Women execs help firms prosper: Management But most of Canada's 100 largest public companies are run by men, study finds

Companies that employ women in senior management see higher rates of return on investment and increased market value compared to those that fill executive positions solely with men, studies show.

And yet, a glaring majority of Canada's largest public companies are run only by men, according to a new report by management consulting firm Rosenzweig & Company.

The report, which examines the top 100 publicly traded companies in Canada evaluated by revenue, shows that 74 per cent are run by men and roughly 94 per cent of the highest-paid executives are men. Ninety-seven per cent of these companies have male chief executive officers.

"The old-boys club continues to exist," says Jay Rosenzweig, managing partner of Toronto-based Rosenzweig & Company. "You have individuals who continue to hire people they know - people in their old boys Rolodex."

The Rosenzweig report, released earlier this year, comes after an increasing number of studies show the bottom line of companies is boosted when women fill managerial positions.

One study, conducted by the non-profit research group Catalyst, found that Fortune 500 companies in the United States with more women on their boards of directors see a 53-per-cent-higher return on equity than those with fewer female board members.

Companies with more women on their boards receive a 42-per-cent-higher return on sales and a 66-per-cent-higher return in investment capital, according to the study, released last year.

The study was conducted by comparing the financial performance of the 132 companies with the highest-average percentage of women on their boards with the 129 companies with the lowest-average percentage.

"When the top rungs of business are comprised of white males of very similar origins and age groups, one would think that the creative process wouldn't be as robust," says Rosenzweig.

"For us, it's logical that women add value to the workplace. And not only is it logical, we also see specific studies that show financial performance goes up with diversity at the top."

One other such study, conducted by the Conference Board of Canada in 2000, found that women have greater strengths in certain areas of business that contribute favourably to the bottom line.

The study, based on a national survey of about 630 business leaders, found that 28 per cent of chief executives, and 37 per cent of female executives, said women were perceived to be consensus builders.

Consensual decision-making, according to survey respondents, allows the team to be better informed of problems and better prepared to address them. The consensus reached at the end of the process, the respondents continue, ensures there will be more buy-in from managers charged with implementing the changes. The Conference Board study further shows 21 per cent of chief executives, and 32 per cent of female executives, said women have a particular strength in building "interpersonal relations," which refers to the way in which women deal with employees and clients.

The study quotes another conducted by consulting firm Watson Wyatt, which found that, of roughly 400 North American publicly traded companies it surveyed in 2000, firms that offered collegial and flexible workplaces saw a 7.8 per cent increase in market value.

In other words, financial outcomes stem from work environments that encourage trust, flexible work arrangements, teamwork, high employee satisfaction and less formal authority.

Lily Durepos, owner of Grand Falls-based Alliance Assurance Inc., says these strengths flow from the fact females "work from the heart."

"Women work with the gut and the brain, but they also work with the heart; that, to me, is the biggest plus that women can bring to any type of work, whether it is in a factory, an office environment or a managerial position," she says.

"Women are able to keep the peace, but also get the work done. It might take a little bit longer, but you get people's buy-in when you do it that way."

Durepos, also owner of a property developer and financial software firm, employs a total of about 60 people; of those, she estimates 45 are female. She acknowledges she cannot attribute her successes to her primarily female staff, but she said it hasn't held her back.

"I find that we have definitely achieved what we set out to achieve with a very hard-working group of females," she says. Prem Benimadhu, a Conference Board researcher, says women offer an important fresh and different perspective that's essential for a company's operations.

"Women bring another kind of thinking into the board room and into the workplace and I think what you need for better decision-making is a diversity of thought," he says.

"The presence of women can, because of their different experiences and backgrounds, break 'group-think', which can be very dangerous," said Benimadhu, referring to decisions made by managers or executives with similar backgrounds and perspectives.

Despite these findings, there are just 31 women in the top offices at Canada's largest public companies this year, compared to 37 in 2007, according to the Rosenzweig report.

Jay Rosenzweig says women looking to climb the corporate ladder should fight to realize their goals.

"There are women who have made it through to the top, but very few, and I think there is an injustice there," said Rosenzweig. "But in some ways you have to take your career into your own hands. And that means you might have to go out and fight for that next level of promotion, rather than waiting for someone to give it to you.

"In other words, step up and go for it."