Earlier this year, The Globe and Mail published an article filled with damning statistics documenting just how few women occupy the C-suites of corporate Canada. Just 13% of senior executives at the country’s biggest companies were women; only 4% of the firms had female chief executives. The piece was a meticulous examination of the problem and the systemic reasons behind it. But if you needed the issue summarized in a single sentence, here it is: “There are more male CEOs named Michael at Canada’s largest publicly traded corporations than there are female CEOs.”
That wonderful, horrible line was written by Tavia Grant, who, along with Robyn Doolittle, Chen Wang and many of our other Globe colleagues, have produced The Power Gap, a series that exposes the inequity facing women across the private and public sectors. Taken together, their investigation demonstrates that women are still “outnumbered, outranked and out-earned” in major institutions, from crown corporations to municipal governments.
We launched our own attempt to track the extent of female leadership at Canadian corporations two years ago, with Women Lead Here. Our project had a slightly different, if complementary, mission to The Power Gap: seeking to identify firms at the forefront of appointing women into executive roles. The goal was to set a benchmark that all companies in Canada could use to assess their progress. We were aware that most companies are a long way from achieving gender equity in their leadership. But it seemed useful to establish what “good” currently looks like.
The research began with the largest publicly traded companies. Researchers evaluated the top three tiers of executive leadership, from the CEO to senior vice-presidents (or their equivalents). This year, that work identified 71 companies in which women held an average of 44% of the executive roles. Compare this result to our 2020 report and you’ll find that—long sigh—not much has changed. Still, there is some hopeful news. There are 34 companies joining our list for the first time. And out of the 37 companies that also appeared in 2020, 41% saw an increase in female leadership. It shows there are companies recognizing that what currently counts as “good” still isn’t good enough. Making this an annual initiative allows us to track both progress and setbacks.
Beyond setting a benchmark, we also want to highlight the approaches, cultures and mindsets that can lead to tangible improvement. Not all corporate leaders are willing to acknowledge a problem or commit to rectifying it. Yet many have expressed a sincere desire to address the imbalance. For them, we’re here to offer ideas and inspiration.
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