Glass ceiling remains unbroken

ceilingLast week Statistics Canada released data regarding Canadian households that indicated that women continue to take post-secondary education at a higher rate than men. As of this most recent report, there are now more women than men between the ages of 25 and 64 who have post-secondary education.

The success of Canadian women in post-secondary education is old news. StatsCan shows that way back in 1992 women had already surpassed men in achieving university degrees. They’ve been doing this for more than 20 years! In fact, the accumulated graduates now outnumber their male colleagues. The fact that studies like this make the news and is trumpeted as a sign of women’s progress is great, but it is also surprising to me. Despite academic success, women in executive roles continue to lag far behind in the boardrooms of Canada.

Women’s participation in the workforce grew quickly in the 20th century. This growth, however, began with entry-level jobs and women have largely remained in support roles. Females comprise only six per cent of the CEOs on the Financial Post’s list of Canada’s largest 500 companies, according to Catalyst, the leading research group that has studied the gender inequality issue for decades. Despite strong representation of women at lower levels in organizations, they are simply not present at senior levels or in board of directors positions.

Last month, Ontario introduced a plan to encourage publicly-traded companies to begin complying with gender equity rules, or explain why they are unable to do so. This follows a report released by the Conference Board of Canada on May 15 that showed evidence of large scale apathy over the gender equality issue. Surveys have indicated that, when asked whether organizations should try to increase the number of women in their senior ranks, only 42 per cent of senior men agreed. These are the men who sit at the top and have the authority to make a difference. The Conference Board recommended that women’s advancement become an item of policy, that women be identified as emerging leaders, and that barriers to advancement be removed. Ontario’s provincial government’s initiative is to get this process started.

So what happened to those women graduates from 1992 who were the first to outnumber men? Are they represented in positions of power? Mostly, no. So why do we keep heralding the smart women who leave campus without following their journey through the glass hallways of our corporations? The success shown by women in school is not so much an indicator of society’s gender adjustment as it is an indicator of individual women’s merit. There are few barriers for women to learn at university. But once they get out into the real world, their personal skill, education and qualifications become less relevant to their success.

The University of Denver Women’s College predicts that at the current rate, women will not be on equal standing with men in the boardrooms of America until 2085. This means that my great-granddaughter will have equal opportunity with my great-grandson. This is unacceptable.

So enough with the hoopla that women have broken the glass ceiling. It’s still there. Despite achieving more, learning more, and performing just as well as men, women have discovered that the corporate ladder, for them, is actually a slow-moving glass escalator.

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