There’s cause for concern: women continue to be under-represented on corporate boards across Canada. Though they make up just under half of the workforce, over 50 percent of Ontario Securities Commission regulated companies do not have a single woman on their boards. Unfortunately, this puts Canada behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to gender balance among senior executives.

Recognition of that fact has led to the creation of  organizations like Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that encourages the acceleration of progress for women through workplace inclusions.

Opening doors to executive positions

Education and formal learning is also important. “Education helps to expand an individual’s knowledge and skills, providing more opportunities for hot jobs and work experiences that will open doors to the executive level,” says Tanya van Biesen, Executive Director of Catalyst Canada. “Higher education is important for anyone seeking an executive position in today’s highly transparent job market.”

According to Statistics Canada, more than 60 percent of Canada’s university undergraduates are women, and they also comprise the majority of master’s degree graduates in Canada. It’s a crucial part of getting women into senior executive positions.

“My advice to anyone seeking to advance their career is to seek out all opportunities to gain higher education,” van Biesen says. “Not because it’s the single ticket to the corporate executive suite, but because it opens doors in many areas of work and life.”

Lessons learned on the road to success

Sherri Stevens has achieved success by turning a business plan she wrote at her mother’s kitchen table into Stevens Resource Group (SRG), a multi-million dollar international workforce management company. Now she is also the owner and CEO of the Women’s Executive Network (WXN), an organization founded in 1997 that is dedicated to the advancement and recognition of women in management, executive, professional, and board roles.

“A degree in general business and finance would have been useful when starting my business,” says Stevens, looking back at the start of her career. “If nothing else, it might have helped me navigate my first major challenge, which was securing start-up money from local financial institutions. They were not willing to take the risk on a young, inexperienced woman.”

Instead, she worked nights at a local printing shop and her brothers’ car dealership to secure the $1,000 line of credit needed to launch her business. Given the chance, Stevens says she would have pursued an MBA. “It would have given me a foundation of knowledge for the business, a broader professional network, and a head-start on interpreting financials and business plans,” she says.

Still, Stevens is grateful for what she has learned along the way and she now shares her expertise with other women, including her belief in the need for higher education. “It gives you a foundation of knowledge on which to build your career. I also believe formal education should be combined with seeking out opportunities for mentorship and networking to balance the theory with practice.”