Home > Internet > Women, Power and the Media: Women (not) on the Board of Directors and in Executive Management at the Big 10 Canadian Media Companies, 2012

Women, Power and the Media: Women (not) on the Board of Directors and in Executive Management at the Big 10 Canadian Media Companies, 2012

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting my research on telecom, media and internet concentration to several women from Canadian Women in Communication, an organization that strives to “raise the profile” and honour the achievements of women in the telecom, media and technology industries in Canada.

The organization does so through professional development and mentoring programs as well as by creating partnerships with industry, government and other organizations. It also does so, as its website indicates, through “high profile initiatives like Women on Boards”.

These initiatives, and the “Women on Boards” one in particular, hint at what a lot of women who work in these areas already know, as I have learned over the years from casual conversations: the telecom, media and internet industries are notoriously tough ones for women to succeed in, and rise through the ranks to upper-level positions of decision-making authority on Boards of Directors or Executive Management teams. In order to take this beyond casual observations, however, I decided to examine the issue in more detail in preparation for my talk.

With the help of one of my star research assistants on the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, Lianrui Jia, we examined the number of women in Board of Director and Executive Management positions at the “big 10 media companies” in Canada: Bell, Shaw, Rogers, Quebecor, CBC, Postmedia, Cogeco, Telus, Astral and Torstar. What did we find?

In a nutshell, we found that the raison d’etre for CWC is well-founded. Of the 286 Board of Director and Executive Management positions at the big 10 media companies, just less than a quarter (22%) are filled by women. From first to worst, the results are summarized in Table 1, below.

# of Women on Board of Directors (Total # of Directors) Number of Women on Executive Team Total # of Women on BoD & Exec Team (%)
CBC 3 (11) 4 (8) 7 / 19 (37%)
Torstar 4 (13) 4 (11) 8 / 24  (33%)
QMI 3 (8) 4 (14) 7 / 22 (32%)
Rogers 4 (18) 3 (12) 7 / 30  (23%)
BCE Grand Total* 7 (38) 9 (36) 16 / 74  (21.6%)
    BCE 2 (14) 2 (12) 4 / 26   (15%)
    Bell Aliant 3 (10) 2 (7) 5 / 17  (29%)
   Bell Media 2 (14) 5 (17) 7 / 31  (23%)
Cogeco 2 (8) 1 (9) 3 / 17 (18%)
Astral 3 (15) 1 (14) 4 / 29  (14%)
PostMedia 1 (9) 1 (7) 2 / 16  (13%)
Shaw 2 (16) 2 (18) 4 / 34  (12%)
Telus 1 (13) 1 (8) 2 / 21  (11%)
Total 30 (149) (20%) 32 (137) (23%) 62 / 286 (22%)
* Note: Total only includes figures from each of BCE’s subsidiaries, not “grand total” for BCE.
Sources: see below.

A fuller table with a finer breakdown by company and the names of women in Board of Director and Executive Management positions at the big 10 media companies can be found here.

Glass Half-Full or Half Empty?

A panglossian view of the evidence might suggest that things are, if not good, better than the rest of the state of Canadian industries as a whole and slowly improving over time.

Thus, according to research by the women in business advocacy group, Catalyst, the average number of women on Board of Directors at Canadian companies in general is 14.5%. By that measure, things look pretty good at the big 10 telecom, media and internet companies. These entities look good as well relative to the 41% of companies listed on the S&P/TSX that have no women directors at all.

Finally, there are three entities on the list of media enterprises above that stand out as doing quite well, by both Canadian and, as we shall see shortly, global standards: CBC (37% of Directors and Executive Management team are women), Torstar (33%) and Quebecor (32%).

Yet, to continue with such a rose-tinted view would vastly under-state the significance of the problem at hand. For one, the rate of increase of women in director and executive positions, as Catalyst and others show, has been painfully slow.

Second, the number of women in positions of decision-making power and authority pales in comparison to the number of women graduating from universities in Canada, and from journalism and communication programs in particular. For instance, at Carleton University, where I teach, 58% of all currently enrolled undergraduate students are women; 68% of those enrolled in the journalism program are women (see here). In short, the number of high-level opportunities available is far less than the number of educated and skilled women who desire them.

