More women taking leadership roles but pace of growth remains slow: study


TORONTO – More women have moved into senior leadership roles during the past five years, but there needs to be more awareness around issues of representation to speed up the changes, according to a Toronto-based report.

“It’s certainly progress and it’s moving in the right direction, but the pace of change over a five-year period is relatively slow,” said Wendy Cukier, founder and director of the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University.

A study by the institute found that female representation in senior positions at major corporations in the Toronto area increased to 32.5 per cent in 2014 from 30.6 per cent in 2009.

But women remained underrepresented overall, along with those belonging to a visible minority, with that group’s representation increasing to 4.2 per cent from 3.1 per cent in the same time period.

From 2009 to 2014, representation of women increased at a rate of 6.3 per cent overall, the report said.

“In many cases it’s just that some companies haven’t made this a priority. They haven’t thought about it or they’ve relied on old excuses for why their boards and executive teams look they way they do,” Cukier said.

“What we need to keep moving this forward is to force attention on the issue to continue to publish results and to encourage transparency.”

Some companies have done a good job in promoting qualified women, she added, and there are efforts to raise awareness about the need for diversity in management and on board of directors.

The Ontario Securities Commission, for instance, is proposing that all TSX-listed businesses be required to disclose targets for the number of women in high-ranking positions as directors and executive officers.

It also wants companies to disclose how they find candidates for those positions. It doesn’t include quotas, but it is asking for a “comply or explain” policy, which means companies will have to explain why their boards look the way they do.

According to the Ryerson study, the number of women in senior leadership positions varies by sectors.

The corporate sector continues to have the lowest proportion of women among its senior leadership, at 19.9 per cent, although it also had the highest growth rate.

The education sector, government agencies, boards and commissions, and elected officials have the highest representation of women, all hovering around 40 per cent.

But there’s also big difference between the figures for women overall and those for women who are visible minorities.

“The representation of female visible minorities in senior leadership positions is significantly less than non-visible minority women even though they are equally represented in the general GTA population,” the report said.

The ratio of non-visible minority women to visible minority women is 17 to one among corporate senior executive positions analyzed, Cukier said, and six to one across all six sectors.

The report proposes various solutions to raise awareness, including looking at the impact of stereotypes and promoting new, more inclusive images of leaders, tracking successes and making diversity a key aspect of company culture.

But overall, Cukier says it’s important to focus on the positive changes.

“In spite of the barriers we know exist, and in spite of the challenges that exist for many women, and particularly racialized women, we also have incredible examples of success in every single sector,” she said.

“We should be focusing on the success stories in organizations — but also the success stories of individuals — (and ask) what are the strategies and approaches they’ve used to be successful.”

The Ryerson study was based on data collected between 2008 and 2009 and between 2013 and 2014, and included a sample of 2,365 leaders in 2009 and 2,375 leaders in 2014.

It looked at the representation of women and visible minorities in senior leadership positions (including boards of directors and senior management), focused in six sectors: elected officials, public, corporate, voluntary, education, and appointments to agencies, boards and commissions. All companies were headquartered in the Greater Toronto Area, although many had national operations.

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