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Why You’re More Powerful Than You Think

Posted By Zoya Zayler, Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Updated: Thursday, May 28, 2020

When you hear the word “power,” what comes to mind? If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have said a CEO, a politician, perhaps even a social media influencer. But after being named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women, I have a very different perspective on power.

Last year when Accenture submitted my nomination for the award, I thought they got it wrong. Me, powerful? As Accenture’s Canada lead for inclusion and diversity, I was confident of my expertise, my relevance and a certain amount of influence. Powerful, however, was not a word I would have ever used to describe myself. Truthfully, it made me pretty uncomfortable.

So, what exactly does it mean to be powerful?

On Power

I asked my closest friends what power means to them. I heard a wide range of responses that can be boiled down to two categories:

  1. Legitimacy in a social structure such as a person’s position, status or rank. Powerful people have authority, agency and can effect change.
  2. Personal characteristics such as influence, credibility, discipline, confidence and respect from others.

My husband summarized it in four words – charisma, likeability, results and leadership. And then there’s the Wikipedia definition of power as “the capacity of an individual to influence the conduct (behaviour) of others.”

So, what’s my takeaway from starting a conversation on power? That there are as many different definitions of power as the number of people I asked and the places I looked. Interestingly, WXN’s perspective on power varies further by specifically pointing out that the top 100 most powerful women in Canada aren’t necessarily powerful because they carry a certain title, but because:

“They are resilient and strong. They inspire, learn and grow. They have faced professional and personal challenges and come out stronger. They are champions and advocates for others.”

Now this definition I can get behind.

Rethinking Power

If we think about power in terms of resilience, personal growth and advocating for others, then we all have power – or at least the capacity to have it. We’re no longer restricted by external factors such as whether that top position opens up, whether others believe in our potential or whether business is booming. Instead, power is fully within our control.

As I look at power through this lens, I realize that many people around me who I hadn’t previously thought of as particularly powerful in the traditional sense actually have enormous amounts of power. My parents are one example. They left the Soviet Union with me and my brother under extremely challenging conditions, rebuilt their lives in Canada and are strong and passionate advocates for people and causes they care about. They are not CEOs, politicians or social media influencers, yet their power is tremendous.

Similarly, each of WXN Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women have an enormous amount of power. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know many of them over the past few months, and their stories of personal strength, grit and empowering others are unmatched. I understand why each of them was selected, and why each is considered powerful.

Owning Your Power

“Powerfully empowered” is WXN’s 2019 theme for the Top 100 awards, which beautifully summarizes that every one of us has personal power. We are empowered to continue to grow, and we are especially empowered to advocate for others. Imagine a world where we all embrace the idea that advocating for others increases our personal power and the more we give back, the more power we gain.

One thought from WXN that particularly resonated with me is, “A strong woman stands up for herself but a powerful woman stands up for all of us.” Let’s stand up for others and let’s inspire, champion and advocate for those around us, for this is where our real power lies. Let’s own our power by continuing to learn and grow, share our experience with others and empower others through our actions and accomplishments.

If you already do this, then you’re more powerful than you think. And so am I.

Zoya Zayler, Canada Inclusion & Diversity Lead for Accenture, is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders category for 2019. She has been recognized for her successive leadership positions within her organization and proven passion for learning and innovation.

2020 Top 100 Nominations open on International Women’s Day – March 8, 2020. Click here to learn more about Top 100 and nominate a powerful female or even yourself!


About Zoya:

Zoya ZaylerZoya Zayler is Canada Inclusion & Diversity Lead for Accenture.

2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner

Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders

Zoya Zayler drives Accenture Canada’s inclusion and diversity (I&D) strategy and provides the organization with strategic direction to achieve its I&D goals. A thought leader in this space, she has empowered Accenture to turn inclusion and diversity commitments into actionable practices that have advanced inclusivity and resulted in sustainable change. Zoya was recognized as the 2019 Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion D&I Practitioner of the Year and one of Human Resource Director’s 2018 Top 22 Most Promising Young HR Professionals in Canada.

