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Part 4: Female CEO aspirants making big gains in government Add to ...

Getting more women into senior roles means emphasizing special science and math programs in high schools, encouraging women in engineering studies and sponsoring apprenticeship programs for other trades.

Ms. Formusa acknowledges it is surprising that a female lawyer has emerged as CEO at Hydro One given the characteristics of the work force. She says one reason for her success is that she worked hard to understand the technology from the time she began 30 years ago.

"I couldn't possibly turn the switches - you wouldn't want me there. But I am able to have a decent discussion," she says.

Those making hiring decisions in the public sector also know there are intangible things that help draw women and men to the careers.

Elizabeth Watson, who previously headed the B.C.'s government's hiring office for boards of all government agencies and organizations, says many people she recruited liked the idea of working in a job that had a broad impact on society and had meaning beyond making profits.

She felt the motivation herself.

"When I worked in the government, what I liked about the job I did was that the work had an effect on the whole province," she says. "I was changing leadership profiles of every Crown corporation, every college, every university at the board level.… There was just a general feeling that you were improving the way government business was done."

Ms. Kinsley at CMHC said she joined the government with no particular thoughts of contributing to the public good, but discovered it became "a real passion" once she got into her career at the federal housing corporation.

"Crowns have that sweet spot where we're delivering public policy, but doing it in many ways in a commercial or private-sector environment, so you have the best of both worlds," she says.

Many women are comfortable with the need to juggle the ambiguity of government, where bottom-line profits are only one consideration for a CEO.

Michelle Carinci, who heads the Atlantic Lottery Corp. for Canada's four eastern provinces, says women are comfortable with the complexity of building support from a wide variety of stakeholders, including politicians, the public and representatives of related government institutions.

"Not to say that men don't have some of these attributes, but women tend to be pretty strong facilitators," she says. "And when you've got multiple stakeholders and a broader policy to deal with, you need those facilitation skills for sure."

One thing that does not draw top women to the public sector is the pay.

While members of the public may grumble about pay levels for executives in the civil service, they are undeniably lower than pay for CEOs running similar-sized private-sector companies. Many private-sector companies supplement executive salaries and bonuses with shares and stock options, which do not exist in the public sector.

But women say other intangibles offset the pay.

Ms. Carinci says her experience working in the private sector at gaming technology company GTECH Corp. in the United States helped her appreciate that compensation was not the most important factor for her career decisions.

"It was about share value and it was about bowing to Wall Street every morning, and what I learned in those years is … that instead of chasing after putting more dollars in my pocket, I was better suited to working with a good team that is doing something that is making a difference," she says.

Jane Peverett says she suspects one reason so many women have risen to the top jobs in government could be they are simply more willing to work for less money.

The former head of British Columbia Transmission Corp., who left the power line company in 2008, says she earned roughly the same as CEO of BCTC as she earned as CEO of Union Gas Ltd. before that - but only if she excludes the stock and options portion of her former pay.

"I think there's perhaps more women willing to take that kind of compensation package than there are men," she said.

She said she was drawn to BCTC in 2003 for the opportunity to work in the electricity sector after running a gas company previously, and for the chance to understand government decision-making. She now works as a director on major corporate boards, including Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Encana Corp.

Ms. Peverett believes the slower pace in the government sector and the need to manage both political issues and corporate goals can make management more frustrating at Crown corporations.

"It requires an awful lot of patience," she says. "There may be something about that environment that more women are more comfortable in than men would be.

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