WB to help women rise through its ranks 

New committee tasked with bringing forward recommendations

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Whistler Blackcomb's corporate culture is primed for a shake-up.

A new committee has been formed, the Women of Whistler Blackcomb, in an attempt to find ways to entice more women up the corporate ladder. The committee will be putting together recommendations for the executive team to consider in the coming weeks.

The move comes after Canada's top stock market regulator, the Ontario Securities Commission, required publicly traded companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange to explain to shareholders how they're recruiting women to their boards and executive.

But that's not the only reason. There has been an epiphany of sorts, particularly in the last two years, after two senior female execs left the company and were replaced by males, leaving just one woman out of 14 on the senior leadership team.

"When we filled the last one, quite frankly, I was personally disappointed that we were moving far away from a more balanced executive team. I actually reached out to a number of talented ladies in the company and said: 'I think this is something that we need to look at and we need to figure this out and I need help," said a candid Dave Brownlie, president and CEO.

"The reality is, I've started to understand it more, not only from the framework that we look at the working world from a male point of view, but I think it's also how women look at the working world.

"...The reality is there is often a lot more commitment from women between work and home and family, and understanding that, and how we balance that and how we, as an employer, can support that and figure it out (is important)."

Flora Ferraro, WB's vice-president of finance, is the lone female in the senior leadership team. She has been working for WB for 20 years.

"It's the industry," she said simply. "It's a predominantly male-dominated industry."

Having said that, perhaps there is room to allow for more flexibility in the workplace to allow women to thrive in top positions while balancing other responsibilities outside the workplace.

"I do think, to a certain extent, we need to change the culture and the mindset," said Ferraro.

"It's trying to come up with some creative thoughts."

Ferraro said there is an even split in gender among employees at entry-level positions. As those positions move to the managerial level, the split becomes a little more noticeable — about 60 to 40, skewed to men.

"The challenge is at that top level," she said.

When asked if he has a number of women in mind, Brownlie answered: "More. Just more."

The initiative has to be balanced, he added, with finding the best person for the job."Now our goal is to make sure our women have the opportunity to be that best person," he said.

The gender disparity isn't just in Whistler Blackcomb's workplace.

There were no women on its seven-member board of directors in 2014.

In June last year, the board expanded to eight, and Michele Romanow was appointed — the first woman on the board and the first new member since the transition from Intrawest to KSL, which bought a 24 per cent stake in the company in 2012.

Romanow, who lives in Chicago, is the co-founder of Buytopia.ca and SnapSaves, two leading e-commerce companies. She was also the only Canadian profiled in Forbes' top 20 "Millennials on a Mission." She was brought to WB's board for her insight into marketing and sales, specifically on the digital side of that space.

While the skiing is a male-dominated industry, Romanow said it's no different in technology.

"I would say there's the same if not a worse problem there... and so I think it would be unfair to squarely say this is an industry problem. I think the most important thing is that you have leadership that cares about making a difference and I know Dave has shown a lot of independent initiative on this issue."

Ultimately, Brownlie is committed to changing the culture.

"I'm excited about learning and I'm excited about creating opportunities that hopefully can make a difference," he said.


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