05/15/2013 07:07 EDT

Glass Ceiling Report Weighs In On Gender Inequality In Canada

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NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 02: Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, speaks on December 2, 2011 in New York City. Facebook will be opening a center for engineers in New York City in 2012. Facebook, the world's largest social networking company, is expected to file for an IPO in April, and a public offering could reach a valuation of up to $100 billion and raise $10 billion. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In a country where women run the most powerful provinces and a handful of the biggest companies, it's still surprising to hear we have such a long way to go when it comes to gender equality and breaking the glass ceiling in the workplace.

There are still far too few women in senior management roles, the Conference Board of Canada says, especially given that "organizations with a higher proportion of women in executive positions exhibit stronger financial performance."

In a study released on Wednesday, the think-tank also offered some recommendations on what companies should be doing to foster women's leadership, based on a national survey of nearly 900 women and men, and about 30 in-depth interviews with women leaders.

"Significant change requires a critical mass of women in senior management roles," says the report. "A shift in attitudes will only come when we stop seeing a woman in senior management as the exception and start seeing her as the norm. And the new norm starts with an enabling philosophy and set of values, supported by good governance, leadership development, and the right human resources strategies."

The Conference Board points to measures such as making women’s advancement a formal governance and performance priority for boards, proactive mentoring of potential leaders and establishing more family-friendly policies and practices that encourage all employees —women and men — to take advantage of them.

Perhaps unintentionally, the study offers another look at some controversial advice and examples of women and work that could been seen contradicting two of corporate America's most successful women, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer.

Sandberg has been both roundly criticized and applauded for saying women suffer an "ambition gap" when it comes to their careers, a theory that the Conference Board dedicated a whole section of the study to.

"Women aspire to the same heights as men but often view the journey very differently," says the report. "Our research shows that women become more confident and concrete in their career goals as they move higher in the corporate hierarchy. Men are clearer about their career goals and more confident from the outset."

Meanwhile, Mayer — who famously returned to work full time just two weeks after giving birth — was also met with a public backlash after banning employees working from home. (Her more recent decision to extend maternity and paternity benefits at Yahoo! was much more popular.)

Another highlight of the study focused on the importance of work-life balance, a sentiment echoed by other recent research that shows finding an equal balance between career and family is still the biggest challenge women face today.

The Conference Board report comes on the heels of another study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which predicted that closing the gender gap in Canada would only take...228 years.

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