Corporate Canada has a lot to learn from its few female CEOs

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International Women’s Day 2019 is upon us, with its call to combat gender inequality and bring more women to the table across myriad sectors. It’s a valiant and noble aim, but in the corporate world, there’s an ocean to cross before that goal is met.

Only a small handful of women — 27, soon to be 28 — are CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.

In Canada, the number’s even smaller. Of the 100 most influential companies within the S&P/TSX Composite, only one is helmed by a woman: Nancy Southern, who runs Calgary-based ATCO and Canadian Utilities.

That’s not just an outrage; it’s embarrassing in a country in which women make up almost half of the workforce. And regulators like the Ontario Securities Commission have taken notice, with OSC Chair Maureen Jensen urging corporate Canada to make gender diversity a priority in boardrooms and executive suites.

But rather than another rant — I did that earlier this week — let’s read a bit about some of the accomplished, kick-ass Canadian women who have managed to defy the odds and smash the glass ceiling. Maybe their impressive bios will inspire corporate Canada to take action on gender equality — now.

Linda Hasenfratz: Just last year, Hasenfratz, the CEO of Guelph, Ontario auto-parts manufacturer Linamar, was named Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the year and was also named to the Order of Canada. She’s overseen double-digit growth and expanded the company’s reach into Asia, North America and Europe. In May 2017, the company had its 23rd consecutive quarter of double-digit operating earnings growth.

Nancy Southern: The Calgary-born Southern has been CEO of her family’s firm, ATCO, and Canadian Utilities since 2000. She’s been with ATCO for 35 years, served as a director at Shell Canada and the Bank of Montreal, and was inducted as a companion into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame in 2017.

Dawn Farrell: Farrell has helmed TransAlta, formerly Calgary Power, since 2012. She’s the second highest-paid female CEO in Canada, after Hasenfratz, and her business experience spans finance, business development, strategic planning, commercial operations, energy marketing and sustainable development.

Gillian Riley: Tangerine replaced one female CEO, Brenda Rideout, with another late last year. Riley has held numerous executive and senior leadership positions in retail, small business, commercial banking and operations groups.

Laurie Schultz: It may come as no surprise that tech firm ACL was voted one of the best Canadian companies to work for. Schultz became its president and CEO in 2011, and since then has successfully pivoted the company from hard sales of software to a software-as-a-service business with more than 300 employees.

These are just a handful of the smart, dynamic women leading Canadian companies. As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day, here’s hoping their ranks swell substantially in the years to come.