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Still few women in Canada’s top business posts

The number of women in senior officer roles in Canadian business is practically unchanged from two years ago, but there are some small signs of improvement in the public sector.

A study by Catalyst, a women's advocacy group, found that women comprised 18.1 per cent of senior officers and top earners at Canada’s 500 largest companies in 2012. That's a tiny increase from 17.7 per cent in 2010.

Alex Johnston, executive director of Catalyst in Canada, said the data is discouraging as the numbers show little progress. But the data is critical in keeping corporate Canada on its toes.

"Whether or not they're encouraging is separate from the fact that they are important," she said.

"I think the two additional pieces that are of real interest to us is who is doing it well and why, and the fact that these numbers matter because they are holding people's feet to the fire."

The Catalyst analysis, which is conducted every two years, shows nearly 36 per cent of public Financial Post 500 companies count no women among their senior officers.

Less than one-quarter of public companies have 25 per cent or more women senior officers, just as in 2010. Only 6.5 per cent have 40 per cent or more women senior officers.

As well, there was no significant increase in women’s share of top earner positions at publicly-traded Financial Post 500 companies over the past two years.

"The issue seems to be pervasive in almost all industries," said Kathryn Smith, chair of Women in Capital Markets, who is also an executive at Toronto-Dominion Bank.

"That is troubling because when you see women are being excluded from the highest levels of corporations right across the board. It just shows as a country we're not maximizing our potential pool of talent."

Finance and insurance, retail trade, and utilities show the highest representation of women senior officers, Catalyst said.

On the bright side, there has been some notable progress in areas such as Crown corporations, public boards, tribunals and agencies.

"The public accountability component, in that 50 percent of your voters are female, has had a more significant impact in the public sector and we're seeing that in the numbers," said Johnston.

"Canadians know that you don’t win a hockey game by keeping half the team on the bench. With a small economy in a competitive global marketplace, we can’t afford to ignore the talent and ability of 50 % of our population," she added in a blog.