TORONTO -- Laurentian Bank of Canada chief executive Rania Llewellyn says that early in her career, she was told by a manager that he was looking for a man to fill a job she was vying for.

"I remember, there was a vacant job. I was ready to go for it. I was trained," said Llewellyn at a webcast event on Monday at The Empire Club of Canada, in a celebration of International Women's Day.

"And he said, 'I'm looking for a man and I'm looking for someone who's older.' And this was going to be my new boss. Right? So, I would say there's lots of those little stories across along the way."

Llewellyn's speech came on the heels of a report from DBRS Morningstar, which found that the six largest Canadian banks score better than the Australian and U.S. bank averages on attracting, retaining and developing women into senior leadership positions.

But DBRS Morningstar also says BMO, Scotiabank, CIBC, National Bank, RBC and TD are on average falling behind the three large Australian banks on the issue of gender pay equity.

Llewellyn, who in October became the first woman to lead a major Canadian bank, said diversity and inclusion targets should be written into the financial packages that go to the board, just as there are financial targets for leaders at the bank.

Llewellyn said companies setting such targets should focus not only on recruiting diverse talent, but also on retaining women as they move up the ranks.

"That's one thing I introduced at Laurentian. All of my leaders have targets on their scorecards, in terms of diversity targets. But more importantly, I've actually included in our financial package that goes to the board," Llewellyn said.

Linda Seymour, chief executive at HSBC Bank Canada, also said on Monday that International Women's Day had her "reflecting on what it took to get here."

"I was recently asked if I had to fight to break through the glass ceiling. It wasn't that I had to fight harder than my male colleagues," Seymour wrote in a LinkedIn post. "It was that I had to navigate harder -- to make sure I was heard, to constantly network, to demonstrate when I was not only as qualified, but more qualified than my male colleagues."

Seymour wrote that she sees having a gender-balanced board and executive committee at HSBC Bank Canada as a business advantage, but called on leaders to generally be more open to being challenged by employees on diversity and inclusion progress.

The report from DBRS Morningstar said that the gender wage gap has been consistent for about 20 years for workers between 25 to 54 in finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing. But the report said that disruptions to the labour force caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may be behind a slight widening of the gap recently. Indeed, across industries, the female participation rate in Canada's labour force fell during the pandemic, the report said.

Llewellyn said child-care infrastructure, flexible work arrangements in terms of time and hours, upskilling programs and early childhood financial literacy programs will be key to helping women recover from the effects of the pandemic.

"I think it's systemic throughout our culture as well. I have a daughter and it starts very early on, in terms of some of these systemic biases in the system," she said. "Words matter and how people behave and how we model is absolutely important."