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Kathleen Taylor, former CEO of Four Seasons, will become the first woman to lead the board of a major Canadian bank when she takes the chair at the Royal Bank of Canada on Jan. 1.

Kathleen Taylor will become the first woman to lead the board of a major Canadian bank when she takes the chair at the Royal Bank of Canada on Jan. 1.

The country's largest lender by assets said Thursday that the former chief executive of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts would step into the role, replacing David O'Brien.

Earlier in the day the bank reported a record fiscal quarter of $2.3-billion.

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The move is a significant step for women on Bay Street, where a number of women have ascended to senior leadership positions but none has ever been given the job of CEO.

In corporate Canada, women still occupy less than 10 per cent of total seats in public-company boardrooms, according to a 2011 report by advocacy group Catalyst Canada, and that percentage has changed little in recent years.

Banks have long tended to populate their boards with the CEOs of major Canadian businesses, who, with few exceptions, have been men.

"Katie has been an outstanding director and will provide great leadership to our board," said RBC chief executive officer Gord Nixon. Noting that the appointment fits with the bank's diversity initiatives, he added that "we are very proud to have the first female chair of a major bank."

Today, women remain a minority on each of Canada's bank boards, but their ranks are growing, with female directors accounting for about one-third of the directors for the five largest banks.

Ms. Taylor, 56, previously spent about two decades with Four Seasons, where she started in a legal role and worked her way up to the position of CEO. She was chosen for the top job by the hotel chain's founder Isadore Sharp.

A self-described "control freak," the Toronto-based Ms. Taylor once told The Globe and Mail that she would travel to between 25 and 30 hotels per year to ensure a personal connection between the company and its employees and stakeholders. She spent just three years at the helm of the company; it's not clear why she left Four Seasons in February.

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At RBC, she has been an independent director since 2001. She has also worked on the bank's audit and risk committees, and has been chair of the human resources committee since 2010. There are four other women on the RBC board.

"I appreciate the confidence of the board and look forward to building on the bank's achievements together," Ms. Taylor said in a statement.

She takes over from Mr. O'Brien, who will retire at the end of the year.

Mr. O'Brien was formerly the CEO of PanCanadian Energy Corp., which later became EnCana Corp. after a merger with Alberta Energy Company Ltd. He stepped down as Encana's board chairman in January. "Under Katie's leadership, I am confident that the board will continue its focus on creating long-term value for our shareholders and our clients," he said.

The Ontario government said in May that it was working alongside the Ontario Securities Commission to develop new rules that would ask companies to put targets in place to increase the number of female corporate directors on their boards, as well as in upper management roles.

With files from Jacquie McNish

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