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Women Still Missing In Action From Senior Management Positions In Canadian Organizations

Ottawa, August 31, 2011—The presence of Canadian women in senior management positions has stalled in the past two decades. Between 1987 and 2009, the proportion of women in senior management has changed little—men are still more than twice as likely to hold a senior executive position, according to a Conference Board report released today.

“Women have made great progress in many areas of society over the past 22 years, but not in the ranks of senior management positions. Now that the rousing early days of feminism are behind us, perhaps we have become complacent about the success of women in senior management,” said Anne Golden, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Conference Board of Canada.

Senior Management Occupations as a Share of the Labour Force, 1987 to 2009, by Gender

“Increasing women’s representation at the senior level is not simply a matter of justice or fairness—although it is that. And it is not simply a “women’s issue.” Companies that fail to integrate women’s perspectives into their high-level decision making risk losing market share, competitive advantage, and profits. We already know what to do. Now we simply need to do it.”

The few women who rise to senior levels often attract substantial media attention, which may give readers the false impression that barriers to women’s advancement are a thing of the past. But this Conference Board report, Women in Senior Management: Where Are They?, describes the prevalence of women in management positions, highlights some of the challenges women still face in the workplace and suggests some practices for overcoming the barriers.

The analysis is based on Statistics Canada data on labour force participation rates and representation rates in senior leadership roles for both men and women over the 22-year period from 1987 to 2009. Statistics Canada defines senior management as executives above the director level, excluding presidents and chief executive officers.

In 2009, women made up almost 48 per cent of the Canadian labour force. Yet only 0.32 per cent (26,000 of more than 8 million working women) held senior management positions. While the absolute number of women in senior management rose from less than 15,000 in 1987, females are still significantly underrepresented at the senior executive level compared to males. In 2009, 0.64 per cent of all men employed (56,200 of the 8.8 million men employed in the Canadian labour force) held senior management positions.

Since 1987, men have consistently been two to three times more likely than women to hold senior management positions.

Similar results are found at the middle-management levels—which includes directors and managers—that frequently provide the feeder pool for future executives. Men have consistently been 1.5 times more likely than women to hold middle management positions over the past 22 years. In 2009, 911,000 men were working in middle management positions (over 10 per cent of all men employed) compared to 543,000 women (7 per cent of all women employed).

“Between 1987 and 2009, the proportion of women in middle management rose by about 4 per cent. At that rate, it will take approximately 151 years before the proportion of men and women at the management level is equal,” said Golden.

This report outlines nine good practices that successful companies are already 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. Set up mentoring and coaching programs.
  4. Offer job rotation opportunities.
  5. Ensure ongoing measurement.
  6. Create an inclusive work environment.
  7. Avoid putting women in precarious positions without giving them the support and preparation needed to succeed—a woman’s failure in an executive role may be attributed to her gender rather than to the circumstances of the position.
  8. Highlight role models and communicate success.
  9. Ensure senior management support.

In successful organizations, fostering gender diversity is a natural extension of good business practice—leading to greater market reach, improved services and a positive contribution to their communities. Organizations profiled in the report that have successful approaches include:

  • Canadian Pacific Railway—which has instituted a range of female-friendly workplace policies, supported by a strong communications program.
  • Manitoba Lotteries Corporation—which has developed a comprehensive competency model and leveraged it to drive key changes to their talent systems.
  • TD Bank Financial Group—which has a Women in Leadership committee and helps women network with and mentor each other.

For more information contact

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