Female executives hit glass ceiling

That thud you may have heard from Bay St. and other centres of Canadian enterprise is the sound of women hitting their heads on the invisible but ever-thickening glass ceiling.

According to the results of a survey released recently, 16 per cent fewer women held top corporate jobs in Canada at the end of last year than in the previous year.

"This drop is disheartening and makes you wonder if anything is really going to change over the next 10 years, or even longer," said Jay Rosenzweig, managing partner of Rosenzweig & Co., which released its third annual Report on Women at the Top Levels of Corporate Canada.

"From a big-picture perspective, it's clear the 'glass ceiling' is alive and well."

The study's results showed only 31 women occupying such top officer jobs as CEO and CFO, in Canada's 100 largest publicly-traded companies. That's a dismal 5.8 per cent of the high-ranking workforce. Last year, there were 37 women in those positions, or 6.9 per cent.

How many men occupied the remaining plumb positions last year? How about 504? As to why, Rosenzweig said there are "subtle attitudes at work that continue in the workplace." A feeling, he said, still exists among too many power brokers that women "can't handle a project because (they) have a couple of kids at home."

"There remains this old boys' club," Rosenzweig said.

"I don't think this old boys' club has died."

Fran Donaldson, president of the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, agrees.

"A lot of the organizations are still run by and large by people who are used to a male image of leadership," she said.

And that leadership consists of men wanting other men in high office to make the so-called "tough decisions." Donaldson contended it's not the tough decisions, but the "right decisions" that ought to be made.

"We still tend to associate good leadership with those male qualities of being tough and strong where, in fact, being nurturing and inclusive and collaborative is just as effective, if not more."

Donaldson points to U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and th reaction to her recent "meltdown," as some media outlets described it.

Just before the New Hampshire primary two weeks ago, Clinton appeared exhausted, visibly upset and near the point of tears when responding to questions at a rally.

"There was definitely that segment that said: 'well that's it. She can't be a leader because she cries.' That still holds for some people."

The study found only three women chief executives at these 100 companies. For companies have more than one woman in key top flight positions – Royal Bank of Canada, ATCO, Russell Metals and Linamar – but 74 companies were male-exclusive at the top.

Donaldson said the perception that women don't possess the traditionally excepted image of top leaders is one of the main reasons the glass ceiling has not been cracked.

The other, she said, is the fact women are waiting longer to have families, with many having children at an age when men are aggressively pursuing advancement in their careers. You can't climb the company ladder when you're eight months pregnant.

"It's not a lack of education; it's not a lack of experience," she said. "The claim that 'you can't find any women that are qualified,' well that's not true anymore – there are more women graduating from university than men, "she said.

"The old perceptions linger on and that's because the people in charge still hold those old traditional views of leadership."