Glass Ceiling still exists, but latest study shows there is cause for hope

Arlene Keis isn't troubled by a report that suggests the glass ceiling is intact in corporate Canada.

In fact, the CEO of go2, the B.C. tourism industry's human-resources association, believes the ceiling -- a symbolic barrier to women attempting to reach the top positions in a company -- is showing some cracks.

The annual report, by Toronto-based executive recruiter Rosenzweig & Company, found that 37 women in 2006 held top officer jobs in Canada's 100 largest publicly-traded companies -- up from only 23 the previous year.

Of the 521 officers reported at these 100 corporations, 6.9 per cent were women -- still a small number, although up from 4.6 per cent in 2005.

But Keis said she sees a silver lining in the report, beyond the numbers.

"Progress is being made," she said. "The list of all the positions that women executives are holding seems to have more breadth. You're seeing them in IT, CIOs and CEOs, whereas it was more contained [before] to maybe sales and marketing and human resources."

Keis said she believes that the numbers may be affected by some women leaving the corporate lifestyle to start their own small businesses.

But she said the key factor is increasing labour shortages that are forcing employers to be more flexible to accommodate a work/life balance that tends to be more of an issue for women.

"I see it more in smaller companies and I'm doing it myself in this company," said Keis. "We just hired a controller. She's a women with a young family and she doesn't want to work full time. So we've hired her on a flex-schedule. She's a fabulous employee and if I wasn't prepared to do this I wouldn't have got her."

Jay Rosenzweig, managing partner of Rosenzweig & Company, said Canadian firms are starting to realize that, from an economic point of view, the more diverse the corner office, the greater the performance. But the corporate environment at large companies still has a long way to go, Rosenzweig said.

"When women represent almost half the workforce, these numbers clearly state there remains an old boys' network at the top of corporate Canada and there are definite barriers preventing women from reaching the top," he said.

The report said six companies now have multiple women holding high-level positions, but five of these companies rank among the smallest of the top 100 companies. Amid the giants, only RBC Financial Group has multiple women in the top ranks with COO Barbara Stymiest and CFO Janice Fukakusa.

Rosenzweig said the Canadian study was similar to one done in the U.S. using the Fortune 500 list. It showed that women held 6.4 per cent of the top jobs.