As Trudeau Appoints Women to Leadership, Corporate Canada Lags

  • Only seven female CEOs, 14% of board seats held by women
  • `Just good business’ to hire women: Canada Pension’s Wiseman

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just made 50 percent of his cabinet women. Female management in the country’s corporations is well below that.

Women hold an average 12 percent of executive positions and 14 percent of board seats according to available data on 242 companies on the Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index, Canada’s main equity index. They hold 25 percent of management positions and only seven companies have female chief executive officers, the data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Women on boards rise to an average 19 percent when looking at just 60 of the largest companies on the index, the data shows, in line with the 21 percent estimate for the S&P/TSX 60 Index from Catalyst.

Securities regulators in Canada implemented a rule last year requiring companies disclose policies and targets for female recruitment and promotion in annual reports by the end of the year in a bid to boost female corporate leadership. Other organizations such as the 30% Club and Catalyst have been advocating for setting targets of 30 percent and 25 percent female representation on boards respectively.

Trudeau, who was sworn in as prime minister Wednesday, named women to 15 of 30 cabinet posts, including Chrystia Freeland as minister of international trade and Catherine McKenna as minister of environment.

Bay Street, like Parliament, has long suffered from a gender imbalance and measures are needed to correct that, said Mark Wiseman, 45, chief executive officer of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, the country’s largest pension fund with about C$268.6 billion ($203.7 billion) in assets under management.

It’s “just good business” to aim to have half of the population reflected in the leadership, said Wiseman, who received a leadership award Thursday from Toronto-based Women in Capital Markets, which coaches, connects and advocates for women in the industry.

Wiseman has been an advocate for increasing women in leadership roles and is a founding member of the Canadian chapter of the 30% Club. Canada Pension has five women on its 12-person board, including its chairwoman, Heather Munroe-Blum.

In its core business, just under 50 percent of Canada Pension’s workforce is female, including in finance, technology, accounting and legal services, Wiseman said in an interview before Trudeau was officially sworn in. The organization is falling short in some areas, including in investment, where women only make up about a third of the workforce, he acknowledged.

The fund has made an effort to ensure at least 50 percent of its hires are female. That means trying to identify unconscious bias and eliminate it in the hiring process and offering schedules that accommodate the needs of single parents to retain talent, he said.

It’s clear that taking action to correct gender imbalance is necessary, said Jennifer Reynolds, chief executive officer of Women in Capital Markets.

"There’s been this idea that we’re just going to graduate our way out of this problem and that the next generation will come along and magically women will move up into the C-Suite," she said in an interview, referring to jobs that begin with chief. "Women have been half the graduates for 30 years. That’s not going to happen organically. We have to do something about this."

Kirsten Kennedy, 49, managing director of fixed-income sales and sales managers at the Bank of Montreal, also received a leadership award, for efforts to develop events such as the ‘Women in Fixed Income’ conference.

While she said the number of women in capital markets has jumped since she started in 1987, when only one or two of 20 hires in her year were women, there’s more work to be done especially for women who leave the workforce to have children, she said.

"You leave this intense work environment," she said. "You go and have a family, and it’s sometimes difficult to find that balance. We’re trying to actively push things to change. This is something that is embedded in our society."

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