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A Bay Street sign is seen in the financial district of Toronto on June 2, 2014.Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

Canada ranks third in the world for the proportion of women in executive roles in the financial services sector due to a "web of support" for gender diversity in the country, a new global report says.

A global study by consulting firm Oliver Wyman shows women account for 23 per cent of executives at financial services companies in Canada, lagging only Norway and Sweden, where women fill 35 per cent and 29 per cent of executive committee positions respectively.

Japan ranked last of the 19 countries included in the report with no women holding any executive roles at major financial institutions.

The study said Canada's financial services sector "is pulling above its weight" for women in senior roles compared to other sectors in the economy, arguing there are so many women in the pipeline at major financial institutions that "it appears to be only a matter of time" before a woman is named chief executive officer of a major bank.

The report also said women fill a wider range of executive positions at Canada's five major banks, including heading major business lines, which provide key experience for moving into top jobs.

"Unlike other countries with many women in senior positions, more Canadian women have also broken out of traditional female executive roles, such as HR and marketing," the report notes.

All of Canada's five largest banks have women in senior executive roles, including Toronto-Dominion Bank chief financial officer Colleen Johnston and Royal Bank of Canada group head of personal and commercial banking Jennifer Tory.

On a global basis, women fill 13 per cent of executive committee roles at 150 major financial services companies and comprise 20 per cent of directors on their boards. Over one-third of companies had no women in executive roles.

Michelle Daisley, a partner at Oliver Wyman, said the industry is losing out on talent.

"The lack of diversity – both gender and otherwise – in our industry is bad for business," she said.

The report praises Canada's "Back to Bay Street" program for helping women return to the financial industry after taking time off with children, saying it is part of a "web of support" that has helped get more women in senior roles.

Jennifer Reynolds, chief executive officer of Women in Capital Markets, said the Back to Bay Street program is a critical tool for keeping women in the industry.

"One of the most important things we can do is to help women see that there is an on-ramp back into the industry and support them when they take it," she told the authors of the report. "Bringing experienced women back to the industry is critical to building a pipeline for leadership roles."

Russia ranks fourth in the study with 20 per cent of executive positions held by women, ranking above the United States at 16 per cent and even other Nordic countries such as Finland and Denmark.

The report said Russia's position is "initially curious" because it is not a wealthy and mature democracy, but said the former USSR was keen to promote women in the work force and commercial banking is a relatively new industry since the collapse of communism in the country.

"Russian women confront no tradition of male commercial banking, if only because there is no tradition at all," the report says.

Bella Zlatkisk, deputy chairman of Russia's Sherbank, told the report's authors that "if a woman is willing to build her career, she can do it; there is no glass ceiling in Russia." Ekaterina Petelina, deputy president of the management board of VTB24, said she hasn't encountered the same prejudice in the finance industry as she saw in the metals and mining sector where she worked as a young consultant.

Follow Janet McFarland on Twitter: @JMcFarlandGlobeOpens in a new window

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