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NEW research reveals gender gap in Canadian industry

Monday, March 5, 2012  
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Despite the strong business case for women in leadership roles, the number of women holding influential positions across the cpg/retail industry in Canada has stagnated  and women perceive a significant gender bias at work, according to a new report by the Network of Executive Women.

"Women, Leadership and the Power of the Purse: Gender Diversity in the Canadian CPG Retail Industry,” outlines a number of complex barriers that have been hampering women’s advancement into leadership roles, including prejudice toward women’s abilities; lack of access to networking and mentoring opportunities; a persistent gender gap in wages and salaries; and the reality that the majority of women in Canada continue to bear primary responsibilities for child rearing and family life, a situation few employers are addressing through work/life policies.

"A dramatic change in corporate culture is needed to overcome these barriers, and that requires a consensus among today’s leaders — male and female — that change is necessary,” noted NEW CEO and President Joan Toth.

Eighty per cent of consumer purchases in Canada — everything from groceries to automo­biles — were made or influenced by women in 2011, the report noted. This behavior serves as the foundation of the business case for putting women in positions of leadership in the consumer products and retail industry.

However, only 8.9 percent of the CEOs and 20.8 percent of the senior officers in the Canadian retail industry are women. In the non-durable goods manufacturing sector, which includes consumer products, the share is even less: Only 2.2 percent of CEOs and 15.2 percent of senior officers are women.

"Most industry executives (men included) agree that women executives have special insights when it comes to female consumers,” Toth said. "But for a variety of reasons — some understandable and some not — women are still a relative rarity in the industry’s boardrooms and c-suites.”

Perceived bias

The report, based on interviews with Canadian cpg/retail industry executives, responses to a NEW survey of more than 400 cpg/retail industry players, and other industry research and sources, found women view their value in their companies much differently than men do  and believe there is a significant gender bias affecting their careers.

More than eight in 10 (82 percent) of the men responding to the online survey conducted by NEW in December 2011 and January 2012 believe men and women working in the industry receive equal pay for equal work. Fewer than half  49 percent  of the women answering the survey agreed their gender receives equal pay for equal work.

At the same time, more than half (52 percent) of the men agreed their gender has helped their career, only one-third (32 percent) of the women thought so. Indeed, a much higher percentage of female respondents (40 percent) believe qualified women in the Canadian cpg/retail industry are "often bypassed for promotion in favor of less qualified men,” according to the survey results. Just 17 percent of the male respondents agreed with that statement.

Women and men also view opportunity at their own companies differently. Nearly all   93.5 percent  of the men said their company’s culture is supportive of women. Much fewer  84 percent   of the women believed that to be true.

While nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of the men responding said women are well represented in their companies’ highest leadership roles, only 60 percent of the women say their gender is well represented at the highest levels.

"Someday there will be no need for the Network of Executive Women. Our mission to advance, attract and retain women in the consumer products and retail industry — will seem outmoded, even quaint,” Toth said. "But as this report on gender diversity in the Canadian consumer products and retail industry shows, that day is a long way off.”

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