Canada Told to Encourage More Women on Company Boards

The Canadian government should require companies to fill at least 30 percent of board positions with women by 2019, and to explain why if they don’t, an advisory panel says.

The Government of Canada’s Advisory Council for Promoting Women on Boards released its final report today that also recommends publicly-traded companies set goals and timelines for increased female involvement, give progress updates in their financial reports and explain why they’re succeeding or lagging behind.

“It takes leadership -- a nudge and a push -- for timelines and reporting,” Kellie Leitch, the minister of labor and status of women, said at a news conference. “There will be no quotas. If you’re elected because someone felt mandated to put you there, you’re ignored and not provided opportunity.” Leitch said she’ll talk to chief executives of federally regulated and state-owned companies about implementing the recommendations and will review the data annually.

Women accounted for only 10 percent of positions on Canadian boards in 2012, even though they held more than a third of business administration master’s degrees in 2011, and represented almost half of students at the master’s level in business and management programs in 2010, according to the report. The Ontario Securities Commission said this year companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange should report their policies for women in the workplace and targets for more representation.

Other Options

Leitch wants companies to comply so that “we’re not in a position where we’d be considering other options.” Those moves include reviewing the Financial Administration Act and Corporate Canada Act, the country’s laws governing business, though “that’s not being considered at all at this point,” she said.

“The current pool of talented women in the workforce with business skills, experience and education exceeds their levels of representation at the highest levels,” the panel said in the report. “A goal of 30 percent over five years is a reasonable national threshold to aspire to” for board representation, with “gender balance” a longer-term goal.

Of the 251 companies listed on the Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index, only 11, or four percent, have more than 30 percent of their boards comprised of women, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. At least 36 percent of those firms have no women on their boards at all, the data show.

National Approach

The advisory council, which was established last year, also recommended asking publicly traded firms to publish two- and five-year goals for board renewal and working with provincial and territorial governments to develop a national approach.

The minimum board guidance mimics the goals of the 30 Percent Club, a U.K.-based organization that encourages women on boards and is starting operations Canada in September. That organization, started in 2010, says it has attracted the support of investor groups managing 2 trillion pounds ($3.4 trillion) of assets.

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