News / Toronto

A #MeToo remedy: Let women in the boardroom

Last year, a Metro analysis showed men control everything from the TTC to the biggest sports teams in Toronto. Now, there are signs of a changing tide.

The sluggish rate of change is something Tanya van Biesen, executive director of gender parity advocacy organization Catalyst, has grown used to.

Eduardo Lima / Metro File

The sluggish rate of change is something Tanya van Biesen, executive director of gender parity advocacy organization Catalyst, has grown used to.

If you want to put a stop to sexism at the office, it’s got to start at the top.

That’s the message that’s been on the tip of tongues from Bay Street to Parliament Hill to Hollywood in recent weeks as women mustered the courage to share stories of sexual assault and unwanted advances in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations.

"If the boards of the (Weinstein) company were half female, there wouldn't ever have been payoffs to anybody. None of this — the shenanigans wouldn't have occurred,” actress Meryl Streep recently said, after media revealed Weinstein paid out between $80,000 and $150,000 to at least eight women who made allegations against him. "We have to break in and make it 50-50 at the decision-making level because that’s where everything filters down from.”

A Metro analysis of about a dozen corporate and municipal boards in Toronto highlighted the problem last year: Men control everything from the TTC to the biggest sports teams to our hydro provider to our real estate organizations.

Just over 12 months later, there are signs the tide is starting to turn in the wake of movements like #MeToo.

While some boards haven’t improved at all, at least half have made progress and a handful have reached or are close to reaching the provincial target of stacking boards with at least 30 per cent women.

The biggesst success story is the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television — the only board in Metro's analysis to have reached gender parity.

Overall in Canada, the number of women on TSX-listed boards inched up to 14.5 per cent this year, an increase of about one percentage point over 2016. That comes as the Senate prepares to debate an amendment to Bill C-25, which tackles corporate governance reform, early next year.

The amendment would challenge corporations to set voluntary targets to get more women, minorities, Indigenous people and those with disabilities on boards and will also ask companies to provide shareholders with annual diversity data to be aggregated by the government.

“We don’t want to be over-prescriptive, but we want them to think and reflect because by putting a target and measuring and reporting, we think it will contribute to results,” says Sen. Ratna Omidvar.

The sluggish rate of change is something Tanya van Biesen, executive director of gender parity advocacy organization Catalyst, has grown used to. She’s long seen boards pledge to do better, while avoiding term or age limits that have been touted as proven ways to diversify boards.

The cinema and television academy, the only board in Metro's analysis to have reached parity, has established term limits. Bell has set guidelines recommending how long people should serve. Most other private-industry boards didn't respond to a Metro query.

Many companies see age and term limits as an "artificial means by which to make change" and "unnecessary if board members are performing well,” van Biesen told Metro.

She disagrees.

“If you have board members serving for over 12 years on a board, they are no longer independent, which is bad governance. If you have no mechanism for board renewal, it is hard to make opportunities for other people, including women.”

Aaron Dhir, an Osgoode Hall Law School professor who has written a book called Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity, said in an email that most directors serve for 13 or 14 years and retire in their 70s, creating “a waiting game for women directors and term limits would reduce the wait.”

At the same time, there’s a value in having directors with years of experience and deep institutional knowledge and he warns that limits alone don’t guarantee more women on boards.

“We know from the report that the Canadian Securities Administrators released in October that almost 700 board seats were vacated in 2017 and just over 500 of those vacancies were filled," he says. “However, 74 per cent of these seats were filled by a man. That is an extremely disheartening figure.”

When it comes to boards associated with the City of Toronto, most included in the analysis have limts. That's been handy as Coun. Michelle Holland tries to hasten parity by calling for the city to consider legislation requiring its boards reach gender equality by 2019 and requiring woman hold 30 per cent of the power in companies that want to do work for the city.

The legilslation hasn't been passed, but, even without it, the city is making progress, hitting a mark of 44 per cent female representation on boards in October. That's just eight per cent shy of the porportion of women living in the city.

Holland called the public sector advances "phenomenal" while highlighting the Weinstein scandal as raising the stakes in the private sector.

She’s more optimistic than ever the call will be answered in the coming years.

“If ever there was a time, it’s our time now.”


By the Numbers: A look at Metro's Analysis

These are the boards Metro focused on for its gender-parity analysis, representing some well-known Bay Street firms and groups that control various aspects of city business.



Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television

2017: 9 women, 10 men

2016: 5 women, 12 men

The board is the only one Metro looked at that has reached parity, as it’s just about to add its ninth female member. A spokesperson for the ACCT said board terms last three years and members can serve a maximum of three terms.


2017: 4 women, 10 men

2016: 3 women, 11 men

A November 2016 statement from the telecommunications giant said it adopted a target of 30 per cent female non-executive directors by the end of 2021. In the year since, it reached that goal, which does not account for the company’s CEO who has a board seat and currently is male. “Our significant progress makes clear that Bell is fully committed to gender diversity," the company said in a statement.

No change

Toronto Real Estate Board

2017: 3 women, 12 men

2016: 3 women, 13 men

TREB responded to a request for comment on the lack of the parity and board term limits with a statement from CEO John DiMichele saying, "The Toronto Real Estate Board’s Board of Directors are nominated and elected to serve its Members, by its Members. TREB welcomes and encourages all Members to participate and consider a leadership role.”

Molson Coors

2017: 2 women, 12 men

2016: 2 women, 12 men

The beer-maker’s vice-president of corporate affairs deferred to the company’s inclusion and diversity statement that says it has set a U.S. "goal aimed at increasing diversity representation within senior management, to achieve 30 per cent female and 18 per cent people of color representation, goals that were successfully achieved in 2016.” The statement does not specify what measures are being taken in Canada.

Restaurant Brands Inc.

2017: 1 woman, 11 men

2016: 1 woman, 11 men

The board representing the company that owns Tim Hortons, Burger King and Popeyes did not respond to requests for comment this year or last year.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment

2017: No women, 7 men

2016: No women, 7 men

The board behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argonauts and Toronto FC did not respond to requests for comment this year or last year.


The City of Toronto is involved with appointments for the following boards. Coun. Michelle Holland is the chair of the city’s nomination panel for corporations. She said it is striving to reach overall parity by 2020 and has made significant gains, but some boards have been slower to reach parity because member's terms have not ended.


Toronto Hydro

2017: 4 women, 10 men

2016: 2 women, 12 men

Toronto Music Industry Advisory Council

2017: 13 women, 23 men

2016: 5 women, 28 men

Toronto Zoo

2017: 4 women, 8 men

2016: 2 women, 9 men

No change

Build Toronto

2017: 2 women, 8 men, one vacancy

2016: 2 women, 9 men

In 2018, Build Toronto operations will be consolidated into the Toronto Realty Agency Board.


2017: 2 women, 9 men

2016: 2 women, 9 men

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