Banks lead on gender equity, but there’s room for improvement: DBRS

By James Langton | March 8, 2021 | Last updated on March 8, 2021
2 min read
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Compared with other large companies in Canada, the big banks may be at the front of the pack when it comes to gender equity, but they have work to do to reach parity in their executive suites and boardrooms.

According to a new report from DBRS Ltd., women comprise over half of the big banks’ employees, but they still only account for 34% of executive roles and 41% of board roles. Also, none of the Big Six has a female CEO.

While the banks aren’t quite at gender parity, they’re doing much better than the average Canadian public company.

For TSX-listed companies overall, only about 17% of executives are female and 19% of board members are women, the report said.

“Although the six large Canadian banks are leading the charge in improving female representation and pay equity in the country, there still is a long way to go in terms of enshrining these efforts so that they become normal practice,” the report noted.

Given the prospect of increased scrutiny on gender equity from both regulators and investors, DBRS said, banks “will face reputational risk and the possibility of future regulatory pressure if they fail to progress in this area.”

Globally, the big Canadian banks come off relatively well, the report noted.

“According to Bloomberg’s [Gender Reporting Framework (GEI)], the six large Canadian banks score better than the Australian and U.S. bank averages on attracting, retaining, and developing women into senior leadership positions,” the report said.

The GEI framework measures companies in five key areas pillars: female leadership, gender pay parity, inclusive culture, harassment policies and pro-women branding, the report explained.

On that scale, the big Canadian banks generally score slightly better than their U.S. counterparts, and are on par with the big banks in Australia, the report said.

In terms of gender pay parity, DBRS said that the Canadian banks are again outscoring the U.S. banks, but “they are falling behind some of the large Australian banks.”

There’s also a good deal of variance among the Canadian banks themselves.

According to the report, Royal Bank of Canada led the way with women accounting for 46% of its executive positions, while Bank of Montreal (BMO) was at the back of the pack at just 30.8%.

In terms of board seats, the report showed that CIBC was tops with 47% female directors, while Bank of Montreal ranked last among the Big Six at 35.7%.

With the Canadian workforce generally, the report noted that issues “around a stagnant wage gap, lack of promotion opportunities, parental leave, and work flexibility are all yet to be fully addressed.”

While the unequal effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on women in the workforce “has shed a sobering light on these issues”, the report said that “it also creates an opportunity for employers, banks in particular, to design a future work place that sets women up for success and equity from the start of their careers.”

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James Langton

James is a senior reporter for and its sister publication, Investment Executive. He has been reporting on regulation, securities law, industry news and more since 1994.