Readers may have noticed the top billing the Toronto Star accorded the country’s highest paid chief executive officers earlier this week.
In what has become an annual ritual, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives combed through corporate filings to score the country’s top 100 corporate earners.
The sums are stratospheric, as expected. (John Chen at BlackBerry Ltd. tops the list at $89.7 million.)
And the gulf between the average pay of the top 100 CEOs and the earnings of the average worker is incomprehensibly vast.
Here’s another characteristic of our top guns: they are almost universally male.
The exceptions are Linda Hasenfratz at Linamar Corp., the manufacturing firm founded by her father 50 years ago, and Dawn Farrell, who moved into the CEO’s chair at TransAlta Corp. four years ago.
So, here it is, to paraphrase the prime minister, 2016: the representation of women leaders hasn’t budged.
Hugh Mackenzie, who authored the report, adds that, of the list of companies on the S&P/TSX 60, not one is helmed by a woman.
You might well ask: how can that possibly be?
In Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, erstwhile journalist Chrystia Freeland wrote astutely of this exclusion. “What’s especially striking about this absence of women at the top is that it runs so strongly counter to the trend of the rest of society . . . . If you aren’t a plutocrat, you are increasingly likely to have a female boss, live in a household where the main breadwinner is female, and study in a class where the top pupils are girls.”
She’s Chrystia Freeland, minister of international trade now, and as such proof positive that change can come.
But someone needs to usher in that change.
A decider, if you will, à la Trudeau.
In her book, Freeland muses why this has not happened in the corporate world, despite all statistical evidence that it should have. “My own suspicion is that most plutocrats privately believe women don’t make it to the top because something is missing.”
She recounts an encounter with an unnamed private equity billionaire. The problem wasn’t that women weren’t as smart or as numerate as men, he said. (Well, duh!). “But they still didn’t have the royal jelly,” Freeland writes. She quotes Mr. Billionaire: “They don’t have the killer instinct. They don’t want to fight. They won’t go for the jugular.”
He described a subordinate who cried when he told her she had made a mistake. “ ‘You can’t do that and win,’ he said.”
There’s an entire column to be written on the subject of corporate crying, so let’s set that aside for another time. What Freeland concludes is that women are stymied by perception. The book was written in 2012, by the way, should this encounter sound more like 1980.
Critics of this theory have a wealth of information to draw upon. There are women who “off-ramp” to have families or who self-select career trajectories that deliberately keep them out of the C suite or who purposefully stay away from, say, the world of finance. Etcetera.
None of this accounts for the sorry state of affairs. The S&P/TSX 60 presents itself as the “Canadian component of Standard & Poor’s flagship S&P Global 1200 index.”
Leading Canadian companies in leading industries.
In a way, our corporate face to the world.
All absent women in the top job.
Consider the ways in which corporate Canada could one day be different, or let’s say better. Stronger management. Risk aversion.
Recall Nicholas Kristoff writing in The New York Times, post financial meltdown: “Would we be in the same mess today if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters?”
Many have uttered versions of that quip.
Studies have shown that greater gender diversity equates to fewer instances of corporate scandal and shareholder revolt.
What we’ll never know is whether the disconnect between worker and ruler pay would have become so pronounced in a corporate environment where gender equity was the norm. In 1965, executive pay in the U.S. outpaced that of the average worker by 20 to 1. It took around two decades for that to double. Then the wheels came off. CEO pay is beyond all reason and sense. And there’s no turning the clock back on that.