Tags:  Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100  CMPW Top 100  D and I  Diversity  Diversity & Inclusion  Diversity and Inclusion  emerging leaders  Top 100  top 100 awards  women leaders  women leading women 

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Why confidence and conduct come first for Bill Morris

Posted By Women's Executive Network, Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Updated: Thursday, May 28, 2020

Bill Morris

Thirteen years ago, Bill Morris received some of the best advice of his life.

He was chatting with Accenture’s head of leadership development about parenting his then 14-year-old daughter. “She said to me, ‘Bill, you’ve got one job with your daughter: to give her confidence,” he remembers. “Do that and everything else will work out,” she assured him. Then, she added, “That applies to everybody you lead. And by the way, in particular, to women.”

Morris, who started with Accenture in Canada and recently retired after completing his second term, saw the organization grow from just 50 people to a workforce of 5,000 people across the country today.

“It was the most memorable piece of leadership advice I ever received,” Morris said.

Today, not only is he proud of his daughter, who is now a lawyer, but he’s seen his company make incredible strides toward some lofty goals, including a 40 per cent target for women in leadership positions and gender parity across its Canadian business by 2025.

Confidence comes first

While mentoring is well-established at professional service firms, Accenture’s research found that only one-third of women have a mentor compared with two-thirds of men.

“Helping your people be confident in themselves is a key aspect of mentoring,” Morris said. “It is now broadly understood that under-represented groups are under-mentored. We started tackling that issue years ago and I would now call it table stakes.”

But you can’t be confident if you’re not comfortable in the workplace, he adds. Through Accenture in Canada’s Conduct Counts program, the company measures workplace conduct in every business unit within every country. It helps leaders identify where improvements are needed.

“While most companies have ways to deal with misconduct when it happens, few have such a comprehensive system for driving improvement,” said Morris. “It creates the kind of environment where under-represented identities feel that, ‘I can thrive here because there are the standards of conduct that will make me feel like I can be myself,’” he said.

“Confidence and conduct come first. They are foundations upon which we were able to transform Accenture’s business in Canada.”

Five years ago, when Morris returned to start his second term leading Accenture in Canada, he took his investment plan forward for global approval. “Part of it was an extensive hiring plan at senior levels. I got what I asked for with one condition – that half the new hires would be women.  While that was music to my ears, I wasn’t sure we could pull it off.”

Over the next six months, his team consulted with recognized Canadian leaders in diversity and inclusion. They surveyed their clients, employees and alumni. “Our clients told us that they expected us to service them with gender parity teams. This finding was pivotal for us because it meant that we’d have a competitive advantage if we could be the first to do that.”

However, they also learned that, as a place where women can build their careers, Accenture was seen as being “in the middle of the pack.”

“These surveys gave us the business rationale to set our gender parity goal – which we did almost a year before we set the same goal globally.”

They then built an Excel model that modeled alternate pathways to the gender parity goals. It would predict what would happen if they adjusted variables like the gender mix of applicants and hires, along with the gap in retention and promotion between men and women.

Then the debates started. “It initially looked impossible, because we refused to compromise on meritocracy,” he remembers. But perseverance paid off. “Finally, we got to something that everybody on the team said, ‘We’re all in.’ And that was powerful because we invented it together.”

From that, Morris and his Canada Diversity Council – made up of his line of business and Employee Resource Group leads – leapt into action with initiatives like diversity moments, which became a staple in every meeting. “That’s where we discuss and debate topics like policy issues and unconscious bias at the start of each meeting,” he explained.

They also put the spotlight on sponsorship. Sponsors use their personal capital to advocate and intervene on an individual’s behalf. “Good mentors might not be the best sponsors. We especially wanted our women and diverse up-and-comers to have strong sponsors.”

Today, Morris is proud of the results. Of 1,100 employees hired last year, 50 per cent were women, and they’re on track to hit their company-wide 50-50 goal in 2025.

And when it comes to leadership opportunities for women, they’re now leading the pack. “When we started to hear from senior-level recruits in the Canadian marketplace that we had become the go-to place where they wanted to work for inclusion and diversity reasons – because we were not there five years ago – that was tremendously satisfying,” he said.

