On March 22, 2018, our McGill MBA Women’s Association held its first event of the year, an inspiring workshop and panel discussion addressing various insights and initiatives on tackling unconscious bias in the workplace.
The keynote speech was given by one of Canada’s Top 100 influential women, Ms. Caroline Codsi, President and Founder of Women in Governance (La Gouvernance au Féminin). She spoke at length about her own experiences battling bias, and moving across multiple countries while remaining persistent about her goals. In the end, as someone who has been through the Lebanese wars, left her country because of the latter, and worked hard to see her career soar to heights in the corporate world, she spoke of the courage she needed to step away from the corporate world and begin the Women in Governance Foundation, a not-for profit organization that supports women in their leadership development, career advancement and access to Board seats.
Following the keynote speech, there was an interesting workshop conducted by Ms. Sema Burney, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and MBA Career Coach at McGill University. She kicked off the workshop with an exercise for the audience – to attempt to reduce oneself to just two characteristics. She then explained how humans are wired to make a quick judgement about others they meet in the same fashion, but that acknowledgement is the first step to overcoming this problem. Interacting with the audience, she then discussed and suggested some techniques to overcome bias in the work place and in everyday life.
The final panel discussion was a lively event, moderated by Ms. Nathalie-Michele Sylvain, Intercultural Management Consultant and Lecturer at McGill University, who wasn’t afraid to ask tough questions, and opened the floor to the audience as well, to barrage the panel with a no-holds-barred, “ask-me-anything” discussion. The panelists of the discussion on “How to Create a Better Workplace: Being Mindful of Unconscious Bias” were the following:
1) Mr. Nicholas Greschner, HR Director Canada at Accenture
2) Ms. Sandy Poiré, Investment Officer at CN Pension Fund
3) Ms. Nathalie Francisci, Partner at Odgers Berndtson
4) Ms. Louise Macdonald, Executive Leadership Consultant
5) Mr. Samer Saab, CEO of eXplorance
Here is a quick summary of what they discussed:
Mr. Samer Saab emphasized how his company, eXplorance, does not have any mandatory quotas for women’s representation, because each employee is passionate about the cause, and lives and breathes the values of gender equality. Being an entrepreneurial firm, they are quick to respond to employee needs without the need for a quota for any job in particular.
Talking about solutions and personal experiences, Ms. Sandy Poiré explained the importance of women taking control, being proactive about managing their careers, and tying up with allies that support and advocate for them, while Ms. Nathalie Francisi spoke of how she has used humor as a strategy to win over a difficult room. Mr. Nicolas Greschner highlighted Accenture’s initiatives such as Diversity Moments; Accenture’s latest report on Diversity covering 22,000 employees; as well as how everyone at Accenture now wears Speak Up! Badges, to encourage a culture of openness and sharing.
Finally, taking in consideration the impact that MBA’s will have on their respective companies and peers after graduation, Ms. Louise Macdonald and Ms. Nathalie Francisci advised our McGill MBA students to become the agent of the change they wish to see in the world. In other words, when confronted to someone’s bias, one should try to be magnanimous and gracious, and win them over with generous actions rather than a confrontational behaviour.
Once more, without the immense support of a large number of people at McGill, this event would not have been possible. Thank you to everyone for taking out the time to be part of our event and for making it a memorable occasion for all of us!
About the authors:
The McGill MBA Women’s Association is a student organization for both men and women enrolled in the MBA Program at McGill University. It is part of the DGSS, Desautels Graduate Students’ Societies. Its President is Margarita Chamorro and its Vice Presidents are Mehreen Haider and Stephen Alvares. The current office bearers have defined their mandate as expanding an HeForShe-style teamwork to tackle issues related to gender diversity.