IR’s glass ceiling: a challenge for the C-suite

While women and men are equally represented in investor relations, men have far more of the top jobs and get higher pay. A closer look at the causes reveals some obvious solutions
By Chaya Cooperberg

The investor relations profession is grappling with a gender gap. Women hold about half of all IR roles, but far fewer have the top IR job at major companies. And they are earning substantially less than their male counterparts. Surprised? Probably not. Most professions seem to be confronting this uncomfortable math. For female IROs, the equation changes when boards, CEOs and CFOs help them reach the senior ranks.

IR Magazine recently started a “Women in IR” movement, to promote diversity at the highest levels of investor relations. The impetus was the discovery of a glass ceiling in the magazine’s latest survey of more than 1,300 IR professionals worldwide. While the gender split is almost equal for all professionals in the field, it found only a third of IR heads are women.

Janet Craig, a senior IR executive based in Toronto, is a high-profile supporter of the IR Magazine initiative. In a recent column, she expressed confidence that this gender imbalance is poised to erode. Craig observes that the change will be driven, in part, by the first generation of women who have had the opportunity to work toward senior executive positions now reaching these career mile- stones. She also sees the increased focus on mentoring women in the workplace, as well as investor support for diversity, making a difference. Still, she says, it is critical for directors, CEOs and CFOs to foster change.

Of the several factors influencing the advancement of women in the IR profession, one is unique to Canada: the preponderance of oil and gas and mining companies in our capital markets. These industries have historically attracted more men than women, and IROs often have backgrounds in geology.

Another trend is the increasing number of IROs with CFA designations, joining IR from careers on the sell side or in investment banking. Studies by the Canadian Investor Relations Institute (CIRI) have shown that most of these new IR practitioners are men. And according to the most recent CIRI Compensation and Responsibilities Survey, they are more likely to have strategy and business planning or operations experience, while female IROs tend to have communications and administrative or clerical experience.

Looking at CIRI’s analysis of responsibilities in the role, it appears that men do have more of the duties associated with a senior IR practitioner. Men are “more likely to deliver IR presentations, present to the board, analyze stock and competitor information, act as a key contact for analysts and investors, counsel executives and develop the IR strategy. Women are more likely to manage communications, use social media and write or develop the CSR report.”

The premium value placed on strategy, operations and finance experience may explain the 23% pay gap between the genders: CIRI’s research shows male IROs received total cash compensation of $226,000, on average, while females earned $174,000.

The challenge for boards and the C-suite to address is how to attract women with the skill set the job requires, and to help promising candidates eventually reach senior roles. Doing so will be a win-win for all involved. Adding diversity—in all of its forms—is a formula for success.

Like Janet Craig, in my nearly 20 years in the profession, I have headed up the function for the companies I served. Women I have hired went on to lead the IR department in other organizations. Today, on my investor relations team at a Fortune 500 financial services company, I am supported by women, both with finance backgrounds, who are committed to building careers in IR. My own experience, and the impressive abilities of female IROs I know, gives me confidence that gender parity will be achieved.

But, as Craig says, “We can’t sit on the sidelines and expect change: we must make it.”

Chaya Cooperberg is chief communications officer and senior vice-president, corporate affairs, at AmTrust Financial Services. E-mail:

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