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It’s clear there’s a gender imbalance in the most powerful roles in Corporate Canada – but to what extent, and has representation improved in recent years?

The Globe and Mail scrutinized gender equality at the country’s largest publicly traded companies by examining the top roles at each organization. To get a sense of the current picture – reflecting how leadership has looked through the pandemic – we captured the most recent data possible.

Here is what we did.

We obtained a list of all companies listed on the S&P/TSX Composite Index as of October, 2020. These amounted to 223 companies in total, which account for just under three-quarters of the total market capitalization on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

We focused on the most influential decision-making roles at each company. Positions, titles and the number of executives can vary from firm to firm, so to use the most comparable roles possible, we gathered the named executive officers (NEOs) from each company.

The NEOs are typically the chief executive officer, the chief financial officer and the next most highly-compensated executive officers at each firm. These generally amount to five names per company. (A few companies don’t have a CEO, so we took the closest equivalent, which in most cases was president.)

There are some anomalies. The Brookfield entities, for example – in renewable power, property and private equity – are Bermuda partnerships and thus do not have the NEO requirements that apply to Canadian securities. For these, we only listed the top three roles at each entity – the CEO, CFO and chief operating officer. Spin Master has two co-CEOs, giving us a total of 224 CEO names.

We used multiple sources to assemble the most current list of top executives possible. We began with proxy circulars on SEDAR – the U.S. website that contains public filings by Canadian companies. We used documents filed in 2020, the majority of which were published in the spring of last year. Each filing has a summary compensation table, which lists the NEOs and their compensation. We scraped those names and assigned gender by searching through the bios, pronouns and honorifics in each disclosure; each company and NEO was listed in a spreadsheet, for a total of 1,049 names.

The proxy circulars typically reflect top executive officers, as of the previous year. To get an updated sense of who the top execs were – because some changed roles, others retired or left – we also emailed (and, in many cases, emailed again and phoned) each company to ask who their NEOs were as of November, 2020.

We asked each company for the names of each current NEO, their job title, their gender and whether they were a visible minority or Indigenous (designated groups identified in Canada’s employment equity act). We also invited each firm to highlight any diversity targets or initiatives they have under way.

Many companies responded to queries on current names and gender, but more than half did not answer questions on racial diversity. The Globe gathered available information from online bios, pictures, names and descriptions to get an approximation of representation; this suggests less than 3 per cent of named executive officers are women of colour.

Officially, the NEOs at companies for 2020 won’t be disclosed until the next proxy circular is filed later this year. To compile a current list of NEOs, The Globe compared the last proxy circulars with current executive-team lists on company websites. If, for example, a CFO listed on the proxy circular was no longer with the firm and had been replaced by someone else as of November, 2020, The Globe included the more recent name. The aim was to form a current picture of corporate Canada.

The data show that 4 per cent of CEOs at Canada’s largest publicly traded corporations are women. Of the 1,049 named executive offices, just 136 are women (roughly 13 per cent).

The Globe also compiled a similar list based on 2019 proxy circulars, which largely reflect executive roles in 2018. This shows that representation hasn’t changed much in recent years; women are still vastly under-represented in the country’s C-suites. In about half a dozen cases, women left the corner office last year and were replaced by men.

The data has limitations. It only captures the top five people at each organization and doesn’t reflect executives at the next level, which might have more women. Thus it doesn’t show the percentage of women in the pipeline, as many companies don’t disclose this. Some firms wouldn’t disclose their NEOs as of November, and many wouldn’t disclose data on diversity, citing privacy concerns, or declined to participate or respond.

Also, these are only companies listed on the benchmark index, so smaller companies aren’t reflected, nor are private firms. Some companies that are listed on the Composite Index have most of their operations outside of Canada.

Other observations, from what the data do show:

  • 13 per cent of named executive officers on the S&P/TSX Composite Index are women (or 136 are women, of a total 1,049 names)
  • 4 per cent of CEOs are female
  • 52 per cent of companies have zero women as named executive officers

All told, the data paint a picture of power in Corporate Canada – who is making the key decisions, who isn’t, and just how lopsided representation remains, even now, in 2021.