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Canadian advocacy groups band together to get more women on boards

For years, the groups individually pushed for equal representation of women, citing that women only hold about 14 per cent of Canadian board seats.

Women only hold about 14 per cent of Canadian board seats and it will take more than 30 years to reach parity, say advocate groups.

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Women only hold about 14 per cent of Canadian board seats and it will take more than 30 years to reach parity, say advocate groups.

Some of the country’s most influential advocacy groups for women in business are banding together in a new alliance meant to add pressure to growing calls for gender parity on boards.

The Canadian Gender and Good Governance Alliance (CGGGA) says it’s the first partnership of its kind in Canada. It unites the 30% Club Canada, the Business Council of Canada, the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance, Catalyst Canada, the Clarkson Centre, the Institute of Corporate Directors and Women in Capital Markets.

For years, the groups individually pushed for equal representation of women, citing that women only hold about 14 per cent of Canadian board seats and saying it will take more than 30 years to reach parity.

But they’re hopeful collaborating can improve such statistics because “there is power in coordinating and in having a unified message,” says Marlene Puffer, a CGGGA and Women in Capital Markets representative.

Puffer’s grown frustrated when boards, having few or no women, rely on personal networks to recruit new — often male— members, ignoring lists of experienced female candidates and avoiding tapping women business leaders.

“They often cite reasons like the pipeline isn’t strong or there aren’t very many women in our sector,” she says. “That excuse is becoming increasingly flimsy.”

It’s why the alliance released a “playbook” with strategies for recruitment, suggestions around term and age limits, and tips for developing gender and diversity policies that boards can use to reach parity.

G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education dean and former MPP Marie Bountrogianni called the playbook “an excellent catalyst for creating high-level awareness of this critical issue and helping move the pendulum.”

That pendulum has swung slowly, with the number of women on boards only increasing a percentage point or two every year and recent reports saying 88 per cent of TSX-listed companies still haven’t set gender parity targets, despite it being recommended by the province.

But the formation of the alliance is encouraging because there is “strength in numbers,” the University of Toronto’s J.R. Kimber Investor Protection and Corporate Governance chair Anita Anand said in an email.

“The more people and organizations that believe in the importance of gender diversity and inclusion, the more likely reform will occur.”

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