It is a small change, but opportunities for women in business in Canada appear finally to be gaining momentum.
That’s the finding of Catalyst Canada, a non-profit organization that tracks women’s professional advancement in private and public companies, Crown corporations and cooperatives.
The latest Catalyst census of FP 500 companies, made public Monday, found that women’s representation on boards at public companies has increased nearly two percentage points in the past two years, signalling a move in the right direction for corporate Canada, said Catalyst’s executive director, Alex Johnston.
According to Census women’s representation on boards of public companies increased from 10.3 per cent in 2011 to 12.1 per cent in 2013.
It wasn’t all good news. The census found no meaningful increase in the numbers of women board directors among private companies, Crown corporations, and cooperatives compared to 2011. Even more discouraging is that more than one-third of companies (36 per cent) continue to have no women on their boards at all, including four out of 10 public companies.
Broken down by province, the data shows that women in Quebec have the best chance of landing a board seat (19.8 per cent overall) while those in British Columbia have the lowest (11.9 per cent).
By industry, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction scored the lowest on the survey, with just 7 per cent of women board directors.
The utilities sector ranked the highest, with 23.2 per cent of board seats held by women - a figure closing in on Catalyst’s target proportion of 25 per cent among all FP500 companies by 2017.
Johnston was focussing on the positive Monday, noting, in a media release, that “despite the overall numbers, we are excited to see growth for women on boards at public companies in Canada.”
She believes an important shift is taking place in the country, noting other “positive” moves, such as the Ontario Securities Commission’s recent ‘comply or explain’ recommendations for all TSX-listed companies.
“Corporate Canada is beginning to embrace what Catalyst has always known: that gender diversity on boards benefits corporate decision-making, helps drive better business results, and strengthens Canada’s economic competitiveness,” she said.
In 2011, Catalyst called on companies to join in a bold move to push the number overall proportion of FP500 board seats held by women to 25 per cent by 2017. Companies that sign the so-called Catalyst Accord, which include RBC and Linamar Corporation, are asked to pledge to the agreed objective and submit interim goals to Catalyst, which will be kept confidential.
Among the challenges, companies are asked to question a long-held assumption that qualified women can’t be found and act on Catalyst research that shows the positive impact of sponsorship on women’s advancement, members of the Catalyst Canada Advisory Board will provide participating companies with a roster of board-ready women who they personally sponsor.
The 2013 census is the latest in a host of powerful reports released by Catalyst, examining the reasons that keep women out of corporate board rooms and executive ranks.
A recent report examining the gender wage gap found that Canadian women MBA graduates earn $8,167 less than men in their first post-MBA jobs, start out a lower job level and are offered fewer career-accelerating work experiences and international postings.
That held true even when women did all the things they have been told will help them get ahead, the same tactics as men. Women still advanced less than their male counterparts and had slower pay growth.