By Alix Edmiston @Alixed
One of the most challenging issues in today’s tech sector is increasing the number of women in the talent pipeline to support gender parity.

Leaders from Red Hat Canada, Loblaw Companies Limited (LCL) and Accenture joined forces recently at Loblaw head office in Brampton to host the top thought leaders in our industry for an afternoon of sharing best practices and pooling ideas about increasing our female talent pipeline. “At Red Hat we have seen first-hand what happens when you collaborate with your community,” said Claude Reeves, Country Leader Red Hat. “We host our annual women’s event every January to discuss critical issues impacting gender diversity. Janet Lin of LCL approached me about keeping the discussion going and engaged Jennifer Jackson of Accenture, and we started organizing our event. We share the same challenges and it’s a great example of how we need to come together. As our event moderator Fawn Annan, publisher of IT World Canada said, “Great things happen when you bring together purposeful leaders to share ideas.”

The event kicked off with candid stories from David Markwell, Senior Vice President, Loblaw Technology, and Janet Lin, Senior Director, Customer Engagement Solutions, LCL. Both Janet and David’s commitment runs deep and guides them in their work as they strive to make everyone at Loblaw feel welcome, empowered and comfortable sharing their authenticity when at work.

Our panel discussion led by Reeves, was packed with insight about the latest best practices. Some highlights…

Jackson, Senior Executive Accenture, said Accenture has made a commitment to achieve full gender parity by 2025. They help employees fit work into their lives and not the other way around. She shared their latest research on the connection between equality and innovation. The study revealed employees who work for companies with the most equal cultures are almost six times as likely to innovate as those who are in the least equal cultures. “This is one of the reasons Accenture regards diversity as a more important measure of project success for senior managers than only focusing on financial measures,” said Jackson. “Diverse and culturally equal companies can raise the GDP by up to 8 trillion USD over 10 years if the innovation mindset in all countries was raised by 10%.”

Reeves stressed how Red Hat Canada is proactive about talent management. They are not waiting for women to apply for jobs. They are reaching out to their communities to engage support, which is the true ethos of open source. He also underscored how you can’t solve the executive leadership challenge when you haven’t created the path. “You have to allow people to grow into the senior roles,” Reeves said. “We strive to create programs that are open to everyone. At Red Hat Canada we created the Women in Leadership program to support emerging leaders who have the potential to contribute at a higher level. This is an exclusive program to support and develop high potential women to guide them in making their unique contribution to our continued success and be a champion of our culture of diversity and inclusion.”

Lin’s first views on gender diversity were shaped in her engineering classes at university where she was one of four girls in a class of 40. It created a passion for helping women break down any barriers to their success. She chairs the Women in Technology group at Loblaw, a grassroots best practice in bringing women together to support one another in their professional growth. “We started our committee two years ago. It’s made up of volunteers across all levels. We promote a diverse, flexible and inclusive environment for all women across all levels of IT,” Lin said. “We want to create a supportive, sustainable network with a focus on talent development, exposure opportunities and the growth of a diverse IT talent pool.” Lin also highlighted the processes Loblaw Technology has introduced to bring external female candidates into the workforce pipeline. Their efforts are driven by many inventive yet practical ideas that all of us can adopt. These include having a female in each succession plan, tracking female candidates on job postings, blind assessments on resumes, and there is always a female on the team interviewing prospective job candidates.

Annan kicked off the group discussion with some insightful food for thought. “Statistics suggest we need to do more, and it will be hard. If it were easy, we would have made significant progress… gender equality has to become something that’s more than just another program. A recent study shows actions taken in the areas of diversity and inclusion have delivered more optics than outcomes. Someone in the C-suite needs to be accountable. And it will always be most helpful if fair government policy is created — an example being California who recently make it illegal not to have women on corporate boards. The policy makers didn’t get into a discussion about quota – they just made no female representation on boards illegal.”

Here is an overview of the top ideas from the discussion groups.

1. What does success in gender diversity look like?

The representation of different industries should be reflective of society not gender
The lack of diversity is the exception not the norm so that it becomes embedded into tech culture authentically.
Fully embedded diverse pipeline of available candidates

2. How do you identify and break down barriers to keep women in the workforce through various stages of their career?

Identify risky or challenging development positions. Put women on ‘hard’ list
Sponsors to help women stay in the loop during mat leave etc.
Encourage pipeline at all levels to apply
Metrics at all levels
Rotational program – women can get experience in different functions to enhance their knowledge of the business

3. How do we engage our male counterparts to become champions for female leaders?

Have male colleagues mentor upcoming female colleagues
Work with male colleagues so everyone is aware of things that have traditionally impacted female colleagues and their career paths (i.e., mat leave)
Provide education sessions to ALL colleagues to educate everyone on the challenges women face in the workforce.

4. How do we leverage senior leaders to build the female talent pipeline?

Visibility and KPI as part of a recurring management meeting and part of performance objectives
Personal coach for high performing females for career progression and coaching.
Job descriptions designed with your talent pool in mind – i.e. by your senior female leaders

5. How do we help female employees expand their external and internal networks?

Maintain digital footprint and social presence
Provide support to participate in events internal and external, follow up in a timely manner (not a transaction)
Seek mentorship outside of your immediate organization

The next Red Hat Canada workshop will be held in the fall. If anyone wants to reach out to the diversity leaders, please contact Alix at or via