More importantly, conditions within the upper-ranks of the Canadian media stack up poorly globally. As a recent study by the International Women’s Media Foundation (2011), Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media found, there is no shortage of women in the media industries in Canada; just at the top and in key positions where their decisions could determine policies, the allocation of resources, strategy and so forth.

As the Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media observes, women are well represented at “important administrative level of executive editors, bureau chiefs and news directors”, accounting for about 55.1% of such positions. They also make up about half of mid-management level positions, 54% of producers, directors and writers are women, and occupy roughly six-out-of-ten sales, finance and administration positions (pp. 159-160). When it comes to production and design (e.g. photographers, scene designers) and studio production (e.g., sound and lighting), however, women account for only 23.6% and 13.1% of positions, respectively.

Pointedly, however, the Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media states: “Glass ceilings were especially noticeable in Canada, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the United States.” (emphasis mine, p. 11). In short, it is not that women are frozen out of the media industries in Canada, just vastly under-represented in positions of real power and authority.

Comparatively speaking, the fact that women in Canada make up just 20% and 23% of Board of Director and Executive Management positions, respectively, fares well with a global average that is dragged down greatly by conditions in Asia and Africa. Compared to the United States, however, the situation in Canada is slightly less well-off. Roughly the same number of women are in upper-level management positions in both countries (23%). However, there is a significant difference when it comes to women in the boardroom, with roughly a third of directors at US media companies being women, while in Canada the number is 20%.

The situation is worse when we compare the status of women in Canadian media to their counterparts in northern Europe, where women occupy 36% and 37%, respectively, of Director and Executive Management positions. In Eastern Europe, women account for an even higher 33% and 43% of governance and top management positions, respectively (IWMF, 2011, p. 9).

Who Cares? 

There is a ton of reasons why we should care about this state of affairs. For one, there’s the principled question of fairness.

Second, there’s a huge gap in income even for those women who do make it to the top compared to men (IWMF, 2011, p. 161).

Third, there’s a substantial body of literature that suggests that companies with greater representation of women on their board generally do better (see here and here).

Fourth, and from a more specifically political economy of media perspective, while there is a great deal of focus in the literature on questions of representation in media texts, there is very little research on who is and is not making decisions that structure media companies, markets, work and texts to begin with. This is a huge oversight and needs to be filled.

Looking at the media, it is not just the day-to-day operations of media enterprises and the content they produce (operational control), but rather who allocates resources, makes decisions and sets corporate policies that frame everything else to begin with. The latter is known as allocational control and it is a form of structural power.

As this small exercise prompted by my talk with the Canadian Women in Communication two weeks ago suggests, when it comes to this latter kind of power, Canadian women in communication have a long way to go.


International Women’s Media Foundation (2011) Global Report on the Status of Women in News Media. http://iwmf.org/pdfs/IWMF-Global-Report.pdf

Corporate Annual Reports

BCE: http://bce.ca/assets/Uploads/Documents/archivesAnnualReport/BCE/2011/BCEAR2011EN.pdf

Quebecor: http://www.myvirtualpaper.com/doc/Edition-sur-mesure/annualreporten2011/2012051001/#55

Rogers: http://www.rogers.com/web/Rogers.portal?_nfpb=true&_windowLabel=investor_1_1&investor_1_1_actionOverride=%2Fportlets%2Fconsumer%2Finvestor%2FshowGenericFlexibleZoneAction&investor_1_1subAction=showRciSeniorLeadershipAction&_pageLabel=IR_LANDING

Shaw: http://www.shaw.ca/corporate/investors/corporate-governance/

Cogeco: http://www.cogeco.ca/cable/corporate/cgo/governance/comity.html

Postmedia: http://www.postmedia.com/company/governance/

Telus: http://about.telus.com/community/english/investor_relations/corporate_team/executive_team

Astral: http://www.astral.com/assets/094b7718a2994611a5667677b91f3321_AIF-YE-2012—2012-11-29—FINAL.pdf

Torstar: http://www.torstar.com/html/our-company/Officers_and_Senior_Executives/index.cfm

CBC: http://www.appointments.gc.ca/prflOrg.asp?OrgID=CBC&lang=eng

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  1. November 27, 2013 at 11:33 pm
  2. February 14, 2013 at 1:53 pm

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