Morris has written a series of blogs about what worked for him and his team.

We are proud to partner with Accenture in Canada for the Inclusion Vanguard Award, a prestigious part of our annual Top 100 Awards! In 2017, we honoured Bill Morris for his outstanding contribution towards diversity and inclusion at Accenture and Canada-wide. At our 2019 Top 100 Awards on November 21, we will celebrate a new winner of the Inclusion Vanguard Award, recognizing a leader who has made a remarkable impact in driving real, lasting change. The Inclusion Vanguard Award symbolizes what we all strive to achieve: a stronger, more inclusive Canada!

The good work continues

The Inclusion Vanguard Award was a defining moment of that success for Morris and his team.

“It was market recognition that we had succeeded in becoming the best place for women to build a leadership career,” he said.

“Receiving this award, which came out of the blue, helped position us further and reinforced that feedback that we were getting from our recruits.”

And even though Morris has retired from Accenture, he says his experience is so deeply ingrained it’s a part of him now. “I was recently approached to give to a university. I told them I’d give if they set and met a gender mix target for their computer science faculty and student base. The targets would be their choice, not mine.”

Tags:  D and I  Diversity  Diversity & Inclusion  Diversity and Inclusion  EDI  Equity Diversity and Inclusion 

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Why Sandra Stuart says diversity isn't a one-woman show

Posted By Women's Executive Network, Thursday, November 7, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Sandra Stuart

Imagine you just moved to an office in a different country.

You’re in a business meeting with your new team and following along okay, though not great (you’re still learning the language, after all). Everyone around you is joking with each other – and you can’t shake the feeling that you’re on the outside looking in.

It might not be deliberate, but “it just doesn’t feel very good,” said Sandra Stuart, president and CEO of HSBC Bank Canada and the inaugural winner of the WXN 2016 Vanguard Inclusion Award.

The reason she knows how it feels? She’s been excluded before. Through her storied career that began in 1980 as a Saturday teller with HSBC, she’s held roles as far afield as Brazil and sat in meetings exactly like that.

“Your challenge is to figure out how you can belong, how you can fit into the culture,” she said.

Though she didn’t speak Portuguese at first, Stuart is thankful she found people who helped her find a way to belong. It inspired her to take action, too. “I don’t like how this feels and I know I can do something about it,” she said.

It’s been 18 years since her time in Curitiba, Brazil, but it put matters of diversity and inclusion on her radar. And for the last 9 years as COO and now CEO, she’s made great strides in making sure employees at HSBC Canada feel welcome, no matter who they are or where they come from.

Little by little

While Stuart’s proud that “balanced and inclusive is just how we are now,” it didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a concerted effort that grew little by little over the last decade.

“It’s not any one thing. It’s a combination of many things. It’s a combination of spirit, people, energy level, sponsorship, education, a deliberate corporate framework,” she said.

A standout from that mix is what HSBC calls employee resource groups.

“These are groups of employees who have a specific diversity theme, and it’s an opportunity to come together,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for them to educate the organization in terms of not what makes them different, but what differentiates them and how we can learn about it, how we can be inclusive, how we can understand and appreciate difference.”

Within their organization, the groups are wildly successful, she added, since it’s a roots-up movement fueled by employee enthusiasm. “It was kind of lightning in a bottle and it still is on a lot of levels,” she said.

Then there’s the data. HSBC regularly reviews how specific designated groups are progressing, Stuart said, which leads to in-depth discussions about why problems exist and what they can do to correct their course.

About 10 years ago, for example, those numbers showed that there weren’t enough women in leadership and middle management. Digging deeper, they found that women often felt like it was tough to integrate back into the workforce after mat leave. HSBC changed their policies to allow for more flexibility.  They also set targets and she’s proud to report they’ve had a gender balanced board of directors and Executive Committee since 2013.

“The first thing you want to do is, you want to understand what your workforce looks like,” she explained. “Why don’t I have women in senior roles? What is the turnover and attrition rate? At what level do they attrite and what job family are they in when they attrite? That data allows you to have conversations that lead to policy and behaviour changes.”

