovered at about 10% for years. But there’s little agreement about how to boost the numbers. Diversity advocates like Sen. Celine Hervieux-Payette have called for hard quotas on representation, while critics have argued that women should be appointed solely on their own merit. The Ontario government and the Ontario Securities Commission have both endorsed “comply or explain” policies, which require boards to develop and disclose policies to improve their gender diversity, or else explain why they haven’t. And a federal committee struck earlier this year is due to release recommendations later this fall. We asked some of Canada’s business leaders which is the right way forward.