Calling all female execs: The Protege Project wants to help make you CEO

WATCH ABOVE: Based on a recent survey, only two of Canada’s top-paid CEO’s are female. The Protege Project has been launched, in partnership with Shaw Communications, to change that. Jennifer Palisoc reports.

TORONTO – A new program geared at promoting female leadership is trying to address a glaring lack of women in top executive positions throughout Canadian communications, media and technology sectors.

Though Catalyst research suggests 47.3 per cent of the Canadian labour force is made up of women, the Financial Post says only three women made Canada’s 100 top-paid CEO list in 2012; the Globe and Mail lists only two on its 2014 list.

“We need to move those numbers,” says Janice McDonald, national chair of Women in Communications and Technology (WCT). “They are dismal; they are depressing, but we believe a program like this—first of its kind anywhere—is the way that we can create fundamental change.”

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WATCH: Executive VP of Shaw and president of Shaw Media Barb Williams describes The Protege Project

READ MORE: Canada’s workforce is being drained of women. Blame the kids?

WCT is a grassroots community network that has partnered with non-profit Catalyst Canada and Shaw Communications (the parent company of Global News) to create The Protege Project.

“We’re trying to figure out: Are women missing some sort of coaching? Are they missing a sense of capability?” asked Barb Williams, president of Shaw Media. “We’re hoping—in this project—by pairing successful women who are showing great promise with very successful people who’re already there, that we can help get over this divide and encourage some women to get up into the top.”

The project will match senior women executives in the communications, media or technology sector with “sponsors” who will use their experience and network to help the woman move forward in her career. The project is “cross-sector,” meaning the pair won’t be in the same organization or even field.

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“I don’t think it’s about getting them a job per se, but it’s about introducing them to that world at the senior level and helping them feel comfortable there and be known there,” said Williams.

Watch below: The Protege Project aims to promote female leadership in Canadian businesses. Jennifer Palisoc reports

McDonald says the sponsorship idea goes beyond a typical mentorship program in that it will create a ripple effect by providing additional access and support.

“Practical things would be sharing [the sponsor’s] network and that might be through attending events, and making you aware of new opportunities,” said McDonald. “Then also just in the direct leadership skills development, so assisting you with perhaps some areas that you need additional work and opportunities to maximize your skill and essentially help you get to next [level of your career] faster.”
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But the fact that women are underrepresented in senior positions isn’t new—nor is the response that no one is intentionally keeping women from reaching those top positions.

“It’s not a new problem, but it would seem that there’s a greater interest now to address the problem,” said McDonald, who cited the 12 C-level executives who’ve signed up as a sign of broad support.

The following people have signed on as sponsors to be paired with successful applicants:

  • Namir Anani, President & CEO, Information and Communications Technology Council
  • Jeff Boyd, Regional President, Ontario North & East, RBC
  • Corinne Charette, Chief Information Officer, Government of Canada
  • Sara Diamond, University President, OCAD
  • Wendy Freeman, President, CTV News
  • Elmer Hildebrand, CEO, Golden West Radio
  • Goldy Hyder, President & CEO, Hill + Knowlton Strategies
  • Mitch Joel, President, Twist Image
  • Raja Khanna, CEO, Blue Ant Media
  • Jean LaRose, CEO, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network
  • Jim Little, CMO, Shaw Communications
  • Craig Muhlhauser, President & CEO, Celestica Canada
  • Dale Hooper, Chief Brand Officer for Rogers
  • Grace Palombo, Head of Human Resources for TD Bank

The project is looking for senior executive women considered one to three years away from the most senior rank in their organization and interested in entering the “C-suite” (CEO/CFO/CIO/CMO) at an officer level or highest level (i.e. president). Applicants must also be a WCT member (which involves paying a membership fee and signing up online).

Click here and scroll down to access the application form, which includes writing a two to five page submission detailing examples of your leadership, growth and vision for your career. Two references  from industry executives are also required.

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A WCT selection committee will review applicants, and chosen participants will be matched with sponsors from different companies, set to start in January 2015. The program runs for one year and requires at least four meetings to occur between the protege and sponsor.

“The long-term goals are to create the ripple effect, and essentially get CEOs to assist those proteges in reaching their specific goal of C-suite in the next few years,” said McDonald.

Williams says beyond helping the selected protégés, the project will also make good business sense for the participants’ organizations.

“When you have a range of opinions, when you have both men and women, when you have cultural diversity, you get a more balanced and a more progressive point of view than being narrowly stuck with an opinion from just one segment of society,” she said.

“If you’re only hiring men, you’re missing half the population; half the opportunity. Inclusiveness has always been proven to be more successful in the end.”

Watch below: WCT national chair Janice McDonald on why the time is right to advance women into leadership roles in media and technology across Canada.