Insights at UBC Sauder

UBC Sauder Distinguished Scholar Dr. Carol Liao recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Most Powerful Women

Posted 2021-10-25

The Women's Executive Network (WXN), an organization that tracks and celebrates achievements of distinguished women in the workforce across North America, has recognized Dr. Carol Liao as one of Canada's Top 100 Most Powerful Women.

The coveted annual list spotlights remarkable women leaders in various fields. This year, the list counted Dr. Liao—the Distinguished Scholar at the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics at the UBC Sauder School of Business, and Associate Professor at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law—for her tireless championing of sustainable business strategies and actions that address climate change and diversity in boardrooms. She has been recognized under the category of Emerging Leaders.

"It is always gratifying to know your work is having an impact," said Dr. Liao, adding that the award is a celebration of the collective contributions—big and small—made by women in all levels of the workforce.


A champion of sustainability and diversity

Her long and successful journey as an academic, legal professional and a woman has meant she's no stranger to high-profile roles.

In addition to being the UBC Sauder Distinguished Scholar at the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics, she's a member of the New York State Bar Association and Director of the Centre for Business Law at UBC’s Allard School of Law. A common throughline to this journey has been Dr. Liao's advocacy for business leaders to incorporate issues pertaining to the climate emergency into its business decisions, and to put sustainable practises at the forefront of its responsibility towards its stakeholders, communities and societies at large.

Her work in sustainability culminated in ​​her joining as Principal Co-Investigator of the Canada Climate Law Initiative, a cross-disciplinary research hub advancing knowledge on fiduciary obligation and climate governance. Dr. Liao says businesses are finally hearing the alarm sounded by scientists and climate activists for years.

"Businesses right now are adjusting to a new reality – that sustainability and climate risk cannot be ignored anymore," said Dr. Liao. There's also an increased understanding that sustainability and diversity are interconnected goals, as boardroom decisions across North America have for long been the preserve of men. "As we try to push businesses to respect planetary boundaries and social foundations as outlined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, I am emboldened by the urgent work that needs to be done now and the immediate years to come."

A lot of work remains to be done. Looking at diversity in boardrooms alone, Dr. Liao notes the gender parity is way off in the top echelons of companies.

"Despite all the hype about diversity in Canada, less than a quarter of public company board seats are held by women and the numbers are far worse in private companies," said Dr. Liao.


Hope in the next-gen at UBC Sauder

The situation is even more pronounced for racialized and Indigenous women, where numbers are in the single digits. "The status quo isn't cutting it. At these rates, gender-parity—especially amongst BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) women—won't be achieved in my children's lifetime," remarked Dr. Liao, a mother of three.

“Structural change is needed.”

But as a woman and an educator, Dr. Liao sees hope, especially in the next generation of business leaders. Many of those leaders are emerging from the UBC Sauder School of Business, a place that Dr. Liao credits for helping her find her 'scholarly voice,' and where collaborations with other academics and scholars have helped her make significant contributions to academia and the broader business community in Canada.

"Most of today’s students at UBC Sauder have grown up in an era far different from previous generations. Environmental and social crises have defined much of their lives, along with the recurrent message that time is running out. And now, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the socio-economic and environmental challenges they have to tackle in the years to come."


'It's time to be courageous'

Dr. Liao's message to current and incoming students at UBC Sauder is to not just help boost the number of women who have a share of voice in boardrooms, but also to contribute to a cultural shift.

"We have to recognize that we often define equity, diversity and inclusion through the view of people holding the power. If we defined it from the view of people who are powerless, I think we would get very different answers. I'm certain the women in our classrooms and future business leaders will be at the forefront of inspiring this change in corporate culture and rebalancing the power dynamics," said Dr. Liao.


"It's never too late to redraw business theories and strategies. It just takes some courage, and it’s time to be courageous."

Dr. Carol Liao