Interview with Caroline Codsi

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Caroline Codsi is an inspiration to women globally. Born in Beirut and growing up during the war, Caroline has achieved VP & SVP roles and is in the top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada. She empowers women globally to step forward and develop their leadership skills through her non-profitorganization, as well as having launched the first Parity Certification in North America, keeping gender disparities at bay. She is a highly regarded speaker and a multiple award winner with a global recognition for her achievements. 

Caroline Codsi is also the head behind Women in Governance, also known as La Gouvernance au Féminin, a non-for-profit organization that supports women in their leadership development, career enhancement and access to board seats. Her movement has inspired many women in corporate Canada and around the world to make bold moves and break the glass ceiling. Her story is one of passion, ambition, perseverance and of true resilience! 


I was born in Beirut in a time when everything was beautiful, then at the age of 7, on a spring day, the civil war broke, and only ended when I turned 22. My most formative years were certainly putting me to the challenge. At the age of 17, I moved to Paris, no parents, no money, but it was an amazing experience which certainly shaped the woman I am today.  I have always been passionate about my roots, strong about my motives and perseverant about my approach.

At 22 (and a half) I moved from Paris to Montreal, and my parentsas well (from Beirut to Montreal).  Our family was finally reunited.  For a quarter of a century, in this safe and welcoming country, Ihave had a very successful career in the corporate world, with increasing responsibilities and a lot of recognition in media and through various national and international awards, including from the United Nations. Exactly 25 years after my arrival in this country,I was nominated amongst the top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada.  Having climbed the ladder quickly and making it to VP and SVP roles in the corporate world, I noticed that I was too often the only woman at the table, this led me to found Women in Governance in 2010.   The organization grew so quickly, that in 2017, at a time when McKinsey&Co had accepted to support us pro bono, in order to create a Parity Certification, I decided to leave the security of a high-paying job as an Executive VP in a medical expertise firm, to dedicate myself fully to Women in Governance.


What are you currently working on?


Women in Governance’s programs have a deep and concrete impact for equality in the Canadian society. We hold events with high-profile influential and inspiring leaders. I have had the opportunity to interview many of the world’s best and brightest leaders such as Hillary Clinton, Justin Trudeau, Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan, Marlene Schiappa, Tarana Burke, Winnie Byanyima, Dr. Joanne Liu, and many more. 

Our events offer great opportunities for women to network amongst each other but also with the numerous men who attend.  We strongly believe that Parity can only be achieved if women and men work at it together.  

Furthermore, Women in Governance offers two levels of governance training to help women become better board members or chairs. The program is a huge success and 120 women graduateper year. In a similar vein, our mentoring program is one of our hallmark activities designed to support women’s advancement. Every year, we chose 40 women at the VP level of a major organization who aspire to become CEO or to chair a Board that we match with 40 current or past CEOs (both men and women) during a 12-month period. 

Finally, what is now taking up most of my time is Women in Governance’s flagship activity, our Parity Certification which serves to help Canadian organizations increase the representation of women in sectors where they have historically been underrepresented, as well as in senior management positions. This innovative certification not only evaluates parity at the decision-making level of organizations, but also assesses the organization’s commitment to the implementation of mechanisms that enable women at all levels of its hierarchy to achieve career advancement, thus creating a pipeline of female talent.

Our numbers have doubled year over year, after 17 major organizations certified in 2017 and 31 in 2018, we now have more than 100 organizations in the pipeline that are interested of joining the ranks of this innovative certification for 2019.  Having received wide interest from several other countries, we are also working on expanding globally.  


Why it is important to propel women in leadership roles? 


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Many reasons: the positive impact on financial performance, innovation, employee engagement, branding and reputation of organizations.  Women are 51% of the population, 60% of university graduates, 80% of buying decision-making, yet, they are less than 5% of CEOs (not 1 of the Toronto Stock Exchange TSX60 companies has a female CEO) and women make up 14% of overall board positions (these numbers are above 20% when you look at the FP500 companies but these numbers are not moving very fast.  The CEO figures are even declining, in 2018, we dropped to close to 4%in Canada).


How does Canada compare to other countries?  


Canada is a fantastic land of freedom and opportunity but if we focus on the female presence in decision-making bodies, well we’re not doing very well.  The Americans are doing just as bad if that can be of consolation (but their President never claimed it was a priority).  At a global scale, the number of women in decision-making bodies has only increased by 3% in 5 years. While one-third of companies worldwide still do not have a single woman in senior management positions.   If we compare ourselves to Europe, we are very much behind.  Several European countries have quotas which resulted in a minimum of 40% of women on boards.  In 2010, at the time I founded Women in Governance, France and Canada both had 12% of women on boards.  Today, they have 40% thanks to the Cope-Zimmermann legislation. We have 14%….  


In Quebec, more than a decade ago, legislation required 50% of women on the boards of the Province’s 21 crown corporations. That target was achieved within 5 years, proof that when you legislate you find women, when you do not legislate you find excuses… I have been lobbying for quotas in Canada for many years because it seems that things are simply not happening on their own and I always like to reassure everyone that there is no need to worry about competence, there are plenty of competent women out there! We arenot asking that they be hired because they are women but because of the diverse perspective that they bring to the table. And let’s not forget Françoise Giroud’s famous quote: “We will achieve gender equality the day that an incompetent woman is nominated to an important position.”