Six in ten chief executives in Canada consider women's advancement highly important to the continued success of their organizations, according to a joint report by The Conference Board of Canada and Catalyst, released today at "Maximizing Women's Talent: Organizational Strategies for Success," a conference held today in Toronto.
Closing the Gap: Women's Advancement in Corporate and Professional Canada, the first large-scale study of its kind, reveals the varying perspectives of senior women and chief executives on what holds women back from the top. Women pinpoint male stereotyping of their abilities as the biggest barrier, while chief executives place women's lack of line experience at the top of the list. Both consider women's family responsibilities the second most important factor. However, chief executives are nearly three times more likely than women to name "not being in the pipeline long enough" as a barrier, while women are three times more likely to attribute "exclusion from informal networks" as the bar to their advancement.
"These barriers to women's advancement are, for the most part, not intentional. What's holding women back are the unexamined assumptions, the outmoded practices, and the undone policies and programs. We found chief executives to be aware of the importance of women's advancement-now they need to focus on organizational culture and process," says Catalyst President Sheila Wellington.
Chief executives were asked to identify the three most critical areas of skill and experience required of senior executives within their organization, as well as any areas where they saw development needs specific to women. "Women are perceived as having important interpersonal skills-being a team player, a good communicator, and demonstrating business development abilities," says Judith MacBride-King, Associate Director of Research with the Conference Board's Centre for Management Effectiveness, and co-author of the study. "Chief executives want general management skills and experience, such as leadership, networking, and the ability to demonstrate results—36 percent feel women lack these skills."
Both chief executives and high-level women report progress in the numbers of women in senior positions. "But, they differ in just how much progress has been made. About three-quarters of the chief executives believe women's opportunities have improved 'greatly' or 'somewhat' in the past five years, but fewer women—56 percent of the senior corporate and professional women-agree," points out Bickley Townsend, co-author of the report and Senior Vice-President of New Ventures at Catalyst. "Chief executives and senior women are both optimistic regarding the future growth of women in senior positions—but they also diverge on the rate of that change." While chief executives estimate that women already hold 13 percent of senior management positions and will hold 24 percent in five years, executive women put their present number at 9 percent, rising to 14 percent in five years.
Executive women credit two key strategies for their success: consistently exceeding performance expectations and developing a style that male managers are comfortable with. Other success strategies cited by women include gaining line-management experience, seeking out difficult or highly visible assignments, and having an influential
mentor. Several key approaches for balancing work and personal life were also cited, including hiring domestic services, trading or curtailing their personal interests, and relying on a supportive spouse/partner.
Chief executives and senior women in the survey agree that increased compensation and greater advancement opportunities are the two top reasons women may consider leaving a job. In addition, significantly more senior women than chief executives cited the importance of intellectual stimulation and a desire for compatible organizational values as reasons for leaving a job.
"A key challenge for employers today is to ensure that they have the policies and practices in place to attract, retain and motivate the top talent-both women and men-they need to help them succeed in the global marketplace. The study and the conference undertaken by the Conference Board and Catalyst provides important insights for leaders and for women aspiring to senior positions," says Jim Nininger, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Conference Board of Canada.
The study is based on a survey of over 400 high-level women, nearly 200 chief executives in Canada's largest corporations and professional firms, and in-depth interviews with selected senior women and chief executives. The average woman participant is 40-44 years old and earns between $100,000-$200,000. Thirty-five per cent hold professional degrees and 87 per cent provide half or more of their family incomes. The study is modeled after a 1996 Catalyst study of CEOs and high-level women in the U.S.
The Conference Board of Canada is an independent, not-for-profit applied research institution. Its mission is to help its members anticipate and respond to the increasingly changing global economy.
Catalyst is the nonprofit research and advisory organization that works with business for women's advancement. It is supported by leading corporations, professional firms, and private foundations.