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Negative picture for Canadian women execs

The number of women in middle and senior management roles has stalled over the past 20 years, and new research says men in these top positions are part of the problem.

Despite a growing business case for having more women in top jobs, male leaders don't see the advancement of women as an issue, or don't understand it, according to the report released Wednesday from the Conference Board of Canada.

“The men who appear the least concerned are those with the most power to enable change—senior executives,” states the report titled, Women in Leadership: Perceptions and Priorities for Change. ”It is simply not a major issue for many men.”

Researchers asked survey respondents to indicate their reaction to the statement, “Organizations should try to increase the number of women in their senior management ranks.” In response, 90 per cent of women in senior management ranks agreed, compared with 42 per cent of men in those roles, says the report.

Without the support and some action on the part of these top leaders – who are mostly male – the report says the number of women in senior leadership roles will not increase in the near future.

“The status quo is not working,” the report says. “It will take more than being neutral on the topic of women’s advancement to bring about significant change.”

The Conference Board calls on senior company leaders to initiate and execute change, while acknowledging that is easier said than done.

“The senior executive group in most organizations, however, is predominantly male. Male senior executives are the least likely of all management groups to agree that there is a need for change. This means that, paradoxically, we may need more women leaders before we can increase the number of women in senior management.”

The recommendations for companies include better alignment of governance, leadership and human resources practices to support the advancement of women. The report also calls on companies to create more female role models within organizations and to promote the advancement of women early in their careers who are identified as having strong leadership potential.

The findings are based on growing evidence that more gender diversity in leadership roles is good for business. An example is an analysis of Fortune 500 companies over nearly two decades that shows a correlation between higher profit and the number of women in executive positions. A 2011 Catalyst report also argues that more gender diverse companies achieve better financial results, including return on sales, return on invested capital and return on equity.

"In 2013, it s widely accepted that advancing women into senior management positions is no longer just about doing the right (i.e., equitable) thing, but also about doing the smart (i.e., profitable) thing," the report states.

The overall findings are based on interviews conducted in late February and early March with 876 employed people from across the country, 52 per cent of who were women and 48 per cent men, as well as in depth interviews with 29 women.

The survey also found there was a lack of awareness on how to get a top management job.

“These findings should have major implications for organizations, indicating that there is much work to be done in communicating advancement processes, and in bringing clarity and transparency to human resources and talent management practices,” the report says.