How a Financial-Services Company Fights Inequality

“I’m motivated by my passions for coaching and charity work, involving education, health and wellness, and empowering women. When I see the effect of the work I’ve done, that really motivates me.” (Photo: Sandra Possick)

Through education and development programs, Manulife’s Jennifer Mercanti is helping women overcome barriers to upward mobility via the Global Women's Alliance

For many companies, progress is a given. But sadly, where gender inequality is concerned, actual movement on the issue still occurs at a glacial pace. “Unfortunately, many businesswomen still face certain barriers to upward mobility, but it’s important to focus on how far we’ve come and what we can do to progress even further,” says Jennifer Mercanti, assistant vice president and chief counsel of Ontario-based Manulife Financial. “Women need to help other women through education and employment so we can continue to develop our influence.”

To that end, Mercanti is an executive sponsor of the Canadian chapter of the Global Women’s Alliance, started at Manulife and John Hancock in 2014 for all employees who support the attraction, development, and advancement of women in the workplace. “Manulife has already made great strides in promoting talented women across the organization,” Mercanti says. “Now we’re going beyond that and working to elevate the profile of women throughout the company, inspiring and enabling them to fulfill their potential by offering resources to them to become successful.”

Mercanti admits that while many business women struggle to break the glass ceiling, she’s been fortunate in her own career and is happy to be in her current position—a situation she attributes to hard work, perseverance, maintaining her integrity, and having a supportive work environment. “It also helped that I started when I was very young, took risks where others did not, and constantly searched for ways to improve the value and service I provide,” she says.

What attracted Mercanti to the Global Women’s Alliance was her passion for empowering and inspiring women. A certified professional coach, she takes great pride in seeing other people recognize and achieve their goals. In the past, Mercanti launched scholarships at several universities because she believes there’s a directional relationship between education and success. “If we can empower more young women to complete their education, we’ll enable more women to advance in their careers,” says Mercanti, who was recently touched by a letter she received from a University of Western Ontario student who received such a scholarship. “She told me she wouldn’t have been able to complete her education without the scholarship, as she and her family didn’t have the funds, and was extremely grateful for the opportunity she’d received. This was incredible to me.” So when the Global Women’s Alliance presented Mercanti with another opportunity to follow her passion, she jumped at the chance to be an executive sponsor and to work with employees who head each of the seven international chapters.

Global Women’s Alliance
FACTS & FIGURES

2014

Year the organization launched

3,350+

Members

7

Chapters globally

20

Events hosted in 2014,
across all chapters

60%

Chapters’ executive
sponsors who are male

200

Women who attended the
Canadian chapter’s first event

Although it’s new, the Global Women’s Alliance has already made a big splash at Manulife, hosting 20 events for more than 3,000 women in 2014. Mercanti’s chapter held its event in the fall, inviting some of the most senior women at Manulife to discuss development initiatives. “The event was sold out, and ran much longer than we expected,” Mercanti says.

In the United States, the Global Women’s Alliance has held several events, some in conjunction with other organizations. In 2014, for example, members attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women, where Hillary Clinton spoke about barriers to upward mobility; and in 2015, members attended a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, event that focused on powerful public speaking. The US chapter has also joined a corporate task force composed of more than 106 companies that are trying to ensure advancement of women. Meanwhile, in Asia, the Japan chapter has held a speaker series featuring internal and external women in business, speaking on topics such as professional development and work-life balance. And the Indonesia chapter, in conjunction with International Women’s Day, hosted seminars focused on women in business and offered coffee-sharing sessions in which a senior leader would host an informal discussion. Additionally, a Hong Kong chapter was launched in early 2015.

Such widespread awareness is exactly what is needed to move the issue forward. And it’s something that Mercanti is readily helping to perpetuate. “I’ve always wanted to promote the development and advancement of women, specifically at Manulife, through coaching and career development,” she says. “I thought the Global Women’s Alliance would be an opportunity for me to help other women acquire the skills and tools necessary for them to advance in their careers, and it’s been very well received.”