The corporate climb: Stalled progress for women in Canadian C-suites

Female executive
Female executive

None of Canada’s TSX 60 companies were headed by a woman and two-thirds did not include a single woman among top earners during their latest fiscal year, reveals a Canadian Press analysis of corporate Canada’s highest ranks.

Despite pressure to improve gender equality in Canadian workplaces – and a myriad of initiatives and corporate pledges to boost female representation – top-earning women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts, while the number holding the powerful management roles of chief executive officer and chief financial officer has shrunk compared to five years ago.

Among the companies on the TSX 60 index, a cross-section of the largest and most heavily-traded Canadian stocks, none listed a woman as its chief executive officer in its most recent compensation disclosure. Just three had a woman as CFO. That compared to one CEO and eight CFOs in 2012.

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Less than eight per cent of the top paid management roles were held by women.

Only 25 women were among a total of 312 named executive officers (NEO) – defined by regulators as a company’s most highly compensated roles – in the latest management information circulars of TSX 60 companies, which, like all Canadian public firms, are required to disclose a list of NEOs each year. The findings on NEO compensation include salaries as well as other forms of compensation such as share-based awards, incentive plans and pensions.

The Canadian Press analysis paints a bleak picture of a corporate landscape in which women remain a significant minority, and those in the upper ranks are paid an average 64 cents for every dollar earned by the average male NEO. That’s even more dismal than the average of 74 cents for every dollar of annual salary made by men among the entire working population, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data.

Over the last year, the Me Too movement, which began as a reaction to allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, has become the latest iteration of a long-standing drive for equality for women in the workplace.

Many women in corporate Canada are hopeful the recent attention has sparked a broader conversation that will expose the unseen barriers women face when climbing the corporate ladder and fuel the push for gender parity, according to dozens of women in senior management roles and corporate governance experts who spoke to The Canadian Press.

“I can’t remember anything in the last 15 years that has sent such strong shock waves through corporate Canada,” said Charlene Ripley, general counsel and an executive vice-president at mining company Goldcorp Inc.

“This Me Too movement has been a catalyst to shock people into awareness of so many issues, when it comes to bad culture.”

And yet, the C-suite remains a domain largely occupied by men.

Two-thirds, or 40 of the TSX 60 index of influential companies, did not cite any women NEOs in 2017 disclosures. (Loblaws Companies Ltd. and parent George Weston Ltd. are both listed on the TSX 60, and both cite Sarah Davis, president of Loblaw, as an NEO.) That figure is little changed from 2012 data, though the analysis of that year was limited to 59 firms because oil and gas heavyweight Nexen was delisted after being acquired and did not put out an NEO list.

“I am surprised that there has been no movement,” said Janice Fukakusa, former chief administrative officer and chief financial officer of the Royal Bank of Canada and one of the few women on the list of NEOs.

“The only way you can increase participation is for women to look up and see themselves represented. So, this is not a good statistic for us.”

Over the past five years, 36 per cent, or 116 men who were deemed NEOs in 2012 were still on the influential list in 2017, while just six women remained in the elite group five years later, representing 30 per cent.

The eye-opening data suggests the efforts to accelerate gender diversity haven’t yielded the desired results, said Camilla Sutton, president and chief executive of Women in Capital Markets.

“If you took the pulse of the nation, in terms of the change that’s happened versus the change that the data suggests, I don’t think that would be correlated at all,” she reflected on the analysis.

“The data would suggest that we’ve gone backwards, on many measures.”

The analysis also makes apparent that the long-standing gender wage gap is a problem even for women at the top of their game.

In 2017, the average total compensation for female NEOs was $3.24 million, compared to $5.08 million for men – a difference of 36 per cent. That’s a slight improvement from the 38 per cent gap in 2012.

The disparity is even wider among the earners at the very top.

The highest paid male NEO, auto parts maker Magna International Inc.’s president and chief executive Donald Walker, received a total compensation package worth $25.54 million.

Meanwhile, the highest paid female NEO, Marianne Harrison, Manulife Financial’s president and chief executive of the insurer’s U.S. division, was paid $5.96 million. Harrison declined to comment for this story.

A dozen women on the NEO list who spoke to The Canadian Press suggested a range of reasons for why they think women still lag behind men in terms of representation and compensation.

They pointed to an overreliance on the ‘old boys’ club’ for executive searches, an unwillingness within some companies to challenge cultural norms that have left women out of top jobs, little workplace support for women, as well as a lack of confidence and risk-taking among women.

Nora Duke, an executive vice-president of sustainability at electric utility holding company Fortis Inc. who is among the women on the list, believes there are few women in prominent roles because of the time it takes for leadership positions to become available and women to rise to a level that makes them attainable.

“I don’t think (companies) necessarily choose to discriminate against women, but I think there are some natural biases,” she said, noting that many organizations are packed with men in leadership roles, who have worked together for years.

“It is a comfortable situation and you just tend to continue in that format, until you really make a point of thinking differently about it? I think it is this concept of unconscious bias.”

The Canadian Press reached out to all of the TSX 60 companies who did not list any women NEOs to ask why.

Companies that responded said women are better represented in senior leadership roles and on their boards of directors than in their corporate management suite. The firms also pointed to various ongoing and new initiatives to further foster diversity in their highest ranks and on their board, and public pledges to do so. Eight companies declined to respond, and six did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Still, the executive women interviewed by The Canadian Press felt that the lack of women in the companies’ upper ranks makes it harder for those climbing the career ladder to picture themselves at the top, and gives women less of a voice at the executive table to help shape the corporate culture.

While the Me Too movement is centred on the sexual misconduct and harassment women face, there is an optimism that its momentum can help propel progress on other fronts, including inclusion in the corner office and equal pay.

“It really does give women that empowerment to speak up, about even things like staffing decisions … There is a broader good that’s happening,” said Fukakusa, now the chair of the board of the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

Changes will come, albeit slowly, many women agreed.

Goldcorp’s Ripley said she is disappointed that she is among the few women to reach the elite levels of TSX 60 companies.

“I am hopeful that in the coming years there will be more women on the list,” she added.

“But there is a long way to go.”

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