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Where are all the women?


A new report by the Network of Executive Women (NEW) Canada has found women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in the consumer packaged goods/retail sector.

The authors of Women, Leadership and the Power of the Purse: Gender diversity in the Canadian CPG Retail Industry suggest “a dramatic change in corporate culture” is required to overcome barriers to women’s advancement in the retail sector.

Some of the key challenges facing women include prejudice toward women’s abilities, lack of access to networking and mentoring opportunities, a persistent gender gap in wages and salaries and women’s continued responsibility for child-rearing.

Although women influence more than 80 per cent of purchases in Canada, they account for just 8.9 per cent of CEOs;15 per cent of board directors; and one-fifth of senior managers in the retail industry.

“Perhaps most startling is that we are not making progress, that the number of women in management positions has stagnated,” says Michele Hardinge, co-chair of NEW Canada and senior vice-president of fresh food for Walmart Canada.

Women leaders good for business

The report cites multiple studies suggesting diverse leadership is good for business, leading to more innovation, better response to consumer demands and greater financial returns.

It highlights industry best practices, where retailers are attempting to address some of the more nuanced challenges facing women’s advancement.

“A critical factor is the overt communication by senior leadership that they are willing to do things to help women be successful in their careers,” says Hardinge at Walmart.

Loblaw Companies Ltd., for example, has formalized its efforts to consult women managers and employees on new product designs and marketing initiatives.

And in 2010, Walmart Canada launched its Women in Retail (WIR) program, with a goal to develop and advance more women into positions of leadership by engaging in talks about diversity more openly, identifying candidates for promotion and offering education and training to help women advance.

Sixty per cent of the company’s associates and nearly half of the company’s managers are now women.

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