The federal government is trying to get more women into Canada’s corporate board rooms.
Among the items in the Harper government’s new budget unveiled last week is a change to the Canada Business Corporations Act that would require all companies listed on Canadian stock exchanges to either put gender diversity policies in place or make a public explanation why they don’t have one.
The government is also working on changes to put more women on the boards of other non-publicly-traded companies, and to make sure that corporate board elections and communications are brought up to date.
It’s a welcome move, even though Canada isn’t doing terribly, compared to a lot of other countries in terms of gender diversity on corporate boards. A recent Canadian Press story pointed out that, according to a global census of female board members released earlier this year by Catalyst, a non-profit research and advocacy organization for women in business, Canada placed ninth with 20.8 per cent of corporate board seats filled by women.
That’s better than the U.S. and Australia, which both had figures of 19.2 per cent, and much better than Japan, which ranked dead last at 3.1 per cent.
But there’s still room for improvement. Norway led the way with 35.5 per cent, well ahead of Canada in that regard.
The government’s proposal seems to be an answer to what women’s organizations, and even corporations themselves, have been seeking for years – a framework that would help bring about better balance in terms of corporate board makeup.
The Women’s Executive Network, the country’s largest organization for women in leadership roles, has indicated that having greater female representation at the upper corporate level is good for business, and consequently good for Canada’s economy as well.
“(This) is not a women’s issue. It is an economic and business issue that affects Canada’s competitiveness and prosperity,” the organization said in a submission in 2013 at the Ontario Securities Commission public consultations.
Pamela Jeffery, the founder of both the Women’s Executive Network and the Canadian Board Diversity Council, called the proposed changes “a good first step” but added it remains to be seen how such changes will actually work to improve gender diversity.
“If companies aren’t complying and they’re doing more explaining, then we’ll need to push for something stronger but this gives companies a chance to recognize some great potential board candidates,” said Jeffery.
It’s hard to imagine there aren’t more women qualified to hold corporate board positions.
Women have proven themselves in the business world and there can be no good reason to deny those who are qualified the opportunity to share board responsibilities with their male counterparts. Companies do themselves a disfavour by not making use of the abilities of bright and talented women in the business world.
If there remains a remnant of chauvinistic thinking in the upper echelons of Canada’s corporate offices, perhaps a nudge from the federal government in the direction of improving gender diversity will help get rid of those stale ideas. Corporate Canada will be the better off if such changes take place.