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Time for Canada to Make a Bold Statement on Board Diversity

By  via Femme-o-nomics
April 27, 2013


When the federal government finally announced the members of an advisory council to get more women on corporate boards, I admit, I actually felt rather cynical. Where other countries have examined the dearth of women on corporate boards in depth, issued recommendations, put policies in place and in some cases enacted legislation, Canada has stood pat, resting on its early standing as one of the world leaders, sliding a bit more each year. It took 13 months to assemble the 23 business leaders capable of bringing us into the global conversation on board gender diversity and the group has until the fall to make any recommendations.

Yet, arriving late at this global party on board diversity carries some unique advantages, among them the ability to learn from other country’s mistakes and cherry-pick the best of the international community’s initiatives to create a uniquely made-in-Canada solution.

As an active spectator on the board diversity discussion, I’ve noticed a palpable hunger for change among business leaders, female and male alike and, anecdotally, the idea of quotas does not appear to strike the same fear in the business community as it once did.  But quota legislation is not the only way to make progress. The key is to act quickly.

In 2009 and 2010, we ranked 6th among 23 industrialized nations, according to GMI ratings of women on boards. By 2011 we slipped to the 9th spot and may continue to decline. According to a TD Economics Special report, released in March, women make up only 11 percent of directors on the S&P/TSX Composite Index.  The report also states that nearly three-quarters of the corporations on the S&P/TSX Composite Index have either no woman on their board or just one.

The report describes this lack of progress as “troubling to economists” since it “implies a market failure to appreciate the skills and perspectives that women can bring to the table.” I’m not the only one advocating for quick action.

“Hopefully, the committee will quickly turn its attention to how many and how fast,” said Sonia Baxendale, who sits on several boards, including Foresters Insurance, The Hospital for Sick Kids Foundation and The Toronto French School.

“Canada continues to lag in this area (gender diversity on boards) and we have a great opportunity to finally play a leadership role. Our goal should be to leapfrog others and demonstrate our commitment to the value of diversity in all aspects of society,” she added.

Ms. Baxendale, who formerly held board roles with First Caribbean International Bank (Barbados), CIBC Trust Co and CIBC Asset Management Inc. believes Canada’s first step should be to set targets, increase transparency and have companies disclose their results. If that doesn’t achieve the “desired results” quickly enough, Ms. Baxendale suggests moving toward more affirmative action. Read more>>