British Columbia

Women still struggle for seat at boardroom table, report finds

Women make up only 19 per cent of executive boards at British Columbia's top 50 companies.

'Change happens slowly unfortunately,' says Vancity CEO Tamara Vrooman

Women are underrepresented in company boardrooms and in executive positions, according to a new report. (iStock)

Even in 2017, it is still rare to find women in British Columbia's executive boardrooms, according to a report examining the executive make-up of the province's top 50 companies.

The annual scorecard, conducted by Minerva BC, an organization that promotes women in business, looks at diversity at 50 of B.C.'s top-grossing companies.

It found only 19 per cent of board positions were held by women at those companies.

Furthermore, nine of the 50 companies had no women on their boards, and no women of Indigenous descent held executive positions.

Tamara Vrooman, president and CEO of Vancity, a funding partner on the project, said there are some positive measures in the report — which has been conducted every year since 2015 — namely, that at least nine of the companies have advanced the number of women in executive management positions in that time.

But the pace of change troubles her.

"At the current rate of change, it will take us 75 years to achieve gender equality in boardrooms and in the top 50 companies in our region," Vrooman said.

"When I look at the hope and promise of many young women who are graduating from high school and think it will be their entire careers and then some if we move at the current place. Clearly more needs to be done."

Improve retention

Tina Strehlke, the programs director at Minerva BC, says a key barrier to getting women in leadership positions is retaining women within the workforce.

She said Canada has accomplished a lot when it comes to gender parity in education; it currently ranks first in the world, the report said. But when it comes to women's participation in high-skilled jobs, and wage equality, Canada drops to 35th.

Some of the reasons women remove themselves from the workforce include the fact they continue to do a disproportionate amount of unpaid labour like child care, caring for elderly parents, or housework.

Corporations that are sensitive to these needs, who put in policies that acknowledge child care or parental leave, can help retain female employees and create a better workspace for both men and women.

Workplace culture

Many of the women on the corporate panel identified another issue: toxic workplace culture.

It's a topic of renewed interest after sexual harassment allegations levelled at Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein led women from many other industries to reveal extensive sexual harassment, bullying and abuse in the workplace.

I left because my soul couldn't withstand [it]- Teara Fraser, Pilot

Teara Fraser, who is Métis and worked in northern Canada as a pilot, said workplace culture had a huge effect on why she left her chosen career.

"As a young Indigenous woman with a pilot's license, [I was] so excited about my new life and my new world [where] only 2.3 per cent of airline pilots in Canada are women," said Fraser, who was a single mother at the time.

"I didn't leave that [career] because of my caregiving responsibilities ... I left because of the culture and environment I was in. I left because my soul couldn't withstand [it]."

Vrooman recounted an incident early in her career that left her feeling shaken and alone. After she gave a presentation she had spent hours preparing, an older male colleague patted her on the head — in front of the room — saying she would be "forgiven" for making such a poor analysis.

She said speaking to other people who supported her helped push her forward in her career.

"Change happens slowly unfortunately but big change can happen with a lot of small actions," she said. "I think we need to stand up for ourselves, each other and gather our collective strength."


Roshini Nair is a writer for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at