What’s the real story on the glass ceiling?

posted September 23rd, 2011 by Janet Graham - 2 Comments

In August 2011, The Conference Board of Canada issued a press release which included the following statements:


“The presence of Canadian women in senior management positions has stalled in the past two decades. Between 1987 and 2009, the proportion of women in senior management has changed little—men are still more than twice as likely to hold a senior executive position, according to a Conference Board report released today.


‘Women have made great progress in many areas of society over the past 22 years, but not in the ranks of senior management positions. Now that the rousing early days of feminism are behind us, perhaps we have become complacent about the success of women in senior management,’ said Anne Golden, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Conference Board of Canada.


‘Increasing women’s representation at the senior level is not simply a matter of justice or fairness—although it is that. And it is not simply a “women’s issue.” Companies that fail to integrate women’s perspectives into their high-level decision making risk losing market share, competitive advantage, and profits. We already know what to do. Now we simply need to do it.’


The analysis is based on Statistics Canada data on labour force participation rates and representation rates in senior leadership roles for both men and women over the 22-year period from 1987 to 2009. Statistics Canada defines senior management as executives above the director level, excluding presidents and chief executive officers.


In 2009, women made up almost 48 per cent of the Canadian labour force. Yet only 0.32 per cent (26,000 of more than 8 million working women) held senior management positions. While the absolute number of women in senior management rose from less than 15,000 in 1987, females are still significantly underrepresented at the senior executive level compared to males. In 2009, 0.64 per cent of all men employed (56,200 of the 8.8 million men employed in the Canadian labour force) held senior management positions.


Since 1987, men have consistently been two to three times more likely than women to hold senior management positions.


Similar results are found at the middle-management levels—which includes directors and managers—that frequently provide the feeder pool for future executives. Men have consistently been 1.5 times more likely than women to hold middle management positions over the past 22 years. In 2009, 911,000 men were working in middle management positions (over 10 per cent of all men employed) compared to 543,000 women (7 per cent of all women employed).


‘Between 1987 and 2009, the proportion of women in middle management rose by about 4 per cent. At that rate, it will take approximately 151 years before the proportion of men and women at the management level is equal,’ said Golden.”


(You can find the full report by starting at the following link: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/documents.aspx?did=4416)


In yesterday’s Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente wrote a column with respect to these findings which she titled:  “What glass ceiling? It’s the mommy track”  If you haven’t read it already, you can find it by following this link:  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/what-glass-ceiling-its-the-mommy-track/article2175013/


I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing her position by providing the following excerpt from the column.


“Oddly enough, the report (Women in Senior Management: Where Are They?) makes no mention of two other factors that might conceivably be relevant: “motherhood” and “children.” And that’s too bad, because motherhood and children explain much more about this subject than every other factor combined. All the barriers cited by the Conference Board report undoubtedly exist. But the overwhelming explanation for the relatively small number of women in senior management is that women – especially those with children – choose not to be there.”


I had intended to refer a question to the “Babes” asking for their take on the lack of progress of women in the workplace cited in the Conference Board report and I will do so. However, many women asked me yesterday whether I had seen Wente’s column and what my perspective was on it and they shared their own very passionate views of it, so I decided to write this post and solicit your thoughts.


My own perspective is that Wente’s explanation is far too simple!! I believe one of the key reasons women opt to leave the work place “to pursue other opportunities” when they have children or are terminated or have achieved a measure of financial success is that they are tired of fighting for their rightful place in an environment that is not welcoming to them.  And my opinion is not based on any judgement around the merits of being a full-time mother or a working mother or whether men don’t find themselves in similar circumstances at times with fewer options given societal biases against them opting out of the traditional workplace.  It is based on my own personal observations of the workplace and the choices many working women have made.


I believe this is the real elephant in the room. It is never fully acknowledged in any of these discussions. Given the choice between being in place where you feel welcome and acknowledged for your role and contribution or fighting every single day to be allowed your rightful place at the table and being seen for your actual and potential contribution where do you choose to spend your valuable and limited time? In any discussion of this issue, this factor has to be given its due.


Of course, this is simply my opinion…it is not the “truth”!!


What is your take on the lack of progress cited in the Conference Board report? Please share your comments in the Comments section below or by email directly to me (which with your permission I will share in this space.) I would love to hear your perspective!!


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2 Responses to “What’s the real story on the glass ceiling?”

Comment from Mary
Time September 23, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I completely agree with you on the choices women make relating more to their family related priorities. As a new Canadian with an MBA degree and the required skills to succeed in the corporate world (if I do say so myself :)) I am finding that the hustle of fighting for a chance to be heard and accepted in the workplace is slowly pushing me away from the same place. I have contemplated starting a cleaning business or some other business that whilst it won’t utilize my education and experience will allow me to be with the people whom I care for the most and who care and appreciate me in return: I have seen the one ( yes ONE) woman executive at my workplace and I have no intention of putting myself through what she does- nor do I have the support system to allow me to do so.

Comment from Judi
Time September 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm

I read Magaret Wente’s article and I have seen many women reach ‘C’ suite or executive ranks, but I have to agree that they are fighting for their place everyday. In terms of Wente’s observations of women choosing part time roles – that may work in some fields, and I can’t disagree that many smart, well educated women make this choice, but I don’t think there is any ‘part-time’ on Bay St or Wall St. and most of the people who aspire to this type of career are probably not looking for part-time. But if there is no glass ceiling, why are ‘the babes’ having so much trouble moving the needle? Can we do more to help each other?

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