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Just 10% of young Canadians picture a woman when they think of a CEO: survey

A group of women stop to pose with a statue of a fearless girl, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in New York. The statue was installed by an investment firm in honor of International Women's Day. An inscription at the base reads, "Know the power of women in leadership. She makes a difference. State Street Global Advisors." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A group of women stop to pose with a statue of a fearless girl, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in New York. The statue was installed by an investment firm in honor of International Women's Day. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Despite a concerted effort by organizations around Canada to encourage women to take on leadership roles, a new survey has found that gender stereotypes are still a barrier, with just 10 per cent of young Canadians saying they picture a woman when they think of a CEO.

The survey, commissioned by Plan International Canada, polled 2,210 Canadians between the ages of 14 and 24 years old about their perceptions on leadership. When asked to picture a CEO, just 10 per cent of the young Canadians said they imagined a woman in that position. While most respondents ranked confidence as a top-rated trait that leaders should possess, just 55 per cent of girls and women described themselves as confident. Another 81 per cent said they at least occasionally doubt they have the skills necessary to be a good leader. Fifty-three per cent of boys and young men described girls as being “emotional” but just 10 per cent said that is a characteristic of a good leader.

Plan International Canada, which is an organization that focuses on advancing children’s rights and equality for girls, said the results show that systemic barriers and stereotypes remain an obstacle for young women.


“For the second year in a row our data shows girls and young women in this country are ready and able to lead, but perceptions are still holding them back,” Caroline Riseboro, Plan International’s chief executive, said in a statement.

“Although girls are confident in themselves, we need to change the status quo so they have the unwavering support in all areas of their lives that enables achieving their leadership aspirations, whatever they may be.”

Jodi Kovitz, founder of advocacy group Move the Dial, said in an interview that while Canada is moving in the right direction when it comes to gender equality, the survey shows that progress is not happening fast enough.

“I do think we are seeing improvement and a cultural shift, but we still have a massive opportunity as a country to go all-in with greater urgency,” Kovitz said.

The survey is the latest dataset that shows that while there has been some progress toward gender equality in corporate Canada, there is still much to be achieved.

In March, the Rosenzweig Report looking at Canada’s 100 largest publicly traded companies found that there were just two more female CEOs added since 2006. Of the 532 individuals named executive officers in Canada in 2019, 53 were women, amounting to less than 9.96 per cent of all executive positions, a slight improvement from 9.44 per cent the year before.

At the same time, the report found that gender equality was retreating in some categories. For example, just three women were CEOs of Canada’s top 100 companies, compared to six in 2018. There were no women in the top executive spot among Canada’s 25 largest companies.

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