Few women among Canada's top execs: study

Women remain a rarity in the top echelons of corporate Canada.

A study from executive search firm Rosenzweig & Co. shows just four of the chief executives at Canada's 100 biggest public companies are women and only 7.4% of the more than 500 senior executive positions at these companies are female, the study concludes.

Slight progress seems to have been made in recent years. The percentage of top-level executives that are women has risen from 6.9 since the same study was done last year, and it was just 4.6% in the inaugural report in 2006.

"The pace of change is disheartening," Michelle Morin, a partner at Rosenzweig, said in a statement "Over the last six years we've been studying this issue, and very little has improved for talented women executives."

One women, Nancy Southern  occupies two of the four top CEO positions held by women - she leads both the ATCO Group and affiliated company Canadian Utilities Ltd. The other women CEOs noted in the report were Kathy Bardswick of the Co-operators Group Ltd. and Sophie Brochu of Gaz Metro Ltd. Partnership.

In 2006, Southern, as leader of these two companies, was the only women  among the CEOs of Canada's biggest companies.

"We don't think that any type of gender bias is institutionalized. We don't even think it's necessarily conscious," said Alan Zelnicker, another partner at Rosenzweig. "People tend to hire like-minded or similar people. ... So until the power structure changes, you're going to have men tending to hire more men."

Bardswick, one of the few female CEOs this study found, said another factor is women themselves  are not vying for these positions as much as men.

"(Women) are not as aggressive in putting ourselves out there," she said. "We don't fight hard enough for what we think we need. ... Females need to be more aggressive about putting their capacity and interests forward and not back off as easily as they do."

While she's aware of many women's hitting the infamous

"glass ceiling" in their career pursuits, Bardswick said she's never felt discriminated against because of her sex.

 Mr. Zelnicker agreed the top executives in Canada probably would also be disproportionally white and of the baby-boomer generation, though these aspects were no part of the study.

However, he said, the lack of women running companies in Canada is aggravating, given that women aren't even a minority. Statistics Canada figures show women account for more than half the population and about 47 percent of the workforce.

Moral arguments aside, Zelnicker said it's in companies' best interests to include more women and members of various demographic groups among their key decision-makers. He said studies have shown companies with more women in their executive ranks perform better on stock markets.

"We're big on diversity," Zelnicker said, "We're constantly encouraging our clients to hire diversity candidates - not just gender diversity, not just visible minorities, but diversity of thought, diversity of background."

"We're becoming a global economy, and so one perspective is just not going to cut it."