While females make up just over 50 percent of the Canadian population, they remain grossly underrepresented in top-level positions in many of Canada’s most powerful corporations. Fortunately, there are companies across the country that understand the positive impact women have on the business world and strive to tap into their potential.

One company encouraging women to explore their potential as business leaders is RBC. In 2013, they created the Women in Leadership program to hone promising employees’ leadership skills. “We created the Women in Leadership program because advancing women into leadership roles is a key priority for us as an organization,” says Helena Gottschling, Senior Vice President of Leadership & Organizational Development at RBC. “We truly believe that if we can unlock the full potential of our people, it will lead to more innovation and more growth. It’s not only the smart business thing to do, it’s also the right thing to do.”

Women currently represent 61 percent of RBC’s workforce in Canada, and hold 41 percent of the executive roles.  According to Gottschling, RBC’s commitment to Women in Leadership has paid off with an impressive program success rate. “Almost 70 percent of participants have either been promoted or moved into roles that expand their experience,” she says.

Perspective and insight gained by program graduates

Natasha Marquez, Director of Operational Risk & Portfolio Management for RBC Caribbean, finished the program in 2016. Marquez admits that when she first began the program she was a little skeptical about what the sessions could offer. “I thought I was confident, successful in my role and knew myself well, and wondered if I would learn anything really new. But it was truly an eye opener. As confident and proactive as I was, the program uncovered biases and challenges that I didn’t realize I faced.”

Marquez explains that the program helped her realize that being in a male-dominated business environment can cause women to hold back and prevent their capabilities from being fully recognized. “I had an ‘aha’ moment thanks to the program. I saw that when there are more men than women, our impact and persuasiveness can be diluted. Women in Leadership taught me to be more purposeful and direct in presenting myself. Every woman took something different from the program but I believe we all came away with a heightened sense of confidence and purpose. Many of us now won’t allow our careers to be forged by those around us but will be more intentional about managing our own career directions.”

Marquez also emphasizes the networking skills that she developed through the program. “It was a fantastic opportunity to network with other women because success often comes with help from your peers and support circle. Men are generally much better at networking. The networking skills we developed will really stand us in good stead as we grow in our careers.”

More women excited to join the ranks of female leaders

Nicole Lee,  Senior Counsel at RBC, has just begun the Women in Leadership program and is looking forward to embracing the new opportunities it presents. “I was very excited to be nominated for the program,” she says. “It’s a wonderful personal and professional development opportunity.” She anticipates learning a great deal from both her fellow participants and the female executive role models she will meet.

Lee also looks forward to the unique opportunity to develop her leadership skills in an encouraging and supportive environment. “There is so much to learn,” she says. “We’ll do fireside chats with other executives and get a better understanding of our own and other people’s leadership styles. It’s an amazing chance to hone my skills and to help me embrace career challenges. And because this is a national and global group of women, we will all learn different approaches to challenges. Leadership is a skill that we all need to flex and this program will give us new insights on how best to do this.”