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Exclusive: Catalyst Canada Research Reveals Disturbing Trends in Women’s Advancement and Calls for Inclusive Leadership

There’s no shortage of women ready and able to move into executive roles, so why don’t more of us have them? Because the system is broken. Luckily, it can be fixed.



When it comes to women on corporate boards, Canada is beginning to see the light.

The Ontario Securities Commission just released new regulations, supported by regulators in nine jurisdictions across the country, requiring most TSX-listed companies to set goals for women’s representation on their boards and executive committees, and disclose the strategies they will use to meet them. This is a huge step forward, and we should be heartened by the tremendous progress on this issue in Canada and around the world.

But nearly 40% of FP500 companies still have no women on their boards. This is unacceptable—and unsustainable. The international and Canadian context has shifted so much in a few short years that men-only boards will increasingly be seen as an embarrassment. And when people chairing those boards are asked why they have no women, it will become clearer that something other than “merit” is getting in the way of women’s participation.

But boards are a comparatively small piece of a much larger puzzle. The only way to create lasting, systemic change, enabling women to move fluidly through the ranks from entry level to executive level, is to focus our collective energies on reinforcing Canada’s talent pipeline.

While it seems there’s a new article every other day declaring the “end of men,” and although it’s true that women routinely outperform men in school and are joining the labour force at greater rates, evidence is scant that they are about to seize the reins of power. At our current rate of progress, it will take well over a decade for women to make up even one-quarter of FP500 senior leadership—and several decades to achieve parity.

Women are constantly being told that if we’d just address our confidence issues, raise our hands more often, stop putting our families first, and take a seat at the table instead of hovering around the edges, we’d be spending our summers riding in golf carts and smoking cigars before we know it. But these are Band-Aid solutions for a problem the cuts much deeper.

For years, Catalyst has been tracking the careers of thousands of men and women MBA grads to better understand gender disparities in the workplace. We’ve found differences in pay and position for women and men in their very first post-MBA jobs—and those gaps widen over time.

At our current rate of progress, it will take well over a decade for women to make up even one-quarter of FP500 senior leadership.

We’ve also found substantial differences in the assignments men and women are offered. Men tend to be assigned projects with bigger budgets, more direct reports, and greater exposure to senior executives—the “hot jobs” needed to advance, including high-profile international roles.

One thing we know from years of research is that women no longer face a glass ceiling so much as a sticky floor. Even when men and women have the same aspirations, use the same career-advancing strategies, and make similar choices, they still progress through the professional pyramid at markedly different rates, right out of the gate. Men and women are both being mentored, but men benefit more from senior mentors who effectively act as sponsors, helping to secure critical opportunities for their protégés.

The talent is there—it’s just getting blocked or leaking out of our faulty pipeline before it has a chance to flow to the top.

[bs_lead]Catalyst research on high-potential women in Canada reveals some disturbing trends…[/bs_lead]

Canadian women in our study made $8,167 less than men in similar jobs, and they were far likelier (72%) than men (58%) to begin their careers in entry-level positions. Only 19% of the Canadian women we studied who chose to enter the corporate world received international assignments, compared with 29% of men.

All of that makes Canadian women far likelier to build careers in the government, nonprofit, and education sectors than in the corporate world. This is a loss for businesses that are missing out on women’s talents.

The barriers to women’s advancement may be more subtle today than they were 50 years ago, but they are still there. When I think of my great-grandmother and grandmother, both of whom were working single mothers building careers and raising children, in some ways the challenges faced by my generation pale in comparison. But given today’s competitive global marketplace, the potential cost to Canada’s economy of not leveraging all our talent is probably greater than ever.

One way to change that is to foster inclusive leadership. Becoming a truly inclusive leader takes work—but what’s the point of having a diverse talent pool if we aren’t taking advantage of it? Catalyst research from around the world reveals several key traits shared by great, inclusive leaders everywhere. They empower their employees to achieve and grow; hold them accountable for things they can control; exhibit courage and a willingness to take risks; and possess a genuine sense of humility.

Helping women advance is the right thing to do—and the smart thing. As a small country competing against the world, Canada’s diversity could be an incredible economic advantage—if we find a way to tap into the collective brilliance of our men and women.

The conversation about women’s advancement started a long time ago, and we still have a ways to go, but I am conscious of the deep debt of gratitude I owe to those who came before and fought to expand opportunities for me and my peers. And I care so deeply about the work that I do at Catalyst because I believe the next generations—my daughters and son—deserve to grow up as familiar with gender-based barriers as they are with the fax machine.

Each year Catalyst recognizes initiatives and leaders who create workplaces in which women and men thrive. These are 21st century leaders shaping 21st century organizations that leverage all of their talent:

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[bs_citem title=”Alcoa” id=”citem_34ef-ca4a” parent=”collapse_9a2c-6e86″]
CEO Klaus Kleinfeld, who accepted the 2013 Catalyst Award on behalf of his company’s groundbreaking women’s leadership initiative, set ambitious yet achievable goals related to women’s advancement, linked those goals to performance and compensation, and placed women in key operational roles, creating an organization-wide culture shift and leading to impressive progress for women at Alcoa.
[bs_citem title=”Kimberly-Clark” id=”citem_4953-b5c5″ parent=”collapse_9a2c-6e86″]
When CEO Tom Falk, who accepted this year’s Catalyst Award on behalf of his company’s diversity initiative, first began to champion diversity and inclusion as a business priority in 2008, he asked regional heads around the world to share lists of people they were sponsoring for senior roles—and when the lists were composed of men who looked a lot like their regional head, he challenged them to think about talent differently.
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Shell’s global heavy oil team is 33% female compared to an industry average of just 11%! This is the result of 2013 Catalyst Canada Honours Champion Lorraine Mitchelmore’s focus on identifying and developing diverse talent from “the get go.” As Canada Country Chair and Global EVP for Heavy Oil, Lorraine acts as a role model for men and women at Shell, including being transparent about how she prioritizes “being there for her family and being there for her company.”

What can organizations and individuals do to create a more inclusive work place? This:

Hold yourself and your team accountable. Set goals around diversity and inclusion—and link meeting them to performance reviews and compensation.
Seek out growth opportunities when it comes to identifying and developing new talent. Do you have a “type” when it comes to hiring, mentoring and promoting? It’s important to identify your own blind spots and address them.
Ask new questions. The evidence is in: Having more women in leadership is good for business. Instead of “What can women do to get ahead?” and “Why aren’t more qualified women applying?” ask, “What is my company doing to make that possible?” and “Where are we looking for candidates?”
Don’t wait. Good leaders take deliberate steps to make positive change.
Attract mission-driven women and socially conscious millennials by highlighting your company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility.
Find a role model—and be one. Women need more role models in senior leadership; our research tells us you can’t be what you can’t see.
Raise good kids. Whether you’re a parent, aunt, uncle or close friend, everyone has a role to play in raising children with strong values who model inclusive behaviour.

Alex Johnston leads Catalyst Canada and is responsible for shaping strategy for Catalyst’s continued growth and member engagement in Canada. Catalyst is the leading global non-profit organization expanding opportunities for women and business. It has operations in the United States, Canada, Europe, India, Australia and Japan, and more than 700 member organizations.