News / Canada

Man named to lead Canadian women’s advisory board ... again

CIBC chief executive Victor Dodig has replaced Bill Downe as chair of Catalyst Canada, a non-profit organization that pushes for the advancement of women.

The Canadian arm of Catalyst, the 55-year-old global institute promoting gender equity in the boardroom and the executive suite announced Thursday that CIBC chief executive Victor Dodig, above, has replaced former chair Bill Downe, the Bank of Montreal’s CEO, who is retiring from the bank this year and was the Catalyst chairperson.

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The Canadian arm of Catalyst, the 55-year-old global institute promoting gender equity in the boardroom and the executive suite announced Thursday that CIBC chief executive Victor Dodig, above, has replaced former chair Bill Downe, the Bank of Montreal’s CEO, who is retiring from the bank this year and was the Catalyst chairperson.


It really is hard for women to break the glass ceiling . . . even at an organization whose mandate is to accomplish that very thing.

For the second time in a row, Catalyst Canada, a non-profit organization that pushes for the advancement of women in the workplace, has appointed a man to chair its advisory board.

The Canadian arm of the 55-year-old global institute promoting gender equity in the boardroom and the executive suite announced Thursday that CIBC chief executive Victor Dodig has replaced former chair Bill Downe, the Bank of Montreal’s CEO, who is retiring from the bank this year and was the Catalyst chairperson.

“Isn’t that interesting?” said Trish Hennessey, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Ontario office, who has personally worked on the issue of income inequality for over a decade.

“That is kind of ironic. As an organization, you might want your leader to be a reflection of your stated mandate,” she said.

“It’s 2017 and the glass ceiling is a very real phenomenon in Canada.”

Jeannie Collins-Ardern, the new interim CEO of Women in Capital Markets, agreed that “the optics aren’t the best.

“It would have been nice to set an example to have a woman chair the board this time around, since they had a man the last time,” said Collins-Ardern. But she added that she has heard that Dodig is “a very supportive individual of women’s initiatives and he’s done a lot of good for the community.”

Dodig was named the 2017 Catalyst Canada Honours Champion in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to accelerating progress for women through workplace inclusion,” says a release from Catalyst.

“He is a vocal advocate for gender diversity in the workplace and actively supports the advancement of talented women to executive roles and on boards,” the release says.

The group’s Toronto-based executive director defended the move to name Dodig, who has been on the organization’s board of directors for the last three years, as board chairman, saying he’s a leader on the issue of gender diversity in the workplace.

Tanya van Biesen said the decision was made after “a very thoughtful process” that included both male and female candidates for the position.

“This is a real reflection of what we believe: that it’s critical to engage men in the dialogue of gender balance . . . to eradicate this problem. This is not just a women’s problem; it’s a societal problem,” said van Biesen in an interview.

Catalyst Canada’s advisory board includes executives from top Canadian corporations, including McDonald’s Canada, BCE Inc. and soup titan Campbell Company of Canada.

“We think he is a fantastic choice,” van Biesen said.

“We don’t have an issue with the optics at all.”

Hennessey questions the move, given that “there is a vast pool of talented women who are extremely qualified to fill a position like that.

“If your mandate is to question hiring practices, you have to start at the top,” said Hennessey.

The website for the organization, which has its global headquarters on Wall St. in New York City, boasts that “Catalyst is the most trusted resource for knowledge on gender, leadership, and inclusive leadership in the world.”

“We (women) have to lead by example,” noted Collins-Ardern, whose organization is the largest network of women in the Canadian financial industry.

Of the 19 members of Catalyst Canada’s advisory board, seven are women. About three per cent of Canadian-based public companies have women at the helm, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Of the 17 directors who sit on the board at CIBC, where Dodig is CEO, seven are women.

Dodig was unavailable for comment Thursday, but said in a statement that he is excited to “accelerate progress for women, improve gender balance in leadership roles and create more inclusive workplaces.”

“It’s by building truly inclusive organizations and harnessing everyone’s talent that we will strengthen the Canadian economy and enable our country to compete on the global stage,” he added.

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