Canadian Firms Adding More Women to Boards

Canadian firms added more women to their boards in the last two years as they reacted to pressure from securities regulators and recognized the benefits of gender diversity, according to a report to be released today.

Women held 16 percent of board seats last year at the 422 largest public and privately held companies in Canada, according to New York-based research and advocacy group Catalyst. That compares with 14.5 percent in 2011.

“It highlights legitimate progress,” Alex Johnston, executive director of Catalyst Canada, said in a phone interview. “Overall progress is not by any means dramatic. But a two percent increase for public companies is meaningful.” Public companies had about 12 percent women directors in 2013, up from 10 percent in 2011, the data show.

Catalyst, an organization founded in 1962 by housewife Felice Schwartz to advance female leaders in business, also said the number of boards with no women had its sharpest decrease, falling to 36.5 percent of company boards from 39.5 percent three years ago.

“My sense is it’s becoming a lot less sustainable for companies with no women on their board to say ’I can’t find any qualified women,’” Johnston said.

The Ontario Securities Commission, the province’s securities regulator, proposed companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange to disclose how many women they have on their boards and be required to report their policies on women in the workplace. The comment period ends April 16.

“The OSC is hugely significant but the precursor was great individual leaders,” Johnston said. “That really turned this into a much more topical conversation with greater intensity around it.”

Diverse Boards

The public administration, arts and entertainment, finance, and utilities industries had the most gender diverse boards, with 34 percent, 26 percent, 22 percent, and 23 percent of their boards comprised of women. Mining and energy companies had the least female representation at 7 percent.

Catalyst used data available for publicly traded companies, and received information from 85 percent of privately held companies they asked to get the census results.

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