Sonia Edmonds, Partner and National Consulting Leader, reflects on breaking biases and empowering women in professional services
Sonia Edmonds is no stranger to holding leadership roles in the complex world of professional services. With a resume that showcases progressive positions in accounting, technology, and consulting—and her current role as partner and National Consulting Service Line Leader with BDO Canada—Sonia is a role model for women in the professional services industry. But she recognizes that work still needs to be done to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men in this competitive landscape. In honour of International Women's Day 2022, Sonia shared some of her valuable insights, reflections, and outlook for the future.
Q: How would you summarize your message for women in professional services?
A: This International Women's Day, I want to speak directly to women across our business who may not have "senior" or "manager" included in their title yet—the specialists, the associates, the interns. First and foremost, know that the work that you do, the thoughts that you have and share, and the value YOU bring to the table matter. I believe we will one day live in a world where women make up 50% of boards and executive teams and it will be YOU sitting in those seats, and I want to help you get there.
Q: When do you think your drive to succeed as a woman in this industry started?
A: I've always been very driven but without the lens of being driven "as a woman". In fact, throughout the ups and downs of my career, I never felt that I got—or didn't get—something because I was a woman or a visible minority. As I reflect back, it's true that I can recall several occasions of facing adversity as I moved up through my career, often being the only woman or the only Asian in a room full of executives, especially in the field of technology. But that did not deter me and I continued to move ahead, as my driven nature is just something that's always been core to who I am.
Q: When did you find yourself starting to advocate for other women?
A: I have to say that for many years, I was almost blind to the imbalance of women in leadership and in the technology field as "my problem to solve", thinking that if I could figure out how to do it, many other resilient women could do it as well.
Then I had an epiphany moment! Back in 2015 during BDO's Advisory conference, I met a young female senior manager whose organization had newly merged with BDO. She expressed her concerns about what appeared to be a clearly visible lack of diversity within the leaders of our firm and questioned what that meant for her career at BDO. It was at that moment that I realized that I had to advocate and help pave the path for the future women leaders of the firm and that it wasn't just about me. I learned that if you want to see a change, you have to be the change. Most importantly, the importance of diverse leadership to serve as role models became very clear to me.
Since then, I have been involved in different speaking engagements including a BDO internal event on work-life balance, a Woman with Influence event hosted by the Rotman Sales Club, Women in Technology hosted by Microsoft, and a panel host for a session titled Women in Tech for the Canadian Undergraduates Technology Conference. Beyond this, I've found many ways to help bring light to breaking the bias as well as ways to accelerate women's development to leadership.
Q: As a woman in leadership, how has your experience been with BDO?
A: When I became a partner at BDO 10 years ago, out of nearly 400 national partners, I was only one of less than 40 female partners, and I was definitely the only Asian female partner. Like other firms, we had work to do when it came to diversity in the workplace. So, we took a hard look in the mirror and made some real changes.
This included making changes in our recruitment process, our evaluation process, as well as creating awareness.
Though we continue to work on diversity, equity, and inclusion, I'm pleased to say that as a board member, we have a well-balanced and diverse board in terms of gender, experience, and backgrounds. In addition, our technology business is outpacing the market with 30% of our team being female. What's more, we have strategies, programs, and targets in place to ensure that number continues to rise because we know there is more work to be done to achieve gender parity.
"I believe we will one day live in a world where women make up 50% of boards and executive teams."
Q: What is BDO doing today to support women?
A: BDO Canada holds diversity, equity, and inclusion close to its core—with an established National Inclusion, Equity and Diversity Advisory Council (NIEDAC) and an appointed Chief Inclusion, Equity and Diversity Officer, Giselle Bodkin. Giselle Bodkin. Giselle leads a group of amazing leaders of our key diversity pillars including Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+, Persons with Disabilities, Visible Minorities, and Women.
I'm also proud to be one of the founders of a leadership development programs called Velocity Monthly. This program gives all 2600+ women at BDO access to a platform and program that enhances career progression through networking, coaching, learning, and relationship building. Each session in the program tackles a different challenge that women in the corporate world face, such as developing negotiation skills and overcoming imposter syndrome. I am happy to share we've received overwhelmingly positive feedback about how impactful and valuable it has been for the women on our team from both a professional and personal perspective.
This is just one example of how we're empowering and helping women in our company grow in their careers.
As a forward-looking, data-driven, client-centric leader in consulting—a team and a business that continues to innovate and grow—I look forward to a future where even more women hold leadership positions and continue to help to foster the growth of our future leaders.
Q: How would you sum up your message to the industry on continuing to support women in their professional careers?
A: Real commitment. To make solid, sustainable change, we require commitment from the industry, and as I said earlier, sometimes in order to see the change, you need to be the change! I am confident that together we will get there—we will break the bias and achieve true gender equality.
Q: What is your advice to young women today?
A: My advice to young women today is to be curious, work hard, and have confidence that what you do matters. Know that when you're invited to the table, people want to hear what you think. As you progress in your career, remember that you may have once been that quiet person in the room wondering if you should speak up, so leave air and invite those individuals to share their thoughts. Your confidence in them may be what they need to make their next step towards leadership. We must lift as we climb!