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The Rise of Tiger Business Women

October 10, 2011

Updated September 13, 2012

At present rates, it will take about 150 years before women and men are equally likely to reach middle management. And a century and a half is an eyeblink compared with the eternity it would take to achieve this benchmark in senior management.

Tiger Business Women.


Are we talking about some distant planet, where females have transcended the struggle for equality in the workforce?

No. They exist on Planet Earth. (Stay tuned for imminent sightings).

The opening quotation refers to Canada, the big-small country (geography versus a small population of 34 million) that produces yawns abroad, stereotyped by red-coated Mounties, oversized moose and supposedly nice, mild-mannered people.

Ann Golden, CEO of the Conference Board of Canada, one of the country’s leading research organizations, made the statement not too long ago. Golden’s comments appeared in an op-ed on September 6, 2011, in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.

Using Statistics Canada data, the Conference Board’s analysis revealed that in 2009 men were twice as likely to be in senior management positions as women. That pattern has held rock steady for over 20 years; the same applies to those in middle management.

Golden argues that organizations with the greatest percentages of women in senior management are more innovative and profitable. Citing a 2004 Catalyst study, she points out that these companies earned a 35% higher return on equity and 34% greater return to shareholders. The same applies to boards of directors with a better balance of women.

Inclusiveness has its rewards.

So what about the United States?

Here are some recent stats:

• Between 1995 and 2010, the percentage of women on Fortune 500 boards of director rose from 9.6% to 15.7%,
• The same applied to those in corporate officer positions,
• Women in executive officer positions increased from 13.5% to 14.4%,
• During this period, the share of women in the labor force remained at about 46%,
• For managerial and professional positions, women rose from 49.3% to 51.5%,


Pretty pathetic, wouldn’t you agree?

Yes, Virginia, there is a glass ceiling, but it’s made out of hockey glass. Good luck breaking it!

Contrast this dire scene from North America with what The Economist describes as the Tiger Business Woman (Schumpeter – The Daughter Rises, August 27, 2011).

Where do these awesome creatures dwell?

You’ll find Tiger Business Women in China, India, Turkey, Brazil, Finland and Norway. One vignette provided by The Economist is of Zhand Yin, the oldest of eight children of a former low-level Red Army officer, who was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution. Yin is now one of the world’s richest women who began her road to riches by seeing an opportunity in recycling paper. Her company Nine Dragons is one of the world’s biggest recyclers of paper.

Granted, the numbers of Tiger Business women are less than ideal, but they’re an improvement from North America. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, 65% of graduates are women. In their Harvard Business Review book Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets, Sylvia Hewlett and Ripa Rashid explain the huge challenges that women face in advancing in emerging economies. The cultural challenges can be much more daunting than those in Canada or the U.S.

There’s nothing more destructive when it comes to competing in a tough global economy than smugness and hubris. Canadians and Americans possess lots of both. We don’t seem to “get it” when it comes to building our respective human capital through a balanced gender approach. And it applies to not just the business world and government, but perhaps most notably our political institutions where it is overwhelmingly a man’s world.

As Canadians, we live in a global economy where the quality of our workforce is the primary basis for competitiveness. We also live in a country that is quickly moving from perennially high unemployment to chronic shortages of skilled labour. Why would we choose to under-utilize the talent of a major portion of our population?
– Ann Golden

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2011 6:15 pm

    Jim, kudos for this blog! Well said, well timed!

    • October 11, 2011 7:01 pm

      Thanks Alcide. Topics like this have been getting submerged as a result of the economy.

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