One of the many reasons why Calgary’s business culture is so unique and invigorating, is the momentum of awareness about the importance of diversity across all areas of business, including C-suite leadership and board representation.
It’s also the dynamic focus of Axis Connects, the Calgary non-profit group, established to connect, collaborate, champion and provide career development resources for gender diverse professionals in Calgary’s business community.
“Our organization is led by a group of women and men who understand the value that diverse leadership brings to businesses and our community,” says the gung-ho Nuvyn Peters, executive director, of Calgary’s Axis Connects. “We strive to strengthen diverse representation in decision-making roles, and we do this through our robust network of organizations and programs that advance and accelerate female leaders here in Calgary and beyond.”
It is a vitally important mission. And the goal is ambitious, sometimes challenging and unconditionally success-driven. It is also very current, timely, relevant and necessary.
Although specific stats and trends are invariably fluid, and despite encouraging progress throughout the developed world, Canada continues to lag in terms of gender representation in C-suites and on boards. Unfortunately, Alberta is even farther behind. A recent survey showed that women comprise 13 per cent of board seats on Alberta-based TSX Composite Index companies. The national average is 21 per cent.
As Axis Connects proves with every event, activity, forum and networking opportunity, change is happening. And Calgary is positioned to play a Canadian leadership role in so many ways.
“Diversity at the top of the organization ought to be one of the pillars that we, as a community, are so proud of,” Peters adds. “Axis helps connect leaders with professional development opportunities, and seeks to recognize those leaders, organizations and corporations that are making strides towards gender diversity. But we still need to actively promote and position women in decision making roles. We are well on our way.”
She underscores that the Axis Connects mission is simple and straightforward. “To strengthen diverse representation in decision-making roles.”
How that is achieved is a lot more complex and in-depth, and with what Axis calls its formula of “four pillars.”
- Connect: a “hub and spoke” model to connect and share information between Calgary organizations and initiatives to advance diverse professionals in the Calgary business community. It happens through multiple networking events like quarterly Career Development Dialogue sessions, in partnership with strategic management consulting firms; the Women’s Leadership Forum, with a roster of leadership experts, coaches and executives and a highly engaging and interactive one-day summit, focused on building community and professional development opportunities for women advancing into leadership positions; as well as various Partner events throughout the year.
- Collaborate: uniting organizations advancing women and diverse professionals in Calgary’s business community.
- Career: detailed professional development resources are available to guide Axis Connects members through their career journey.
- Champion: setting the bar for excellence in Calgary’s corporate community and celebrating women and men whose professional success and commitment to the Calgary community deserve to be recognized.
In Calgary business, and throughout North America, women in business are not only talking-the-talk about decision-making change, but they are focused, organized and walking-the-walk. Achieving diversity in business is very much a dynamic and a change-in-progress.
One recent example of the changes, according to the 62-page Women in the Workplace 2022 Report from McKinsey & Company, the iconic global management consulting firm, is that women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rates ever, and ambitious young women are prepared to do the same.
The Report highlights that some reasons why women leaders are stepping away from their companies are telling. Trends show that women leaders are just as ambitious as men, but in many companies, they face headwinds that signal it will be harder to advance. Some are more likely to experience belittling microaggressions, such as having their judgment questioned or being mistaken for someone more junior. McKinsey also notes that women are already significantly underrepresented in leadership and that, for years, fewer women have risen through the ranks because of the “broken rung” at the first step up to management.
The wealth of Calgary’s Axis Connect research underscores that 45 per cent of employees at Canada’s largest firms are women, but female representation diminishes considerably up the leadership ladder.
A vital part of the Axis Connects focus is that there is a tremendous need for improvement to bring more women into C-suite and leadership roles. It is why the group provides skills, resources and networking opportunities for Calgary women to create a clear path for career advancement.
Diverse representation in decision-making Calgary business roles is positive, an undisputed work-in-progress, but making a definite business transformation. “Ultimately the measure of success will be to move the needle on the number of women in leadership roles in our city,” says Katherine Emberly, president, Business at Shaw Communications, Calgary and an Axis Connects Board member. “We know today that the percentage is far too low.
“When I travel to other cities in North America, the perceptions of Calgary do not match what my Calgary experiences. We need potential businesses, employees and leaders to know that they will be welcome at every table here, and we are making great strides to diversify our board rooms, our executive teams, our politics, our education and health care systems and every table where decisions are being made.”
As a gross understatement, Axis Connects is active year-round. Elevating and boosting awareness for the importance of diversity across all areas of Calgary business. Although some say the Axis Connects Main Event and key recognition is the Calgary Influential Women in Business (CIWB) Awards, all set for April 13, 2023 at the TELUS Convention Centre.
The selection committee of 30 esteemed Calgary executives is now reviewing the nominees in each category, and next month, the Awards night will shine a spotlight on influential business leaders in Calgary. They are all winners!
But the honourees (five outstanding female business leaders and one male champion), chosen based on professional accomplishments, advocating for advancing women, influence and business community involvement, will be recognized and celebrated at the April 13 Awards Gala, presented by National Bank Financial Inc. and TransAlta Corporation.
All the Axis Connects hard work, the planning, and the organizing is paying off, big time. It’s also a source of satisfaction. “The support from the Calgary community has been overwhelming and incredibly positive,” Nuvyn Peters adds.
“Our corporate partners, now numbering more than 50, are very supportive and willing to host and sponsor Calgary networking events and opportunities. Our growing membership of over 2,000+ Calgary business professionals continues to demonstrate the importance that Axis plays in connecting and advancing women in leadership roles throughout our community.”
The feedback from Calgary’s business community also emphasizes the win-win. “Success to date has been in the hundreds of amazing nominees for the Women in Leadership Awards, the 20 past winners, the dozens of business leader partners and the thousands of event attendees and members of Axis Connects. It is so rewarding and exciting!” says Katherine Emberly.
“Imagine if Calgary set the bar and led the way for diversity in leadership across our country. Now that would be unexpected and exhilarating! With the momentum and support, Axis Connects has it within reach.”
Visit the Axis Connects website for more information.