A career in finance might not have been where a young Monique Leroux was heading while attending post-secondary education in arts and music. However, as a pragmatic people person, Leroux felt she could make more of a difference with people and for herself if she were to enter the world of finance and accounting. Clearly, her decision was wise, as she has excelled. She has also kept her interest in music, currently serving as the vice chair of the Montreal Symphony Foundation’s board.
Currently, Monique Leroux is a corporate director and vice-chair of Fiera Holdings. Prior to this, she was the Chair of the Board and President and Chief Executive Officer of Desjardins Group from 2008 to 2016. The recipient of multiple honours including being a Member of the Order of Canada; an Officer of the Ordre national du Québec; a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur (France) and a recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Award (United States), she holds honorary doctorates from eight Canadian universities in recognition of her contribution to the business sector and to the community. Luckily, she also found time to become of member of the Canadian Chamber’s Council for Women’s Advocacy (CWA) in 2020.
As a young professional accountant, Monique entered the profession when women were a minority — about 5% of the profession at that time. The challenge was to get good support. Men and women are different — they look at things differently, they network differently. She credits a few early mentors. Making an excellent analogy, Monique compares blazing a trail in cross-country skiing or following one that is a groomed trail. It is much easier to follow a groomed trail. She was the first woman to be president of the CPA. She feels lucky to have been supported by a multitude of good people along “the trail”.
When able, she has made it a “must” on her teams to champion parity and diversity in workplace culture. She is convinced that a balanced team achieves more success and brings more value to any organization and project. Such diversity “is good for society, it’s good for business and it’s good for the economy. In fact I’m convinced that, globally, if women had a more equal voice, in decisions and in power, we would have a better world,” says Leroux.
When asked why she thinks it’s important that the Chamber plays a role in women’s advocacy, she states that the Chamber is an important voice. The impact of the Chamber is significant in terms of Canada’s policy agenda and in terms of convening business people. It makes sense to her that the Chamber created the CWA with its initiatives. “It’s not only an initiative for women in Canada but I believe it is very symbolic, when I think about the history of the Chamber, to launch the Council.”
Ms. Leroux points out that she really likes the three broad themes that the CWA prioritizes. If you look at childcare, for instance, those provinces that have actively pursued good programs (like Quebec) have seen boosts to their economy. If you look at Quebec’s economy, it has been very much stimulated by this support. Childcare is fundamental to women’s engagement in the economy. Leroux also expresses her appreciation for the second and third pillars for the CWA: facilitating growth of businesses led and owned by women and talent management. From her vantage point, Ms. Leroux sees the recommendations as being very realistic.
In terms of talent management in the fields that may now be more male-dominated, Leroux cites her own example of the low number of women in the accounting profession when she began her career to now, indicating that the impetus for change can be created through supports for women and designing a pathway.
Enabling women’s success in business is a combination of education, role models, mentorship, opening doors, being proactive, ensuring that young women are prepared to enter into fields that are not currently aligned to women and accelerating the ability for women to become entrepreneurs. It’s also important that companies put in place objectives to have more women in executive level roles and on corporate boards, as there needs be an eco-system in which this agenda can move forward.
In Canada many foundational pieces are in place — social programs, education, natural resources — to become a global leader in parity and diversity. It’s important that Canada has programs that help finance and invest in women entrepreneurs – whether those women own or manage businesses. We need to better support the growth of these businesses. While Canada has made some progress, we need to accelerate the pace for the prosperity of all!
The CWA is a cornerstone of the Canadian Chamber’s diversity and inclusion initiative, established to bring the voice and perspectives of women to national policies, inform the Canadian Chamber’s initiatives in advancing the gender equality agenda, and drive meaningful action to address the identified issues and barriers. The CWA will continue to explore recommendations that the federal government can implement to support women through the recovery period, alongside looking at best practices and guidance for the business community.