Why Canada hasn’t been doing enough to diversify the power in business and public policy

In November, Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) Chair Howard Wetston said: The government needs to act now to address issues facing diversity. Gender-based diversity is critical for business and public policy as it creates a…

Why Canada hasn’t been doing enough to diversify the power in business and public policy

In November, Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) Chair Howard Wetston said:

The government needs to act now to address issues facing diversity. Gender-based diversity is critical for business and public policy as it creates a more balanced, creative and innovative business environment that enhances our lives.

OSC research had found that approximately 26 percent of TSX board members were women, and that most firms had not chosen more than one woman for their boards in any of the previous five years. It wasn’t just an issue for Canadian companies, but for those around the world too. According to a survey by the Committee for Economic Development of Canada (CEDC), only 11 percent of the directors of Canadian global public companies were women.

As recently as May 2016, the Public Policy Forum (PPF) held a report calling for U.S. companies to commit to having 30 percent of their board members be women and called for a global call to action to encourage action around gender and diversity in boards. The Forum described the implications of lack of board and executive diversity:

Women hold 40 percent of jobs, but we believe that women should make up at least 50 percent of board seats and more than 40 percent of the highest-paid executive positions in every board. The agenda for male board members, on the other hand, is much different. They are more likely to work increasingly hours, to be older and more likely to be white. In fact, an April 2016 Pensions & Investments survey found that 90 percent of the boards were all male and only 38 percent were diverse. Pensions & Investments found that U.S. boards’ diversity woes were even worse than in Canada, with 53 percent of U.S. boards’ directors at or above retirement age, compared to only 35 percent of Canadian boards. One hundred percent of male directors on U.S. boards made more than $750,000 per year. In Canada, 92 percent of male directors made more than $250,000 per year.

With businesses setting key career trends for young women, such as the decision to go to college and the acceptance of an unpaid internship, women are often forced to make the difficult choice of giving up work and being in school, in order to support a family.

The desire to help young women with their future work and family lives has put pressure on universities and women-led organizations to broaden the role of women in Canadian society. Currently, women represent 51 percent of architecture students, yet only 10 percent of architecture design partners in major Canadian firms are women.

Our organizations partner with board diversity leaders, such as Catalyst, the Canadian Board Diversity Forum and other organizations to continue to address the gaps in board leadership. To raise awareness about Canada’s contribution to the global global efforts to diversify board leadership we launched a campaign to encourage greater diversity in board committees. The CAMCMA’s Women Count: Gender Lens for Change campaign was created to assist with the active voice of women on companies’ governance committees.

The first public focus group study presented in the report illustrates the diverse and successful gender views that exist in Canada, beyond the typical male perspective of the world and the U.S. in particular. These insights point to the need for “reverse mentoring” of women, and especially younger women, on boards, as it is estimated that women on boards are better positioned to lead the transition away from the prevailing male paradigm in the workplace.

From a public trust perspective, the foundation for our public institutions’ viability depends on their ability to include the voices of members that have historically been underrepresented. Only by promoting diversity can we expect better governance and the help of all Canadians will work to achieve our stated commitment to an inclusive society.

The author is chair of the Women’s Board of Canada and vice-chair, diversity, executive and women’s affairs of the Canada Business Council. The research presented in this report was developed by Frank Michiels, head of the Behavioural Sciences Practice of Frank Research and Intelligence Ltd. and Francis Siu, director, innovation, of the research program, The Centre for Strategic Leadership Research at the Strategic Leadership Institute.

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