Canadian Women Leaders Top U.S. as RBC Promotes Taylor

Royal Bank of Canada, the nation’s largest lender by assets, extended the country’s lead in appointing women to corporate leadership roles by announcing Kathleen Taylor as its first chairwoman.

Women serve as chairman or an equivalent role in at least eight, or 3.5 percent, of the 226 publicly traded Canadian companies with a market value of $1 billion or more, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Among 3,010 global companies, at least 55 have a female in that role, or 1.8 percent. In the U.S., that figure is 1.7 percent, the data show.

“No one is way out ahead,” said Alex Johnston, executive director in Canada for Catalyst, a New York-based research and advocacy group for women executives. “We are all collectively laggards. This is an issue for everyone right now, but I think we’re having a much more vigorous conversation in Canada.”

Royal Bank said on Aug. 29 that Taylor, 56, will take over as chairwoman in 2014, making her the first woman to lead the board of one of the nation’s top six banks. The appointment highlights the lack of gender diversity in the boardroom and executive suite, which some investors say curbs shareholder value.

Companies with women leading the board of directors or in an executive role, indicate a greater diversity of opinion and business experience, money manager Laura Wallace said in a phone interview Sept. 3 from Toronto.

Turquoise Hill

“I look at the quality of the board from a qualifications standpoint and this is a recognition that women are having the right qualifications,” said Wallace, who manages C$11 billion ($10.5 billion) for Scotia Asset Management. Having women in leadership roles is “a part of the mosaic of a company.”

At least seven large Canadian companies, or 3.1 percent of 226 public companies, have a female chief executive officer, including Linamar Corp. and Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. Women executives are in at least 53 percent of those 226 companies, according to Bloomberg data.

In the U.S., of 1,933 publicly listed companies with a market value of $1 billion or more, at least 46 percent have one female executive or more. That includes Beth Mooney, who took over as chairman and CEO of Cleveland-based KeyCorp in 2011, becoming the first woman to lead one of the 20 biggest independent U.S. banks.

Bank Ranks

“Our numbers are slightly better than the U.S. but let’s not set the bar too low,” said Jennifer Reynolds, head of Toronto-based Women in Capital Markets, a not-for-profit organization that promotes females in business. “Let’s see some better representation at the senior levels of management and in the executive suite.”

RBC’s Taylor joins an industry where at the six largest banks women make up 65 percent of the workforce but hold only 33 percent of senior management roles, according to 2011 data by the Canadian Bankers Association.

“Banks have spent real time considering this issue, taking steps to increase women’s representation on their boards, but to have a chair move into this role is really significant,” Johnston at Catalyst said in an Aug. 30 telephone interview from Toronto. “This does have pretty substantial power in terms of a significant step and message.”

Royal Bank rose 1.7% to C$66.56 in Toronto today, taking its gains for the past 12 months to 20 percent, compared with a 15 percent gain for the eight-member Standard & Poor’s/TSX Commercial Banks Index. Toronto-based Royal Bank is the best performer in the index over the period.

Four Seasons

Taylor was previously CEO of closely held Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts after serving in various roles at the luxury hotelier for more than two decades. She joined Royal Bank as a director in 2001 and has a master’s degree in business administration from the Schulich School of Business and a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto. Messages left for Taylor weren’t returned and Rina Cortese, a bank spokeswoman, said Taylor isn’t available for comment.

Several women are among the executives at Canada’s largest lenders, including Janice Fukakusa, Royal Bank’s chief financial officer; Colleen Johnston, CFO at Toronto-Dominion Bank; Wendy Hannam, Bank of Nova Scotia’s executive vice president of Latin America; and Laura Dottori-Attanasio, chief risk officer at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Talent Available

“There are talented and capable women available,” Gail Cook-Bennett, who retired in May from her role as chairwoman of Manulife Financial Corp., said in a phone interview from Ottawa. “But you have to be convinced that the people are there, the talent is there, and you have to be prepared to invest the time to look for them.” Cook-Bennett was also the inaugural chairman of Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, the country’s largest pension fund manager.

Laurentian Bank of Canada, based in Montreal, was the nation’s first lender to elect a female chairman, appointing Jeannine Guillevin Wood in 1997 after she joined as a director in 1977. The lender’s board is now led by Isabelle Courville.

“In a global perspective, Canada is doing very, very well,” Courville, 50, said in a Sept. 3 phone interview from Montreal. “I’m very optimistic with what I see in Canada. I look at the young students in university and there are a lot of women -- of course they’re not on boards just yet, but you need to get up the ranks.”

The number of women in large public companies needs to be higher, but it’s only part of the picture, Courville said.

Diverse Opinion

“If you look at leadership in the education sector, health, community, cultural sector -- society is not only the” Toronto Stock Exchange, Courville said. “Women may choose another career, as well.”

The Ontario Securities Commission, the province’s securities regulator, is considering a proposal that would require companies to provide disclosure regarding women on boards and in senior management.

“Diversity of opinion is invaluable to corporate decision making, and it is therefore necessary to encourage greater representation of women at senior levels,” said Maureen Jensen, OSC executive director and chief administrative officer, in a July 30 statement.

Reynolds at Women in Capital Markets was a director at Bank of Montreal’s investment banking unit for a decade and most recently was a managing director at Stonecap Securities Inc. Hiring women isn’t about filling a quota but rather about considering all candidates equally, she said.

’Best Voices’

“If they’re only looking at men, then it’s impossible that they are looking at all qualified candidates because you’ve just cut out 50 percent of the population,” Reynolds said. “You just can’t have the best voices in the room or be making the best decision with an organization if you get everyone in the room that looks and thinks the same.”

Wallace at Scotiabank said she’s hopeful that Taylor’s appointment is the first of many female additions to the business world.

“I hope I see the day when it’s not news -- that would be terrific wouldn’t it?”

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