Businesspeople having meeting in boardroom
From Pivot Magazine

Women in C-Suite roles are key to boosting your bottom line

FCPA Pamela Steer, CPA Canada’s president and CEO, on why it’s a benefit for society at large to have more women in senior leadership positions

Businesspeople having meeting in boardroom This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #EmbraceEquity, is particularly important in fighting for better representation of women in business leadership (Getty Images/Portra)

We’ve all seen the headlines:

Women under-represented in the C-Suite

Nine-in-ten publicly listed companies (still) led by male CEO

And one from Corporate Knights that I found really disturbing: There are more CEOs named Michael and Mark than there are women CEOs in Canada.

Every time I read these headlines I get extreme déjà vu. This is not a new issue, these same headlines could have, and likely were, written in 2003 and 2013. Yet, here we are in 2023 and the story has moved, but not quickly enough. On the eve of International Women’s Day (IWD), I wanted to lend my voice to this cause and hammer home the societal importance of having more women in leadership roles in Canada.


We are not all born with equal access to the same opportunities, resources and privilege—the latter being key to this fight. Women who are successful leaders can still be plagued by impostor syndrome, doubts about whether they “earned” their position, and often face higher scrutiny than men in the same role. In the past, there has been this fallacy that equal opportunity will lead to equal representation. This has clearly not panned out. The baked-in prejudices that women face and advantages that men have enjoyed on their ascent to the C-Suite are too strong.

That’s where equity comes in. Equity means that everyone is afforded the means to succeed so they may reach an equal outcome, bringing bring their unique gifts to the table along the way. And that’s why I love IWD’s #EmbraceEquity theme this year as it is particularly important in fighting for better representation of women in business leadership.

Like many not-for-profits, CPA Canada is well represented in this regard. The CPA profession has improved representation among the membership and in leadership roles. While it’s nice to be part of the solution, I can’t stress enough the importance of addressing representation of women in larger forms of business, including public and private for-profit enterprise.

We need to progress more quickly: We’re talking here today about a gender-binary issue. The wider world, on the other hand, is talking about a much broader spectrum of acceptance and inclusion that goes beyond a simple male/female discussion to encompass trans, Two-Spirit, non-binary and other gender identities. Comparatively, the C-suite of public and private for-profits is positively in the Stone Age.

Pamela Steer at CPA Canada’s office in Toronto FCPA Pamela Steer, president and CEO of CPA Canada

I would be remiss not to mention the racial diversity gap as well, especially in Canada from an Indigenous perspective. We’re talking about this issue through an IWD lens today, but issues for racialized women are even greater. It’s undeniable the advances we’ve made—years ago, women and racialized people couldn’t vote, were barred from even entering many clubs, associations and societies.

Indigenous women have suffered enormously from institutional racism—as shown in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the National Action Plan that came from it. They’ve also suffered intergenerational impacts of the Indian Residential School System, the last of which closed in 1996. Generations of disempowerment and disenfranchisement has magnified the challenges that Indigenous women face. While we’ve seen progress on these fronts, there is still so much more to do.


One way to hasten this progress is to combat the impostor syndrome that many successful women feel. Due to the fabric of our society, many women have been at a disadvantage in becoming part of corporate leadership structures. So, to enact this societal change we must understand that it is to our collective advantage when businesses consider fair representation of diverse identities in filling their C-Suite and boards. This is giving those born with different opportunities, resources and privilege what they need to succeed and correcting the huge historical disadvantage that caused so many people to be passed over in the past.

This is at the heart of #EmbraceEquity. There are countless studies out there that conclusively show diversity among leadership leads to better business outcomes, culture and profitability. This isn’t just a box-ticking exercise; you have your job because you are the best person for it. Full stop. We need to start believing in ourselves and lead our teams to a better future, one where we uplift others to lend their voices to a growing chorus that will, once and for all, make those headlines a relic from a bygone era.

On International Women’s Day this year, remember: You earned it, you are a part of the solution, and you’re making the world a better place. #EmbraceEquity


Learn how CPA Christine Sawchuk is upending the cultural standard for leadership. Find out why it’s important to bring more diversity into the boardroom and how women can find their voice as leaders.


I wanted to highlight some of the amazing women (many of whom are CPAs) that have helped bring more balance to corporate leadership structures in Canada and abroad.

Nathalie Bernier, FCPA, Member Board of Directors at RF Capital Group and Bausch & Lomb (Quebec

Maria Ferraro, CPA, Chief Financial Officer of Siemens Energy (Germany)

Rania Llewellyn, Chief Executive Officer of Laurentian Bank (Ontario)

Deborah Orida
, Chief Executive Officer of Public Sector Pension Investments (Quebec)

Maarika Paul, FCPA, Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial and Operations Officer at Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (Quebec)

Jocelyn Perry, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice-President of Fortis Inc. (Newfoundland and Labrador)

Marlene Puffer, Chief Investment Official at the Alberta Investment Management Corporation

Susanne Robertson, FCPA, Retiring CFO of the Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg (Manitoba)

Heather Taylor, FCPA, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer of the City of Toronto, (Ontario)

Barb Zvan, Chief Executive Officer of University Pension Plan of Ontario (also named CEO of the year by The Globe and Mail) (Ontario)