Caroline Codsi: Woman Of Influence
Caroline Codsi is the President and Founder of Women in Governance (La Gouvernance au Féminin), a non-for-profit organization that supports women in their leadership development, career enhancement and access to board seats.
Her movement has inspired women in corporate positions to break the glass ceiling and raise their standards. There's something we can all learn from a woman like Caroline Codsi; her story outlines ambition, resilience and the true meaning of never giving up.
Codsi was born in Beirut, Lebanon during wartime. She made over eight international moves in 15 years between the ages of 7 and 22. "The war started when I was 7 years old, first we went to Nice then we went to Paris then we went back to Lebanon then we came here [Montreal] for four years then we went back to Lebanon. From there I stayed another year with my parents and then from 17-22, I moved to Paris. I had no money and my parents who stayed behind in war-torn Lebanon couldn't send me any. I took on two jobs and put myself through school and then university.
came back to Montreal, studied here as well and started working in HR.”
What have you learned growing up in Beirut during the war?
[That's] the main reason why I don't put up with injustice. When I was a child and I would see so many injustices especially [being done] to women in Lebanon - it really shocked me - it fuelled the desire in me to do what I could to change it.
Courage, resilience and persistence have allowed me to not accept anything that I wasn't in agreement with and speak up. So I tend to be very vocal on social media, denounce anything I'm not comfortable with [even] when I was an executive vice-president in the corporate world, I had a desire to protect those who couldn't speak up.
There's anger in me. Which luckily translates into something positive. There's anger of all these things that I saw and then coming here and saying: are you kidding me? Even here there are things that are unfair and women are still not treated equitably.
What advice would you give young women entering the corporate world?
If they have the ambition to move up the ladder, there's a few things that are not so natural for a woman that they have to start doing; asking for a raise, negotiating their salary, it doesn't come easy for a woman to ask for these things.
Women should also hang out with men [in their industry], they need to learn from men who have the real power and influence and play the political game. At the end of the day, we don't expect them to start loving golf and going to 5 a 7 with all these executives but they need to put themselves out there. They need to demonstrate their willingness to make a difference within the organization.
One of the key traits organizations look for is someone who can bring them business. Are you a rain maker? Are you someone who has a big rolodex? Can you call someone up and say: hey, I need to meet your VP of this or that because I need to pitch my product/service. It's all about that.
The key characteristic that has made me succeed in the corporate world, was my capacity to bring the organization to the next level. Growth in revenue, growth in profitability, that's what matters.
Where did you develop or learn the skills to enhance that trait?
I think a lot of it comes from my Lebanese background, my father was like that - so I watched my dad. I learned this is how you negotiate, I was observing that since childhood and I can see it with my children they're very natural in negotiating, in closing. This is the mindset you have to have, if you sit and wait for something to happen, nothing exciting is going to happen. No matter how talented you are, no matter how great your grades were when you were in university, nobody cares if you can't achieve results in business.
After 25 years working in the corporate world, Codsi left her security as an Executive Vice-President to lead and grow the organization she had founded 7 years earlier, Women in Governance.
When did you decide to launch Women in Governance?
I founded Women In Governance in 2010, at that time I figured I would just do it on the side, that it would fulfill my desire to build something for women in the business world. It took a life of its own. I never imagined that seven years later I would leave a high paying executive level job, and be able to do this full time.
Is there something that triggered it?
I was looking for such an organization to support me in my desire to sit on a board and make it to the top, and I couldn't find any strong organization for women at my level.
There were a lot of networking events for women who were entrepreneurs, a lot of other events geared towards younger woman but when you're 40 - you already know all that. There was no advice for women who were directors, who wanted to become VP, or above. These women, where do they get their mentoring? So this is how I decided to create it and this is why it got such traction - there was nothing else like it.
Is there an age you cater to specifically?
Yes. You need to be 35 and above, you have to already be in a managerial position, aspiring to top management. Our objective is to bring women through the glass ceiling, they have to be right below the glass ceiling. It's catered to women in the corporate world. There are some entrepreneurs we help out as well, but mostly women who are in large and very large organizations and even small to medium size businesses.
Would you say that there are more women taking on roles of VP/Executive in larger organizations today than 10, 15 years ago?
It's been subtle, although what I think has changed drastically is the mindset and the culture. Where now organizations understand that they have to make an effort and they have to help women reach their goals, not just because it's the ethical thing to do but also because its in their business interest - now they understand.
We don't need to prove it anymore that women are a plus in terms of financial performance for the organization in terms of their branding, in terms of their culture - that has changed drastically. A recent survey done for the government had asked the people if we had reached gender equality the response was something like 90% yes. People were shocked to find out that there were only 5% women CEO's, only 15.9% of women sitting on boards, then how can you talk about equality?
What are your future projects for Women in Governance?
Women in Governance has launched a corporate parity certification, our gala is September 14 at Palais des Congres - during that gala we're going to honour the organizations that have received the certification. It's something like an ISO of parity. 17 major organizations (banks, insurers, etc) have already enrolled in the first month of launch!
What is your long term goal for the organization?
I would like to see the organization grow and be able to support more women in their business endeavours.
In order to get there, we need to be better supported by government - we've asked for grants at both the federal and the provincial level that have been denied, yet both are always calling me for help. I'm glad to help because I think that's our goal but I wish they would put their money where their mouth is and help us have more resources.
What advice would you give women entrepreneurs who want to pursue their passion?
To young women who want to be entrepreneurs, spend a decade working in a well structured company if possible in that particular field and learn everything you have to learn, and then you'll be strong, you'll know all the ins and outs of business and you'll have done that while getting paid, versus getting into debt.
At the end of the day, money is power so you have to make your money first. Then it gives you some reassurance, you take more rational decisions. Work in the corporate world for a few years, learn what you need to learn about business before you open your own business - learn how to manage people, how you manage an accounting department, how to manage clients. You can't come out of school and think that you're going to do all of these things. It takes time.