For women who dream of being a CEO, bypassing the traditional corporate world and opting for a career in government is an increasingly attractive route.
The public sector may lack the glamour and pay levels of the private sector, but the success rate for women in leadership in government is now far outstripping that of publicly traded corporations. Assisted by rigorous hiring processes and executive training programs, growing numbers of women are now moving into CEO jobs at Crown corporations and government agencies, or leading government departments as deputy ministers.
Senior women say their success in government can offer lessons to the private sector about using targeted training programs and hiring policies to build women's careers. It also offers insights to business in the less tangible things that attract women to build careers in government - like a desire to contribute to a broader social good.
"I wanted to change the world," recalls Hydro Ottawa CEO Rosemarie Leclair, who began her career in civic government in Ottawa before landing the top job at the city's hydro utility. "And I wanted to do that in a way that provided some balance in life."
Women now fill 27 per cent of corporate officer jobs at Canada's 44 largest federal and provincial Crown corporations, almost double the 14 per cent of corporate officer positions filled by women at publicly traded companies in the private sector, says research firm Catalyst.
And women held 39 per cent of executive positions within the core federal civil service in 2006, up from 19 per cent in 1995 - a leap unmatched in any other government job category, according to Statistics Canada. This means 1,750 women headed a federal government division or had a higher job in 2006, up from just 690 women in 1995.
Women are also filling numerous top jobs in the broader public service. For example, major universities, including McGill University, Carleton University, University of Calgary, University of Alberta and University of Regina, are headed by a female president.
Karen Kinsley, CEO of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., says the public sector "got a jump" on the private sector because of a long-standing emphasis on employment equity in hiring. Once women were well-represented in the work force, the focus logically evolved into a greater emphasis on management training programs and other development initiatives.
"That has been more of the focus in the last little while, rather than just the notion of representation and equity," Ms. Kinsley says.
CMHC, with annual revenue of $13.2-billion, has grown to have 43 per cent women in its management group, and 40 per cent women on its board of directors.
Public agencies must be able to defend their hiring decisions, and women say the rigour of a formalized hiring process ensures everyone gets full consideration.
"It has to be transparent, we have to be accountable for the processes we use to select people for promotion or hiring," says Marilyn McLaren, CEO of the Manitoba Public Insurance Corp. "And I really do believe those processes do allow the most capable candidates to bubble to the top."
At Manitoba Public Insurance, where four of the seven members of the executive committee are women, hiring for management positions now requires approvals from executives at two levels higher in the organization - a scrutiny intended to ensure the process was inclusive and defensible.
For Pat Jacobsen, the key to success for women lies in identifying people early who have high potential, and then training them throughout their careers for progressively more senior jobs.
A former deputy minister in Ontario who later ran Vancouver's TransLink transportation authority, Ms. Jacobsen, 64, says she is the product of an era in Ontario when a cadre of women was selected and carefully honed for leadership with management training programs.
"You can count those women deputies who came through [government]in the '70s and '80s and were consciously given quite a diversified experience in line functions - not just in traditional women's roles like policy or human resources," Ms. Jacobsen says. "My career, for example, is very non-traditional in public works and then in transportation. And I don't think I would have ever had that opportunity if it were not for conscious programs."
Hydro One Inc. - an Ontario Crown corporation operating the province's network of major electricity transmission lines - is using its well-developed management training programs to help more women advance. The process includes personalized training plans, mentoring and regular events for women to meet others working in the energy sector at two other companies.
CEO Laura Formusa says Hydro One, which had revenue of $4.7-billion last year, is still a male-dominated work force with many engineers and skilled trades people who maintain electricity lines.