Far too few female execs: Report

3 companies outline successful approaches to boost ranks
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/10/2011

While many women have not found gender to be an issue in their climb to the top, that’s not typical, according to a report from the Conference Board of Canada. In analyzing Statistics Canada data from 1987 to 2009, Women in Senior Management: Where Are They?found the proportion of women in senior management positions has virtually flatlined.

“Since the 1990s, men have consistently been two to three times more likely than women to hold a senior management role in Canada,” said the report, with 26,000 women and 56,200 men in senior management occupations in 2009.

CP gets on track

Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) is a traditionally male operating environment that has historically not attracted many women and minority groups. So the 17,000-employee company instituted diversity and employment equity awareness training for all management staff. Diversity advisory panels made up of employees were also set up and an employee relations group now oversees the implementation of a strategy to attract, retain and promote female talent and other groups.

“We started to talk much more openly about the fact that we needed to make a change and how to do it and opportunities then were made available purposely for women who were capable and doing well and were willing to make the choices and sacrifices that it takes,” said Tracy Robinson, vice-president of sales and marketing for coal and merchandise at CP in Calgary.

As a result, the representation of women in senior management doubled between 2004 and 2009 to reach 22 per cent. However, representation in the overall labour force — 10 per cent — is still a ways from the company’s 17 per cent goal.

“It’s important that it’s the right women that get into these roles, then we get a critical mass and it gets easier, we have a foothold,” said Robinson.

CP has also set up early support systems, including an orientation program, a buddy system and job shadowing. It also offers mentoring and has held forums for women in the engineering/track maintenance department, featuring discussions with senior female leaders. The company also sponsors CP Women on Track networking groups.

“We have to make this point to the next generation: ‘This requires hard choices, this doesn’t come with 9 to 5 and 40 hours and good work-life balance all the time,’” said Robinson. “It clearly is going to be those women who are willing and able to make those choices.”

Manitoba Lotteries a winner

Recognizing gaming is a traditionally male field, Manitoba Lotteries’ senior leaders developed a comprehensive competency model and leveraged it to drive key changes to the talent systems.

“Really, we needed to look and identify what made those males successful so we could actually help our females to be as successful as males,” said Judith Hayes, director of organizational development at Manitoba Lotteries.

Encouraging development and self-confidence is an important part of skill sets, said Marilyn Robinson, vice-president of people services and corporate marketing at Manitoba Lotteries.

“Having self-confidence and assurance that you can compete helps people to advance their careers.”

Training and development has become the backbone of Manitoba Lotteries’ new competency-based culture, including educational assistance, mentoring, an on-site high school, ESL training, university partnerships, internships and an in-house assessment centre.

Employees knows there’s an equal opportunity to gain skills, they just have to work for it, said Robinson.

“That really has created that level playing field and people really appreciate that and they see the fairness in our approach.”

Between 1999 and 2010, the proportion of women at the vice-president level rose from 12.5 per cent to 50 per cent. And in the talent pipeline, women comprise more than 50 per cent of the organization’s labour force and about 40 per cent of all supervisory and management positions.

“Really, to be effective, you need to have proper representation all the way through the organization and we’ve had a great deal of success in that,” said Robinson.

CDW focuses on culture

CDW Canada, a provider of technology products and services in Toronto, has instituted various programs and initiatives to help female employees and, as a result, 40 per cent of the senior executive and management teams are women.

“We talk openly about (the fact) that we need to make sure our women are comfortable and accepted in our organization,” said Mary Ann Yule, vice-president and general manager at CDW Canada, which has 300 employees in Canada and 6,000 in the United States.

And telling potential candidates about the women who fill senior roles at CDW Canada, such as the CFO and senior sales managers, encourages them, said Yule.

“We’ve come a long way and people value people for their abilities and for what they can bring to organizations,” she said. “Still, it’s challenging, women still bear children, take a year off — that hiccups your career a little bit.”

And more role models would help, she said. “If there were more women in senior roles, it would be obvious to everyone that’s an available path for every woman.

Rising in the ranks

Best practices

There are nine best practices companies are successfully using to increase the proportion of female senior managers:

1. Use accountable search techniques — ensure female candidates are on all short lists.

2. Identify talent and provide succession planning initiatives.

3. Provide mentoring, coaching.

4. Offer job rotations.

5. Ensure ongoing measurement.

6. Create an inclusive work environment through awareness training.

7. Avoid the “glass cliff” (precarious positions) and token females.

8. Highlight role models and communicate success.

9. Ensure senior management support.

: Conference Board of Canada

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