Women comprise nearly half of Canada's labour force, yet new evidence suggests they have made virtually no progress over the past two decades in reaching senior management levels.
The proportion of female senior managers barely budged between 1987 and 2009, with men still more than twice as likely to hold a senior executive position, a Conference Board of Canada study to be released Wednesday shows.
The paucity of women is troubling on a number of fronts. Their absence can discourage younger women from entering certain professions or finding role models. A lack of diversity can hurt employee retention, productivity and innovation. From a financial view, companies with more female senior managers typically have higher total return to shareholders than those with fewer women.
"Increasing women's representation at the senior level is not simply a matter of justice or fairness – although it is that. And it is not simply a 'women's issue,'" said Anne Golden, the board's president and chief executive officer. "Companies that fail to integrate women's perspectives into their high-level decision making risk losing market share, competitive advantage and profits."
The study is the first comprehensive look at how Canadian women are faring in both private and public companies. It found that in 2009, women held only 0.32 per cent of senior management positions – or 26,000 senior jobs out of 8.1 million employed women – compared with 0.64 per cent for men.
It's not much better in middle management, a key pipeline for future executives, where the portion of women has grown only 4 per cent since 1987. At this rate, it will take 151 years before the share of men and women at the management level is equal.
The board crunched the numbers using Statistics Canada's labour force survey. Statscan defines senior management as executives above the director level, excluding presidents and CEOs.
The image of the glass ceiling – that women hit barriers once they reach higher levels – doesn't address the complexity and range of obstacles that women face, the study argues. Rather, the report cites a new metaphor coined by scholars Alice Eagly and Linda Carli: the labyrinth, or the full range of challenges in navigating a career.
The board outlines nine ways to remedy the disparity, from ensuring female candidates are on all short lists to offering job-rotation opportunities. It also highlights three companies that have successfully promoted women: Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. , Manitoba Lotteries Corp. and Toronto-Dominion Bank .
"Companies cannot sit back and expect women's advancement to just happen on its own," the report concludes. "They need to encourage it."