Sometimes a cause chooses you, as opp osed to the other way around, as was the case with Caroline Codsi, founder and president of not-for-profit organization, La Gouvernance au féminin (aka Women and Boards).
It all started in 2010, when Codsi—a veteran business woman who has lived on three continents and speaks four languages fluently—wanted to learn more about how women rose to decision-making positions. She noted that at the time, there were few, if any, options for someone on that path. “I was looking for people who were thinking about the issues, while inspiring and helping each other—somewhere I could learn to flex my business muscles and develop my skills in areas where women were not playing a large enough role, particularly on boards of directors,” says Codsi. Knowing full well that she was not alone in her quest, she invited her network of contacts to a meeting at the University Club—a symbolic venue that had once been reserved only for men.
“One of our first well-known speakers, Monique-Jérôme Forget, thought it was the perfect place for women to gather to assume their rightful place in the world of business,” she recalls with a smile. Codsi struggled a little with imposter syndrome, but with the support and encouragement of those who attended her first event, she decided to make her cause official, and build a team to help her. Success came quickly and the group now has an online community of more than 26,000 people. This figure highlights just how relevant this movement is: there is no denying that, while things have certainly changed for Canadian women in the last 50 years, those changes are not reflected in the country’s boards of directors, where in 2015, only 15.9% of members were female.
Women and Boards does plenty to further its cause. It organizes events focusing on strategic networking, it offers people access to inspiring speakers of international calibre (such as Maggie Henriquez, CEO of Krug Champagne), it offers a mentoring program, and hosts activities that help educate women about corporate governance. Codsi—who has a full-time career and raised her two children as a single mother—is one of those super-competent multi-taskers. “I need only 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night, which helps me maintain my pace. I am also passionate about everything I do, which gives me energy, and helps keep my focus. My mother is a great role model and source of inspiration. When I was only 17, she had enough faith in me to send me off to Paris alone, to escape the war in Lebanon. I believe the most important thing is to feel like you are in control of your own destiny,” adds Codsi, who understands how essential it is to maintain a sense of balance in your life. That awareness propels her support for many other organizations that work for women and women’s causes, such as Le Chaînon, a shelter for women in difficulty.
The next Women and Boards Recognition Awards Gala takes place on September 14, and will honour three men who, through their work, commitment and concrete action in their respective companies, have pioneered the cause of equality. Codsi maintains: “We must all work together if we hope to ultimately achieve parity in Canada.”
Photo: Bénédicte Brocard