In 2013 I had the pleasure of becoming the minister. I went out with departmental officials and others and talked to a lot of Canadians, particularly young women interested in excelling in or changing their careers or finding something that would provide them a great opportunity in the future.
One of the things that came back continually was the need for mentors. It was not just that they wanted to be able pick up the phone and call someone. They actually wanted someone who would return their call and have a meaningful relationship with them, someone who would invest time in them as an individual and a person for the long term.
I can say from personal experience that my becoming a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon only occurred because two men decided there should be more women in their profession and that they should make that type of investment. It was a very personal relationship. Dr. Allan Gross, the chairman of orthopaedics at the University of Toronto, and Dr. John Wedge at SickKids were both gentlemen who made a choice that women should be in leadership roles.
I do understand why 52% of graduating medical students were women, and not having any of them enter surgery was a bit of a challenge and a problem for them, but that one-on-one relationship was very important. Numerous other leaders in Canadian society, whether from medicine, business or otherwise, were finding the same challenges—there was enormous talent among young women but they were not actually being allowed or provided the opportunities to get into leadership roles.
The “It Starts with One” program was a result of those consultations and of the need for that one-on-one relationship. We asked every leader who signed up—we had over 5,000—to make a one-year commitment to be in continual dialogue with that young woman, to actually step up and have a meaningful relationship. Whether it be Richard Nesbitt, who had been the chairman at CIBC, or Victor Dodig, who now is the chairman at CIBC, numerous others across the country, including Annette Verschuren, and others, would make that kind of commitment.
I'm not seeing that continue and I think it's a loss to the country. I think we have enormous young female talent—even here in the House of Commons—and we're not realizing their full potential to end up in leadership roles.
I guess my reflection on that and also on the work we did on women on boards, publishing a report on increasing the number of women on Canadian boards.... As you said, Minister, their number hasn't even changed in your time. It started at 18 when I was there. It ended up at 21. You could say that's a rounding error, but it hasn't changed in this government either.
I think that work of providing entrepreneurs or others with leadership opportunities so that they could end up on a board is extremely important. It's all part of the same stream.