Women’s progress too slow: report

More than one-third of Financial Post 500 firms don’t have even one female corporate officer

Since initiating its Advancement of Women strategy in 2003, Scotiabank’s profits have increased significantly. The representation of women in the most senior roles rose from 26.7 per cent in 2003 to 36.8 per cent in 2006 and the bank’s return on equity jumped from 16.6 per cent to 22.1 per cent, said Sylvia Chrominska, executive vice-president of HR at the Toronto-based bank.

While Chrominska can’t say for certain that having more women in executive positions directly caused the bank’s profits to increase, the fact both things happened simultaneously indicates there’s a connection.

This connection is supported by research conducted by Catalyst, a New York City-based research and advisory organization that advocates for women. A 2004 study, The Bottom Line: Connecting Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity, found organizations with the highest representation of women corporate officers had a 35.1-per-cent higher return on equity than those companies with the lowest representation of women corporate officers.

“There are business benefits to having a diverse leadership team,” said Chrominska.

Unfortunately, too few organizations have learned this lesson, according to Catalyst Canada’s latest report, 2006 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the FP500 in Canada.

The study found the proportion of female corporate officers increased slightly from 14 per cent in 2002 to 15.1 per cent in 2006. While the proportion of Financial Post 500 companies that have at least one woman corporate officer increased 3.2 percentage points from 2002, 34.4 per cent of companies don’t have a single woman corporate officer.

“I’m extremely disappointed by the slow progress that Canada appears to be making,” said Chrominska.

Having only one or two women in senior positions can actually make things worse for women, said Colleen Moorehead, business co-director of the Judy Project, a leadership forum for female executives at the University of Toronto.

“Research demonstrates that a token will act differently and be treated differently,” said Moorehead. “Having (women) at the table in critical mass allows you to unleash their capabilities.”

Also, by having more women in the senior ranks, other women throughout the organization can look to them as role models and see there’s a real future for them.

One of the reasons there’s been little improvement is that for many years organizations have taken the view that women will naturally rise to the top over time, without any extra support, said Deborah Gillis, executive director of Catalyst Canada.

“Clearly that give-it-time strategy is not working,” she said. “Organizational commitment and focus is really critical to making change happen.”

Scotiabank learned that lesson the hard way. Back in 1993, the bank first tried to increase the representation of women in senior roles, mostly to comply with employment equity laws.

Because the organization focused on compliance, it didn’t fully embrace the business case and benefits of diversity. Ten years later women still held less than 20 per cent of senior management positions and the bank lagged behind its competitors, said Chrominska.

So when a group of women from across the bank began to develop the Advancement of Women strategy in 2003, they based it on research, both internal and external, showing the business advantages of having women at the top.

“This not about being nice to women, it’s about improving business performance,” said Chrominska.

In 1993, no one was held accountable for increasing the representation of women. But under the Advancement of Women strategy, managers’ performance evaluations are based in part on the representation of women and other employment equity groups.

“Accountability is absolutely critical,” said Chrominska.

Getting more women into senior executive roles isn’t just about committing to a certain number, it’s about ensuring women have the tools and support they need to succeed in the organization.

“Women continue to face barriers to their advancement,” said Gillis.

Some of the typical barriers include a lack of female role models, a lack of networking opportunities and a lack of access to line positions, which are seen as critical stepping stones to senior executive roles.

“Almost 60 per cent of corporate officer positions are line positions, but women hold less than 10 per cent of those positions,” said Gillis.

Scotiabank’s Advancement of Women strategy also addresses some of these barriers. It includes a mentorship program for all employees, networking events specifically for women and training and development for aspiring leaders.

Women represent more than half of the population, 46.9 per cent of the workforce and the majority of purchasing power, said Gillis.

“It’s disappointing that women’s representation at the most senior levels in corporate Canada does not reflect their representation in the workforce or their influence in the economy,” said Gillis.

Glass ceilings
Women face multiple barriers

Women face several glass ceilings, according to the 2006 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the FP500 in Canada.

Representation of women
FP500 heads (CEO/president)4.2%2.8%
Top earners5.4%3.9%
Clout titles (CEO, President, COO, SEVP, EVP)7.3%6.7%
Corporate officers15.1%14%

Source: Catalyst Canada

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