Women of the world, unite
As we celebrate another International Women’s Day today, it’s useful to look at progress made. Women seem to be doing well in hockey and the Paralympic games in Beijing, but in few other venues. According to a study by Toronto law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, in 2021 women held 23.4 percent of board seats among companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, up two percentage points from the previous year. At that rate of increase, it will take another thirteen years for boards to be 50-50 female and male. Growth of female executives in TSE companies has been even more abysmal. At the executive level, women occupy 18.2 percent of positions, up from 17 percent in 2020. According to the Osler survey, that’s hardly any increase since 2015 when it was 15 percent. Annual growth of one percentage point means that executive women and men won’t be in balance until 2053.
I followed this sad spectacle during most of my active career in journalism. During that time I tried to showcase women by creating an annual Fifty Most Powerful Women feature in the late 1990s. I also urged the Ontario Securities Commission to put in place the kind of mandate that exists in Norway where the two sexes must be equal in number. Others have worked even harder and longer at this issue, all to no avail.
I also can’t help but notice when I see newspaper ads with a photo announcing a women’s new role in some organization, that the women are nearly always good looking. It’s as if men are willing to work with a woman as an equal so long as she’s attractive. Homely men make it to the top all the time. Homely women get left behind, apparently. Men also like to keep women down because it reduces the number of candidates for whatever promotion they seek for themselves.
One of the rare times a woman is named CEO occurs when the previous male officeholder was dumped by the board for failing to keep the firm profitable. A woman is thrust into the breech and if she succeeds, great, the company can return to having a man in charge. If she fails, well, what did you expect?
There’s also the issue of talent. Just as homely men make it to the top, so do mediocre men. The day that a mediocre woman is named CEO somewhere will mark real success in this long climb to equality. Now, that would be something to celebrate on International Women’s Day.
A propos of your observations Rod, with respect to this Day two other matters come to mind.
The first is that in Ukraine the people who most quickly sprang to action assembling and organizing humanitarian help were women, while those who suffer most in invasions and war are women and children. Such bitter irony.
Secondly: over a recent period of two years I noticed a pattern in major Canadian and some U.S. newspapers
that when a woman was at the centre of the story, more often than not her age was clearly stated. On the other hand when the story had a man at its centre, his age hardly featured at all.
I was disappointed to learn that when I pointed this out to editors – some of whom agreed to correct this obvious sexism – that six months later nothing had changed.
In the realm of human behaviour, attitudes are the most difficult to change. We need only look at the slow adoption of wearing seatbelts and quitting smoking as two examples. For both of those a period of approximately 20 years passed until widespread acceptance had been reached.
How many more 20-year periods must we endure until men in so many positions of influence and power fully accept that they simply must change their deep-seated negative and exclusionary attitudes towards women? Perhaps by then this Day will not feature as prominently on calendars, in Hallmark cards and sales in florist shops.