Caroline Codsi – Women Of Governance
Caroline Codsi is the head behind Women in Governance, also known as La Gouvernance au Feminin, a non-for-profit organization that supports women in their leadership development, career enhancement and access to board seats. Her movement has inspired many in corporate positions to break the glass ceiling. Her story is one of ambition, resilience and the true meaning of never giving up.
Codsi was born in Beirut, Lebanon during wartime. She made 8 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 alone for University. I came back to Montreal, studied here and started working in HR.”
After 25 years working in the corporate world, Codsi left her security as an Executive VP to create Women in Governance. There’s something we can all learn from a woman who is passionate about her roots, strong about her motives and perseverant about her approach.
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 has 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, announce anything I’m not comfortable with [even] in the corporate world, even if I’m senior Vice President, I have a desire to protect those who can’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’s things that are unfair.
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 now. For instance, women are not very good at asking for a promotion, asking for a raise, negotiating their salary, all these things girls must start doing because it doesn’t come easy.
Girls need to hang out with boys and men, 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 girls 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 get close to the people in power, in charge and demonstrate their willingness to make a difference to the organization.
One of the key aspects for any organization is anybody who can bring in business. Are you a rain maker, are you someone who has a big roll deck, 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.
My success as I was in the corporate world, my key characterirics was my capacity to do business development and bring their organization to the next level. Growth in revenue, growth in probability, 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 are, nobody cares.
Did you always know you wanted to work in business?
Well, it seemed natural to me. At first when I was young, studying and all that, I was on my own so young – I had no choice. When you’ve living in Paris forget it if you think you’re going to start your own business there. It’s not as easy as here. There was no second guessing – that’s what I was going to do. Quite frankly I always thought I would spend my entire life in the corporate world, because I loved it.
I funded 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 became so huge that it took a life of its own. I never imagined that seven years later I would leave my job, and be able to do this full time.
What moment in your life made you decide to launch your own business?
I think what triggered it is very simple – 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 can help out, but mostly women who are in 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 sit tingon boards, then how can you talk about equality?
What are your future projects for Women in Governance?
Women in Governance has launched a corporate parody 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 an ISO of parody.
What is your long term goal for the company?
My long term goal would be 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 do you credit to your success in the corporate world?
The key to my success is networking with the right people and surrounding myself with men who want to help women. Both men and women who can make a difference but few women organizations actually ask men for help – which we have.
What advice would you give women entrepreneurs who want to pursue their passion?
To young women who want to be entrepreneurs, spend a decade 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 a bit of 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 you own business – learn how to manage people, how you manage an accounting department, how you manage clients. You can’t come out of school and think that you’re going to do all of these things. It takes time.
For more information, visit Women of Governance.
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