Beatrix Dart believes that women are the better innovators, even though they’ve been cultivated to remain in the shadows.
“They are more creative in their thinking, but they are also more detail-oriented and willing to follow up on the smaller components, and that makes or breaks a good project idea,” Dart explained. “Women also have the advantage of being better in collaboration and not being afraid to raise their hands and say they need help. There is not as much pride or ego involved.”
Dart is a professor of strategy and executive director of the Initiative for Women in Business at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. She exudes passion for her field and her energy is contagious. Speaking with her in her office at U of T, her mid-morning snack — yogurt from the cafe downstairs — remained untouched as she spoke with great animation about the future of women in business.
Dart’s list of academia accomplishments is impressive: She has a degree in physics and quantitative economics, a degree in information sciences, and a PhD in Economics and statistics. “I was a very quantitative person by background. I felt very comfortable in that environment because it was really logical.”
Her first job after graduation was with McKinsey & Company, an international management consulting firm. Dart fell in love with the job, but she found it challenging to move from the intensive, solitary lifestyle of PhD research to a more active role in public relations.
“That changed my perspective — I went from thinking that being brilliant means being logical, analytical, and smart, to being brilliant actually means being a person people can trust, want to work with, and who will take the recommendation and move forward.”
Dart’s first introduction into gender politics was when she became pregnant with her first child. She was approached by McKinsey & Company and asked to participate in an internal project about how to keep female consultants once they become mothers. The results showed a definite bias towards women after pregnancy.
“Suddenly people make assumptions about you and suddenly all these gender barriers you’ve heard about kick in. They really exist,” Dart said. “Who is taking care of the child? Who is taking time off to go to the doctor? The assumptions are always made for you. They think: ‘Oh, I don’t think she will be ready to take on this project because now she has a newborn at home.’ They will not even ask you.”
This internal project kickstarted a deeper passion within Dart for gender studies. When she returned to academia at Rotman, she noticed a lack of women in the program. This spurred the Initiative for Women in Business, a set of programs that Dart helped found in 2008 specifically tailored to advance the career of women in business. The initiative now has 1,500-2000 professional women within their network. The most popular program is the back to work course, which helps women who have been out of the industry for three to eight years return to the market.
Dart also chairs the steering committee for the 30% Club in Canada, an organization that works to help women get on corporate boards.
One of the biggest challenges for women in the workforce is salary negotiation, ensuring they receive fair compensation for the work they produce. The wage discrepancies we hear about on a daily bases do exist, and lack of negotiations is one of the reasons why.
“It’s true, unfortunately, that women are not as strong at negotiating on their own behalf in particular,” she said. “We are not cultivated to market ourselves and toot our own horn.”
Dart cited a study conducted by Catalyst Canada that reviewed the salaries of MBA graduates. It was found that women, on average, received anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000 less as a starting salary, simply because of a lack of negotiating.
“The worst part of that, if you think of how a salary develops over years, you get a percentage increase,” Dart said. “So if you don’t negotiate the same starting salary, it goes up! Your salary gap gets bigger and bigger over the years.”
Dart offered up some tips for women who don’t feel comfortable with salary negotiations. The first is to change your mindset — pretend you are negotiating on behalf of someone you love or someone who is dependent on you. An example is a child or a senior parent. “We are actually viciously good negotiators if we negotiate on behalf of our kids. We will ask for the world.”
Another is to always ask “what else can you do for me.” Those seven words can open up the conversation and the employer may offer a salary increase, extended vacation days, or maybe an allowance for transportation. The biggest challenge, according to Dart, is who puts out the first number, something that is called setting the ceiling. Dart suggests allowing the employer to do so by asking what the typical range of pay is for the position. If that doesn’t work, make sure to do your research. Find out what people are making in comparable positions. Dart suggestions the website glassdoor.ca, which offers standard salary ranges for various positions in different companies. And finally, always suggest the higher range and have an argument to back up why you are worth it.
For Dart, equality in salary and within the workforce isn’t the only thing she is fighting for. “If I had a magic wand and I could change one thing, I probably would try to create more equality for men and women at the home front.” She is currently reading “Unfinished Business” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a book that offers up a solution found in Denmark and Sweden, a solution Dart firmly believes Canada should implement — mandatory paid parental leave for both parents in exchange for government subsidy.
When she isn’t working, Dart loves to travel and explore different cultures. Her favourite place to visit, to date, is India.