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Women’s Forum sets new agenda ahead of G7 Summit

JUNE 6, 2018

Improved career advancement for women. And better protections for personal data.

Those were the hottest topics at Women’s Forum Canada, a recent gathering of about 600 people to help shape part of the agenda for the G7 Summit, which takes place this week in Charlevoix, Que.

Barb Mason of Scotiabank delivered a formal welcome to Day One of Women’s Forum Canada in Toronto on May 10, 2018.

The event was hosted in Toronto by the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society. Attendees included Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, Scotiabank Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer Barbara Mason, and Patricia Greene of the U.S. Department of Labor. The conference agenda focused on inclusive growth and women’s empowerment, as well as jobs for the future, climate change and security.

A consistent theme emerged around the tangible business benefits of diversity and inclusion.

“Advancing women isn’t a ‘responsibility’ that businesses need to shoulder – it’s an imperative for their own success, no matter where they operate globally,” said Scotiabank’s Barb Mason in her opening remarks (view the complete address here).

One of the forum’s discussions centred on the uses and potential abuses of personal data obtained from customers or citizens. A diverse panel of women (and one man) discussed the major hurdles facing individuals, governments, and businesses when it comes to personal data ownership. All agreed that the news about Cambridge Analytica and major legislative changes like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is changing opinions rapidly on how privacy should be handled. For some, the impressions of private companies having unfettered, unpaid access to nearly unlimited personal information has made them look to governments, and regulations like the GDPR, as a better solution than the traditional Silicon Valley liberal/libertarian idea of “don’t worry about it.”

Anja Wyden Guelpa, Founder and CEO of civicLab and former chancellor of the Swiss state of Geneva, said she changed her opinion on data ownership after the depth of the Cambridge Analytica scandal hit. “Before Cambridge Analytica, I think the libertarian argument for data ownership was the dominant approach, but we’ve seen that doesn’t go so well,” she said. “It’s a threat to democracy. It’s not really a solution.”

This position wasn’t universally popular. Huda Idrees, CEO of Dot Health disagreed, citing governmental breaches of data as a strong counter-argument. Idress, whose start-up aims to give customers access and control of their own health information, maintained that “data is a matter of agency for people. What are the controls that are available to the individual?”

The strongest consensus on the panel was that data is not inherently good or bad, and it’s the application of said data where things can go wrong. Mike Henry, Executive Vice President and Chief Data Officer of Scotiabank (who also serves as Co-Executive Champion of the HeforShe Initiative at the bank), went a step further and explained what he thinks needs to happen with conversations regarding data ownership and its impact. Have more women, and have more diverse interests at the table, he says.

Huda Idrees, CEO of Dot Health, and Mike Henry, Executive Vice President and Chief Data Officer of Scotiabank, take part in a panel discussion on data ownership and security at Women’s Forum Canada in Toronto on May 10, 2018.

“It’s becoming a truism that when you’ve got more diversity, when you’ve got more inclusion, you get to better decisions and business outcomes. We’ve tried to link this [at Scotiabank] to performance.” Having more women at the table was the topic at another panel which discussed how to encourage more women to become entrepreneurs and start more businesses, or enter the finance industry and gain more representation at senior levels.

You can view a video of the complete discussion here.


“I’m raging inside,” said Vicki Saunders, the CEO of SheEO, a nonprofit that helps women entrepreneurs access capital and networks for their companies, when women’s behaviour was brought up during the roundtable discussion.

“Women are not risk-averse. What [society] is, is biased against women in power,” she went on to say.

Saunders was joined by Nicole German, vice president of enterprise digital marketing at Scotiabank’s Digital Factory; Katherine Tweedie, executive director of Investec Asset Management; Christiane Bergevin, president of Bergevin Capital and chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce; and Alyse Nelson, CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership. They launched an energetic conversation about the importance of supporting female entrepreneurs and business leaders.

All agreed that companies need to be held accountable for their diversity and gender initiatives.

A roundtable discussion of seed funding and scaling investment for women-led businesses at Women’s Forum Canada in Toronto on May 10, 2018 included (left to right): Nicole German, Vice President of Enterprise Digital Marketing at Scotiabank’s Digital Factory; Katherine Tweedie, Executive Director of Investec Asset Management; and Vicki Saunders, CEO of SheEO.

“In order to have female perspectives, we need to have their voices at the table at all levels of the organization,” said German. “We need to support female founders and business owners with capital programs, but also by building community, providing mentorship and informal training and creating a supportive network.”

Other recommendations included more education opportunities for young girls and encouraging governments and businesses to develop infrastructure that is favourable to women. One example: helping woman-owned businesses get better access to Government of Canada procurement.

The conference as a whole issued a seven-point manifesto calling for the governments of the G7 nations to:

  • Lead by example in the public sector
  • Implement and enforce laws and levers for women’s safety and security
  • Create the conditions for gender equality in the workforce and employment pipeline
  • Ensure equal access to education and technological training to foster inclusive innovation and equal outcomes for women
  • Empower women to contribute to solutions to climate change
  • Adopt shared principles in the implementation of policies
  • Draw on women’s leadership

But the prevailing theme was quite simple: “get more women to the table.”