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Glass ceiling tough to crack in business

Jennifer Kwan
Office workers. (Getty Images)

Female business managers and executives are struggling to make further strides in Canada and the United States, surveys from both sides of the border showed on Tuesday.

In a survey of 500 female executives conducted by polling firm Ipsos Reid found major discrepancies when it comes to salaries, promotions, decision-making power and travel opportunities, Ranstad Canada says.

"The persistence of the glass ceiling makes it particularly difficult for organizations to hold on to their best and brightest women. Dismantling the glass ceiling requires an accurate understanding of barriers to advancement that women are facing," Hanna Vineberg, a vice president at staffing and recruitment services firm Randstad, said in a statement.

Female managers and executives say salary discrepancies rank high on the list of inequalities between men and women, with 77 per cent of women polled feeling there was a noticeable divide. Promotions also ranked high as some 90 per cent of women feel the opportunities for advancement aren't fair.

In the U.S., the sentiment is similar. Just 16.6 per cent of women have seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies, and that figure has barely changed since 2005, according to a release by Catalyst, a non-profit organization.

In both 2011 and 2012, less than one-fifth of companies had 25 per cent or more women directors. One-tenth had no women serving on their boards. In 2012, women of color held 3.3 per cent of all board seats, according to Catalyst.

Kathryn Smith, chair of Women in Capital Markets in Canada, said the challenges continue and their analysis shows no major gains have been made over the past decade.

"I think we've talked enough about statistics. What we really need now is more of the really concise action plans that are going to be put together by different industries. Then we have to hold each other accountable as an industry," said Smith, who is also an executive at TD Bank.

Smith pointed to a report by WCM earlier this year that, while it outlined key statistics, also provided guidance to help senior managers tackle the issue of gender equality in top capital markets jobs.

Some of the suggestions in the guidebook include holding key talks with men and finding ways to raise awareness over the broader issue of gender inequality in the work place, as well as scrutinize decisions about hiring, assignments and promotions.

As well, WCM says it's critical to recognize the high cost of turnover and implement career path flexibility as a core element for retaining top talent. Managers should also invest in high-potential women through sponsorship, networks and other programs, said Smith.

"Senior leaders need to be bringing women forward for new positions," said Smith. "When they're not in the room, being able to recommend them for senior positions and then help them succeed in those senior positions."