Why are ambitious women often derided in corporate culture while ambitious men are celebrated?
That question and related ones are the focus of The Judy Project, a leadership forum that hopes to empower women to reach more senior levels of management in the Canadian corporate landscape. While no easy answers exist, the forum instead offers a wealth of strategies to ensure that women can overcome social, cultural and political barriers on their own.
Headed by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and celebrating its fifth year, the forum also hopes to help high-achieving women in leadership positions take their careers to the next level by offering practical advice, useful research and a place for successful women to mentor each other to greater success.
Colleen Moorehead, CEO of Nexient Learning and business co-ordinator for The Judy Project, says the goal of helping more women break through barriers to lead Canadian companies is a mission very close to her heart.
“It’s very personal to me — I want to see more diversity at the senior levels of organizations and I want women to be effective and focused in their ambition,” Moorehead said.
At The Judy Project’s recent weeklong series of interactive seminars, a conference hall filled with many of Canada’s most powerful women shared stories and took in research presented by guest speaker Tiziana Casciaro in the hopes of pinpointing some of the reasons why still so few women are able to reach the highest levels of management in the corporate world. Attendees included women leaders from some of Canada’s largest organizations including Microsoft, Deloitte & Touche and Canada Post.
Among the topics discussed were differences in how men and women interweave personal and professional lives, the importance of familiarity and similarity in forging personal relations, and even the role played by likability in professional advancement.
For Mary Kirby-Gall, director of customer service for Canada Post, being able to connect with other successful women leaders was the best part of the experience.
“It’s fascinating to be in a room with such interesting and exciting women. Role models are very important and the visibility of women leaders helps other women see they can be successful,” Kirby-Gall said.
Kirby-Gall suggested forums like The Judy Project are also critical in reminding women that a successful career takes long-term planning as well as some risk-taking.
“You need to look forward if you’re actually going to be successful. You have to be brave and take chances — you have to be courageous enough to do that,” Kirby-Gall said.
“No matter where you are in an organization, you have the opportunity to be ambitious,” Moorehead said.