By Josephine Victoria Yam, J.D., LLM.
2017 March 8
So let’s raise our glasses twice or even thrice, right? No, not just yet.
When it comes to women serving on boards, the numbers are not as rosy, perhaps even discouraging. While a York University report notes that women comprised 44% of nonprofit board seats, the Canadian government’s report discloses disappointing figures relating to corporate and public boards, in which women represent:
We hear the same strains of slow music, a few years later.
In Fall 2016, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) reported on the representation of women on boards and in executive positions based on the “comply or explain” disclosures provided by non-venture public companies in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon. Here’s what the CSA found:
Alas, when it comes to women on boards, Canada still has a long way to go.
What gives? The underlying reasons for these discouraging numbers are numerous. The Canadian government’s report highlights the reasons:
Some of you may be asking: why should we have more women on boards anyway? And that’s a valid question to raise.
The Conference Board of Canada answered this very question so persuasively, citing both symbolic and practical reasons for doing so.
Symbolically, a signal is sent to all stakeholder groups, most of which have very diverse membership, indicating that their voices will be heard at the top and that their perspectives are important to the organization. As our society, our labour force, and our corporate shareholders themselves become more diverse, this will become a more personal and compelling issue. Until now, the term “diversity” has often been interpreted as the promotion of outward, or visible, diversity. But at a practical level, it is inward, invisible diversity that matters: the range of different gifts, skills, experiences, views, and perspectives that individuals possess in every culture and organization. The use of outer differences as an indicator of inner diversity, though imperfect, can prove useful in wise hands.”
Diversity on boards, represented by having women on boards, facilitates “board unity, activism and independence”, which are intrinsic to good governance. Good governance in turn improves organizational effectiveness and produces increased profitability. In the same vein, a survey by the Institute of Corporate Directors reported that board gender diversity contributes to better governance and decision-making. Indeed, having more women on boards has become an imperative for good governance.
In fact, the Canadian government knows that having more women on boards is a strategic competitive advantage for Canada nationally and internationally. In its “Good for Business: A Plan to Promote More Women on Canadian Boards”, the government set out a national goal of 30% women on boards by 2019 in the corporate and public sectors. That’s served as a compelling aspirational objective as provincial and territorial governments have taken their cue from the feds and have taken action on this front.
But how about action from us citizens?
The International Women’s Day 2017 celebration also calls us to take urgent and concrete action through its #BeBoldForChange campaign. Action that will move the needle beyond the measly 1% increase of women representation in boards. Action that will support women as they take on board roles in the corporate, government and nonprofit sectors.
Some examples in the #BeBoldForChange campaign include:
So go ahead and #BeBoldForChange.
As the Conference Board of Canada so eloquently advised:
Women on boards is not only the ‘right’ thing to do, it is also the ‘bright’ thing to do”.