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Canada’s largest corporations stand to lose even more women in leadership roles over the next decade if action isn’t taken, the Prosperity Project says.

The registered charity’s third annual report on gender diversity and leadership, released Wednesday, shows a drop in the percentage of women in the pipeline to senior management roles. Moreover, women who are either racialized, disabled, Indigenous or two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and additional sexually or gender diverse (2SLGBTQIA+) lack representation in senior roles.

The paper is based on a November 2022 survey of 98 of Canada’s 500 largest organizations. (The Prosperity Project invited the CEOs of 500 organizations to answer questions on the composition of their boards of directors and senior leadership roles; of those, 402 organizations declined to participate.)

Across respondents in all industries, women made up 34.8% of corporate directors, 32.3% of executive officers, 39.1% of senior management and 42.9% of people in the pipeline to senior management roles.

While women’s representation in corporate director and executive officer roles grew 0.6 and 3.1 percentage points respectively in 2023, these gains were overshadowed by an “alarming” drop — 11.9 points in 2023 — in the proportion of women in the pipeline to these roles, the report said, adding if this trend is not reversed, it threatens to reduce the representation of women in board and executive officer roles in the future.

“Gender equality is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and unless corporate Canada changes course, a generation of Canadian women who are poised to move into leadership roles will disappear,” said Pamela Jeffery, founder and CEO of The Prosperity Project, in a release.

That said, when it comes to representation of racialized women in leadership roles, the outlook is somewhat more positive. Racialized women now hold 11.3% of these roles held by women, up 4.6 points from 6.7% in 2022. 

Women of colour make up 9.4% of women-held leadership roles, up from 6.2% in 2022. Indigenous women and Black women represent 0.3% and 0.9%, respectively, while 2SLGBTQIA+ women and women with disabilities rose slightly to 1% and 1.5%, respectively.

According to the report, most respondents continue to lack women who also identify as either Indigenous, Black, living with one or more disabilities and/or 2SLGBTQIA+ at any of the four leadership levels. However, the majority do have representation in senior management and the pipeline to senior management.

“The Prosperity Project was created to address the fear that women would be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and the results of the most recent survey unfortunately confirm this with the drastic decline of women in pipeline to senior management roles,” Jeffery said in the release.

Of the industries surveyed, financial services, utilities and retail are leading the way with respect to gender parity across the four leadership levels while both the finance and insurance and  utilities sectors have solid representations of women in three of the four senior levels.

The report defines gender parity as 40% to 60% representation of women.