Canada’s first female bank chair says more women are headed for the top job, but Kathleen “Katie” Taylor couldn’t predict when a woman will be named chief executive officer of a major chartered bank.
“I’m not much of a predictor on those sorts of things. I think it really depends,” Taylor said in an interview after a speech to the Canadian Club Tuesday on the merits of corporate diversity.
Taylor broke a glass ceiling of her own when she was named chair of Royal Bank of Canada’s board last August, the first woman to lead a board of directors at a major bank. She took over the job on Jan. 1.
But it appears Canada’s biggest banks are not yet ready for a woman chief executive.
Four of Canada’s five largest banks, including RBC, Toronto Dominion, CIBC and Bank of Nova Scotia, recently announced succession plans for their chief executive officers. All of them involved men replacing other men.
The shuffling created more room for women in the senior executive ranks, Taylor noted, citing Jennifer Tory’s elevation to group head, personal and commercial banking at RBC, the job Dave McKay held before he was named CEO to replace Gordon Nixon.
“Having a great amount of diversity at the top of an organization is just as important as who the CEO is,” Taylor said.
Asked if there are barriers to women getting the top job at Canada’s six largest banks, Taylor said: “I’m not sure there is a barrier so much as it’s a work in progress. And that we have to view it along a continuum of a journey where that would be a big first for sure.”
Taylor’s own breakthrough came amid growing pressure on corporate Canada to promote more women to the highest ranks.
The Ontario Securities Commission, Canada’s largest stock market regulator, recommended in January that publicly traded companies be required to disclose their targets for promoting women or explain why they won’t.
In June, federal status of women minister Kellie Leitch pledged to push corporate Canada to boost the number of women on their boards to 30 per cent – nearly double the current level -- within five years.
RBC already meets that standard with five women on its 15 member board, including Taylor. But the average at most major companies is much lower.
Women hold just 15 per cent of corporate directorships according to the Canadian Board Diversity Council, the luncheon heard earlier.
Taylor said she’s a big supporter of the OSC’s “comply or explain” initiative. But she’s not prepared to back quotas, at least “not yet.”
She said corporate Canada has a strong track record of taking its governance responsibilities seriously.
“I think the diversity agenda is capable of the same type of progress,” she said.
Canada’s economic success is directly tied to becoming more inclusive in the workplace, Taylor said in her speech.
With 80 per cent of real economic growth occurring in emerging countries, Canada’s highly diverse population could help develop those export markets, she said.
Taylor drew heavily on her 20 years’ experience as an executive with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Inc., the last three years as CEO, helping build its international brand.
Whether it was hiring a Russian concierge in Geneva or a Persian director of protocol in Washington, the hotel aimed to please the international business traveler, she said.
At RBC, hiring recent immigrants from China is helping the bank reach out to the 1 million Chinese people living in Canada and also build markets in Asia, she said.
Women make up half the workforce, nearly two thirds of university graduates and just over half of post-graduate students, she said.
Out of a population of 35 million, some five million are visible minorities and by 2031 almost 30 per cent of Canadians will be foreign-born, she said.
Meanwhile, the Baby Boom generation, which makes up 30 per cent of today’s workforce, is starting to retire paving the way for new hires.
But women are still selecting themselves out of the top job for reasons that are unclear, Taylor said. At a recent retreat for women executives, she said all 40 women participating put up their hands when asked if they’d like to sit on a corporate board. Only four said they want to be a CEO.
“That’s not good. That’s not good at all. That’s like wanting to join the women’s national hockey team but you’re not a great skater,” Taylor said.
As a mother of three, Taylor has said she had to make tough choices along the way.
Mentors and sponsors in the workplace are both essential to getting ahead, she said. “I can remember lots of times in my young career with little kids and a busy life, and thinking really this promotion is going to make a lot more work. (And your mentor or sponsor says) ‘You can do it and I’ll be here to help you.’ Those are important words to hear from the people around you.”
She also encourages woman to remain focused on their long term goal. It gets easier as time goes by, she said. “Seven years ago I was a mother of three teens. Now, I’m not.”