Why there were only 13 women on our Power 50 list

You asked; we’ve answered

November 20, 2015

By Jenni Elliott

Last week, Vancouver Magazine released its fifteenth annual Power 50 list. And while it may have been headed by yet another developer, for the first time in our history we had included a 12-year-old child among Vancouver’s most powerful—and a transgender one at that. How progressive we thought we were. Because, after all, it’s 2015.

But while we remain insanely proud of our decision to put Tru Wilson on the cover—and completely in awe of her and everything she represents—it took one tweet for me to have some second thoughts about how progressive the list really was.

Only 7 of top 30 powerful people in Vancouver as listed by @vanmag_com are women #feminism”

This is a fact. Not an opinion, and not one being offered up by a troll with too much time on their hands. A fact. I was among the editorial team which chose the people who were asked to sit around a table one cold November night and discuss (and debate) the potential candidates for this year’s list. I took notes as we considered every single name that might have earned a place on this list of powerful influencers. The gender split in the room that evening was not 50/50, but it was close enough. So how did the list that room produced end up with only 13 women on it?

The List
Thirteen women out of 50 names in total amounts to 26 per cent. But while 26 per cent might seem like a paltry figure given that women make up 51 per cent of Vancouver’s population, it’s actually an improvement over the Power 50 lists from previous years. In 2003, 2004 and 2005, only five women were selected, and while last year saw 15 placed on the list it represented the high-water mark in the program’s 15-year history. A quick look at other lists documenting influence shows this isn’t a regional. Alberta Venture’s most recent 50 Most Influential List featured just 10 women, while Toronto Life’s 50 Most Influential did a shade better with 15 of them.

Our critics might think otherwise, but I don’t think we should blame the lists or the people who made them for these figures. Perhaps we can hold individuals accountable for overlooking a few worthy female candidates—are we really to believe only five women in this city were considered influencers just a decade ago? —but for the most part, we must acknowledge the obvious: a disproportionate number of women in Vancouver still are not receiving the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

The Stats
Thirty-six companies from Vancouver made it on the FP 500 list last year. Of those companies, four had female CEOs—that’s 11 percent. Now, it might not come as a huge surprise that, as one example, Jimmy Pattison’s board of directors is comprised entirely of men – and mostly older white men, to boot. But surely the city’s progressive startup community is doing better than this, right? Well, not quite. I reviewed Profit’s list of the fastest growing companies in Vancouver, which is a good proxy for the startup scene. Of the top 36 Vancouver-based companies on that list there are just 2.5 female chief executives – the half coming from the husband and wife team at Prizm Media. That’s just under seven percent.

These numbers raise a very interesting (and important) question: In our annual quest to accurately represent Vancouver’s most powerful people, is the woefully low number of women on these lists a failure on our part or merely an accurate description of a city (and, yes, a society) in which women simply don’t have access to the same degree and forms of power as men?

The Solution
Maybe I’m biased, but I think the answer has more to do with the landscape we’re depicting than our depiction of it. As we discussed this question in our office today, one colleague joked that perhaps the government should implement female-employee tax rebates – the HR equivalent of carbon credits. And while this might seem self-evidently silly, the persistently low numbers of women in positions of power and influence suggests that it’s anything but a laughing matter. After all, how long are we going to have to wait to see a list of powerful people that yields a proportion of women that’s at least within shouting distance of the actual population?

We might not have control over Vancouver’s corporate culture or the hiring decisions that inform it, but we are able to take action on our own list. Should we follow Justin Trudeau’s lead and implement a quota for female Power 50 listers? Or continue to do our best to accurately reflect Vancouver’s distribution of power, regardless of whether it accurately represents the shape of the overall population? Tell us your thoughts on this, and who we should be considering for next year’s list, by tweeting @vanmag_com or Facebook.com/VancouverMagazine.

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