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Canadian women have come a long way since the 20th-century suffrage movement, but there is still much room for improvement when it comes down to their roles in business.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, 86 per cent of women still believe that a glass ceiling exists in the workforce.

In an effort to encourage more women to occupy senior positions at companies, some post-secondary institutions have been enacting programs that aim to give these women the skills and confidence needed to break through that barrier.

University programs for women

A press release posted on the Women of Influence (WOI) website states that “only five per cent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women and women only constitute 15 per cent of senior management and board ranks.”

In order to fill in that gap, WOI has partnered with Queen’s School of Business to create the executive certificate in leadership program.

“We wanted our programs to fill gaps that women have not necessarily been eager to jump into,” says Barbara Dickson, managing director of executive education. The certificate program held its first class in September 2013 and is run out of the university’s Toronto office.

Dickson says it requires their students to complete six courses over a period of no more than five years. To successfully acquire the certificate, women enrolled need to select three of six courses offered both through Queen’s and the WOI Advancement Centre.

She adds that women in the program benefit from gaining “the ability to develop skills specific to aspiring women [and] the opportunity to learn from some pretty prominent women of influence.”

In Ottawa, Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business has hosted the management development program for women (MDPW) since 1992. According to their website, the MDPW is designed for women in or about to go into managerial positions with their companies.

Clubs and organizations

Women currently enrolled in business programs can also opt to join student-run clubs and organizations designed to help or guide them through their time at the university.

Nura Jabagi currently runs the John Molson Women in Business Club at the John Molson School of Business, open to all women in the school’s MBA programs.

“Our mission is to enhance student life by building a network of fellow students, colleagues, alumnae, and business women from Montréal's diverse economic sectors while also giving back to the local community,” says Jabagi.

The benefits of joining such a club are numerous, but Jabagi says the most important is a woman can have the chance to “make a difference as a future female leader.”

“The reality is that despite the fact that women make up almost half of the world’s population, women are still underrepresented both in MBA programs and the world of business, particularly in the c-suite,” says Jabagi.

The John Molson School of Business is leading that change with a female student body of almost 40 per cent, she says.

Though they may still have distance to go, it’s institutions and organizations like these that help bring light to new paths for women in the workforce.

Photo: mikdam/Thinkstock