March 06, 2009 00:01 ET

Women Still Largely Shut Out From Senior Ranks of FP500 Companies

2008 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the FP500 reveals "a glass half-empty"

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - March 6, 2009) - Despite correlations between strong corporate performance and women in leadership roles, Canadian women continue to be disproportionately underrepresented within Financial Post 500 companies, according to the 2008 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the FP500, released today. These findings come at a time when the global economy is facing its greatest challenges in decades, and suggest that corporations should be tapping into a wider range of talent at the most senior levels.

The 2008 Catalyst Census found that while the number of female corporate officers grew by almost two percentage points over the last two years (a larger increase than that seen in the four years between 2002 and 2006), women hold less than 17% (16.9%) of corporate officer positions; only a little over 11% (11.4%) of senior leadership line roles; and led only six percent of FP500 companies. These numbers are in stark contrast to those that show women representing close to half of the labour force; almost 40% of managerial positions; and earning the majority of university degrees.

On balance, we're seeing more women in corporate officer roles, which is encouraging. "But it's still a glass half-empty for companies and for the women and men they employ," said Deborah Gillis, Vice President, North America, Catalyst. "This economic crisis offers an opportunity to focus - both short and long-term - on challenges around sustainability and future business success. So now more than ever, it's critical that Canadian-based companies tap into the full potential of their workforce, which includes a real commitment to advancing talented women to leadership."

According to Catalyst, the pace of change could have been far greater had public companies followed the example set by private companies and crown corporations. Over the last six years, there has been virtually no increase in the number of women holding influential leadership positions at public companies (13.1% in 2002; 13.9% in 2008). Comparatively, the study found an increase in women's representation by almost four percentage points at private companies and over seven percentage points at crown corporations since 2002. These latest numbers show women holding almost 27% of senior officer roles at crown corporations and almost 19% at private companies.

The report cited industry sectors with the highest representation of women corporate officers: accommodation and food services; finance and insurance; and retail trade.

To help corporations tap into the widest range of talent and break down gender barriers that may exist at the most senior levels, the report recommends:

- Ensure an equitable distribution of development opportunities, such as job enrichments, formal mentoring, networking and high-potential programs, and high-visibility assignments.

- Facilitate women's movements into line positions.

- Develop a pipeline of qualified women.

- Require diverse slates of qualified candidates for corporate officer/executive positions.

- Recruit externally (when no qualified internal candidates are available) to ensure qualified women are represented.

For a comprehensive look at the Catalyst Census findings, including a complete list of FP500 recommendations and industry highlights, please visit


The 2008 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the FP500 is a rigorous and precise count of the women in leadership positions in FP500 companies as of June 3, 2008. Catalyst gathered data from public sources, including annual reports, annual information forms, proxy statements, and government databases. To ensure the accuracy of the data, Catalyst provided companies with timely opportunities to confirm the accuracy of their data. In 2008, 479 of the 500 companies (95.8 percent) verified their data.


Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and more than 400 preeminent corporations as members, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women's advancement with the Catalyst Award.

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