News / Canada

Corporations can teach feds about promoting women, says Patty Hajdu

OTTAWA — Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu says the federal government can learn a lot from some business leaders about how to include more women in their ranks, beyond setting a quota and hoping for the best.

"I think we're not fully leveraging the work that they're doing at the corporate level and amplifying that," Hajdu said Thursday in an interview from Deauville, France, where she is attending the annual global meeting of the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society.

In September, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-25, which would, among other things, amend the Canadian Business Corporations Act to require publicly traded companies to disclose to their shareholders the number of women on their corporate boards and in senior management, as well as their policies on diversity — or explain why they do not have any.

The bill, currently at second reading in the House of Commons, does not set specific targets.

Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains has said the Liberal government would be open to bringing them in at a later date if these initial measures do not work.

Hajdu said she is not against setting targets — something the Ontario government has done — but said what she was hearing at the meeting is that having more women as company directors does not always trickle down into having more women at lower levels.

"Is that where we really want to put our effort, or do we want to put our effort in somewhere we could see tangible outcomes for women throughout organizations?" she said.

Hajdu said one of the main messages to come from business leaders at the meeting this week is that change requires so much more than just setting targets.

"What we heard over and over and over is this will never happen by accident," Hajdu said.

"The CEO has to be firmly committed to this, loudly and visibly leading these efforts," said Hajdu.

She singled out the work of Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca-Cola, for the work he has done to bring more women into his corporation — for both moral and economic reasons.

Kent told the meeting Wednesday that when he came in as chief executive in 2008, he noticed that the majority of those making purchasing decisions about his products were women, but they were poorly represented in mid-level management and leadership positions at the company.

"If you don't put the structures in place, if you don't put the motivation systems in place, if you don't put the incentives in place, then it doesn't work," Kent said during a panel discussion with business leaders who describe themselves as feminists.

"This is not easy work," said Kent, who described the various programs the company now has to mentor, support, train and retain women in leadership.

April Callahan, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, said that women now represent 31.8 per cent of the senior leadership roles at the company worldwide, compared to 23 per cent when Kent took over as CEO, with the share of women in mid-level positions increasing to 35.8 per cent globally from 28 per cent .

Kent also said he had doubled the number of female directors on the 14-member board to four, but won't rest until he reaches gender parity with seven.

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