They use scorecards to measure the results of diversity and inclusion as part of their performance objectives as well. Though the exact numbers are a trade secret, Stuart can share one thing: the goals are challenging, fair, achievable and thoughtful.

And they’ve seen results, she added – so much so that D&I is a given in their culture. Take the Pride lanyard that hangs around her neck, for example. “It’s the little things you do that continually reinforce your belief in the power of the diverse workforce,” she said.

Keeping up with changes

For Stuart, diversity isn’t just about gender.  She is trying to make her organization a place that people feel comfortable to be truly themselves at work regardless of gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, disability or generation.  HSBC also supports mental wellness and provide access to a broad range of resources, too. It’s both the right thing to do and good business, she said.

After all, they’re a global organization, serving people from around the world. It makes sense to reflect that within their own teams. “When you’re on a phone call in HSBC, an international phone call, you see the power of diversity,” she said.

Winning the Inclusion Vanguard award meant a lot because it signaled that her organization is moving in the right direction, even if it took her by surprise.

“I was incredibly humbled. I was honored. And I thought, ‘oh my goodness, I haven’t done enough,’” she said. “You sometimes wonder if you’re making a difference, and when the market recognizes you with something like that, the whole team gets to celebrate it.”

She’s also proud that HSBC brought home the Government of Canada’s Sector Distinction & Outstanding Commitment, Employment Equity Awards for the past three years running.

She’s of two minds when it comes to awards like this. The first: she’s excited. Positive attention helps inspire others to do good things, she said. But she looks forward to the day when diversity is so baked into our organizations that it doesn’t need to be called out.

“Bringing positive attention and positive action is a good thing. But I’m sorry we still need them,” she said.

Still, all credit goes to her team who made the win possible, because they lead by example every day of the year, she added.

“The award represented the really hard work of the team around me. So it was something super positive that I could share with everyone.” No matter where they’re from.


We are proud to partner with Accenture for the Inclusion Vanguard Award, a prestigious part of our annual Top 100 Awards! In 2016, we honoured Sandra Stuart with the inaugural Inclusion Vanguard award for her work that she has done, not only with HSBC Bank Canada but towards diversity and inclusion in Canada-wide. At our 2019 Top 100 Awards on November 21, we will celebrate a new winner of the Inclusion Vanguard Award, recognizing a leader who has made a remarkable impact in driving real, lasting change. The Inclusion Vanguard Award symbolizes what we all strive to achieve: a stronger, more inclusive Canada!

To learn more about the Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award and our Top 100 Awards, visit our Top 100 page.

Tags:  CMPW Top 100  D and I  Diversity & Inclusion  Diversity and Inclusion  Diversity Matters  EDI  Embracing diversity  Equity Diversity and Inclusion 

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Why Rich Donovan puts "delight" ahead of "diversity"

Posted By Women's Executive Network, Thursday, September 26, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, May 27, 2020

It was 2008 and Rich Donovan had just crunched the numbers on how many people live with disabilities worldwide.

The United Nations at the time reported the number around 600 million. His analysis pegged that population at 1.2 billion.

“I actually had to do the analysis three times because I didn’t believe the numbers. They were just too big,” he said. “It’s a pretty ballsy statement to make that the UN’s wrong by a factor of two, right?”

But he was right – and that’s the moment Donovan, founder of Return on Disability, author and past winner of the Women’s Executive Network’s 2018 Inclusion Vanguard Award, knew there was a huge, untapped opportunity touching 53 per cent of the world and worth an estimated $8 trillion.

Today, the number of people with disabilities has grown to 1.7 billion people, yet it’s an entire market that’s historically been overlooked. “From my perspective, this is the reason why every company that faces an end consumer, every government that faces an end citizen, should put [disability] at the core of their experience design,” he said.

That’s why he’s changing the conversation.

Building a new approach

In a world where companies talk about diversity and inclusion, Donovan is talking about something else entirely: markets and delighting customers.

