Women on boards: Prominent Toronto organizations trail on gender parity
Some of the GTA's most prominent companies are failing when it comes to representing the communities they serve, with few women represented on their boards.
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They control our subway system, housing market, biggest sports teams and even the food chain behind one of Canada’s favourite cups of coffee.
But despite being some of the most ubiquitous, well-funded and influential organizations in the city, a Metro investigation has revealed some of the GTA’s most prominent companies are among some of the least representative of the populations they serve because they’ve appointed too few women to their boards.
Organizations including the TTC, the Toronto Real Estate Board, Molson Coors, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and the owners of Tim Hortons are falling short of meeting gender-parity targets suggested by the province and leading employment experts.
Some boards Metro looked at don’t have any female board members. None top 29 per cent.
The lack of female representation stretches from the boards of multi-billion dollar companies listed on the TSX to those appointed by the City of Toronto.
“There really is a glass ceiling. It is much harder for women to get on boards, especially corporate boards,” said Coun. Michelle Holland. “City boards are not the worst, but we need to lead by example.”
People often think not enough women are applying for city board appointments, but Holland, who sits on the nominating panel, said, “I get the resumes so I know that’s not true.”
She pointed to Toronto Hydro’s board, where two of 14 members are women.
“I made sure women were on it and I got pushback,” she said. “There’s a feeling that it’s just tokenism and they’re not qualified.”
That’s why she has proposed the city adopt legislation requiring its boards to be comprised of at least 50 per cent women by 2019.
The province has eyed targets with Premier Kathleen Wynne demanding women make up at least 40 per cent of appointments to provincial boards and agencies by 2019. She suggested private businesses aim for 30 per cent female representation in the next three to five years, but stopped short of introducing legislation imposing a punishment for a failure to comply.
Similar suggestions from experts have yet to trigger significant progress. The number of women on boards listed on the TSX only jumped to 13 per cent in the first half of 2016 — up a measly one per cent from 2015.
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Nationwide, women’s share of board seats at companies on the major stock index sits at about 20 per cent, according to data from Catalyst, a non-profit dedicated to making progress for women in the workplace. Some other countries, like France and Norway, which have enforced rules on the issue, now sit closer to 35 or 45 per cent.
“No one is blown away by those numbers,” said Matt Fullbrook, manager of the University of Toronto’s Clarkson Centre for Business Ethics and Board Effectiveness. “It is very frustrating because we have spent so much time talking about this and it’s still moving very slowly.”
City-appointed boards, he said, have “absolutely no excuse” for the lack of progress because they’re meant to represent the population they serve.
Fullbrook attributes sluggish results to low board turnover rates, which he estimates to be between seven and 10 per cent a year on average. That means even if a woman is appointed every time a vacancy comes up, it will still take years to reach parity – and that’s if the board makes it a priority.
Sometimes, organizations claim they want to prioritize skills over demographics because they believe it’s difficult to find a qualified woman to appoint to their board, he said.
“That’s an excuse and if they looked hard enough and hired a search committee they could find women,” says Marie Bountrogianni, the dean of Ryerson University’s Chang School. “When 50 per cent of Canadians are women and you think of 50 per cent of women as your clients, why wouldn’t you have 50 per cent on boards?”
For Bountrogianni, a former MPP who has sat on about a dozen boards over the last two decades and has a long history of researching parity, the problem feels personal.
“I have a son and a daughter and I want them to have the same opportunities and not have one who is restricted by their gender,” she said. “That’s why we should really be pushing this issue forward.”
The series: Women on Boards
A Metro investigation of Toronto-based boards shows there’s lots of work to be done when it comes to giving women an equal share of power on private and public sector boards. This is the first in a five-part series dedicated to the issue.
Next Monday: Taking aim: Are quotas the answer to bridging the boardroom gender gap?