Not surprising, given he used to manage about $6 billion in equity as a Wall Street trader. “The trader in me decided to treat disability as a market. I went about doing the analysis as I would for any other trade,” he said.

Trading is where his diversity journey starts, first through Merrill Lynch where he helped with on-campus recruitment efforts for women and visible minorities. “But we weren’t recruiting people with disabilities. In fact, nobody was. And so we decided as a group to add disabilities to that recruiting process.”

That led to Lime Connect, a third-party recruitment organization he founded in 2006 that grew out of those efforts. They connected with other big names like PepsiCo, Google and Goldman Sachs. It’s also where Donovan learned a key lesson: “It’s not about numbers and quotas; it’s about people. And people have desires to be the best that they can be.”

Therein lies the problem with a lot of diversity and inclusion programs, he said. “They haven’t taken the time or the effort, or made the investment, to really understand how those dimensions impact their revenue formula. They haven’t started to build these changes in demand into their product mix, their R&D mix, their customer experience.”

Now, with Return on Disability, he’s leading the charge on a new way of approaching the conversation. “This is more about, how can we best serve our customers? How can we best delight our customers?” he said.

“And the way you do that is you deliver to them what they want.”

Building momentum

Donovan’s decision to start a business focused on that premise was a huge risk, especially since no one else was having those conversations ten years ago.

“When you take a risk like we did, leaving a pretty good job and building something that was totally out of left field at the time, you realize that not many people do that,” he said.

We have honoured deserving recipients with the Inclusion Vanguard award annually, at our Top 100 Awards, since 2016.

That made winning the Inclusion Vanguard Award that much more meaningful, he added. It honours Canadian leaders, both male and female, who champion change and outstanding commitment to a broader diversity agenda within their organizations, clients and communities.

“At the end of the day, professionals don’t do things for awards; they do things for rewards. They do things for profit. They do things to better their business. But between today and the realization of the market, which could be ten years, you need some steps along the way to say yeah, you’re headed in the right direction.”

The award also signals that the conversation he started is becoming mainstream and reduces risk for others who want to follow his lead.

“It’s helpful for other companies to see this is something that you too can be successful at,” he said.

Building the future

Today, Return on Disability has 15 clients globally, ranging from multi-national banks to governments that embrace people with disabilities as valuable customers who drive growth and revenue.

Donovan’s also become an author, publishing Unleash Different last year, which chronicles his journey to Columbia Business School and beyond as a person living with a disability himself.

When he looks back on his accomplishments over the past 13 years, he’s encouraged by the change he’s seen… even if it’s slow-going.

“Organizations and brands are incredibly complex. They’re full of people with different needs, they’re full of corporate mechanisms that we navigate,” he said. “Change on this scale is a very difficult thing to do.”

He’s seen change pick up pace for those 1.7 billion people with disabilities worldwide and the people in their lives, in products like Google’s autonomous car, Amazon’s Alexa and even Disney characters that put accessibility first. He’s seen it in his own work and the work of his clients, too.

“We’ve proven our model and our work…Our clients have put packaging and commercial machinery and technology on shelves globally,” he said.

But there’s still work to do in the market – and he’s ready to do it. “We’re still talking 15 companies out of 5,000, and that doesn’t even include government. So the opportunity’s still there.”


We are proud to partner with Accenture for the Inclusion Vanguard Award, a prestigious part of our annual Top 100 Awards! In 2018, we had the absolute pleasure of honouring Rich Donovan for his extraordinary and notable actions towards diversity and inclusion in Canada. At our 2019 Top 100 Awards on November 21, we will celebrate a new winner of the Inclusion Vanguard Award, recognizing a leader who has made a remarkable impact in driving real, lasting change. The Inclusion Vanguard Award symbolizes what we all strive to achieve: a stronger, more inclusive Canada!

To learn more about the Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award and our Top 100 Awards, visit our Top 100 page.

Tags:  CMPW Top 100  D and I  Diversity  Diversity & Inclusion  Diversity and Inclusion  EDI  Equity Diversity and Inclusion  Inclusion  Top 100  WXN  WXN Top 100 

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