Welcome to our chat. Sorry about the technical problems affecting our web site, but we're going to proceed and hopefully readers can follow along with us.
Joining me today are three women with a lot of experience with issues of women and boards. Phyllis Yaffe is chair of the board of Cineplex Entertainment and a member of the Torstar board, Deborah Gillis is chief operating officer of women's advocacy group Catalyst, and Beatrix Dart heads the Initiative for Women in Business at the University of Toronto and is a director of Ellis Don. Welcome all.
Hello. I am pleased to join the discussion.
Thank you, Janet, for your introduction. Looking forward to the discussion!
Let's start with a broad question for everyone. Given that women comprise just 10 per cent of directors on public company boards, what do you think would be an effective way of boosting that number?
I think there are many steps we can take to improve that number starting with disclosure on nominating committee procedures and diversity policies.
Catalyst Canada recently launched The Catalyst Accord, a voluntary initiative that encourages companies to set voluntary goals for increasing the representation of women on boards. We're pleased that twelve companies have signed to date.
Can there be any doubt that without public pressure - whether that means volunteer targets with public disclosure or legal quota - there will be very little progress moving the numbers of female directors on boards?
Since we titled the chat 'should Canada have a quota system' I wanted to ask what you think of that idea? A number of countries in Europe now have quotas. Would it work here?
No doubt from my perspective. I f
I see other societal changes happening and wonder why this one just doesn't improve.
In my mind it goes back to the old adagio "what gets measured, gets done". No quantitative target, no progress....
The experience in other countries demonstrates that quotas have proven effective in moving the needle. The key is action and momentum. That said, I don't see widespread support in Canada for quotas, but the debate does seem to be inevitable given what's happening around the world.
Phyllis raises a really big and key point. Of all the issues we've studied over 11 years of Board Games reports, the subject of women on boards has seen the least progress by far. Any perspective on why it has been so hard to spur progress on this particular front?
Catalyst has just completed analysis that shows that of FP500 public companies, 85% of entrant board seats between 2009 and 2011 went to men. Many companies simply haven't made gender diversity on boards a priority.
I was pleased to see women moving to understanding that we will need more than just good intentions to change things. Quotas may seem distasteful but they will work. When France adopted them I thought that was a sign that it is becoming more main stream. It may not be our first step but it may be the one that works.
Hi Jeff. Canada has never had a big tradition of quotas for women in business, but Quebec has had a lot of success requiring women on boards of government bodies and Crown corporations. It has led to lots of progress on that front, and I think sets a good example.
Norway took the position that after a specific amount of time if the board wasn't 40% women the company would be delisted from the stock exchange. That got people's attention.
I have to agree with Phillis's last point. I'm going to post a comment from Lauren that really articulates the main problem. I wonder what you three think?
I am in Australia today and understand that the national government has a new requirement that 40% of all major crown corporation board seats will go to women. They see this as a way to help women get board experience and prepare them for private sector board appointments.
I hadn't heard that.
Good for Australia!
Two of the main counter-arguments for quotas are 1. a token appointment of unqualified women, and 2. a reduced respect for experienced women. But I believe that is more than outbalanced by the fact that it is currently only the same network of board directors who is considered for board nomination, and the big fact that the percentage of women on board hasn't moved. Although there are plenty of qualified women ready to go....
There will be lots of qualified women to choose from so I don't worry about unqualified women being asked to join boards to make the quota. Finding the right women will not be difficult. There aren't that many spots to be filled in any one year.
I agree with Phyllis - too many qualified women for boards, but only a limited number of board seats is becoming available every year.
There are many qualified women to fill board seats. Catalyst data shows that there are 799 senior officers (2010), including senior line officers, business unit heads, chief legal officers, CFOs, etc. The argument that you can't find a woman to fill a board seat doesn't hold water.
Just to frame the worst case scenario... Would any of you be reluctant to join a board if there were a quota and the chairman said he's inviting you because
he needs women? Would that be insulting?
Reluctant as in "is this the right board match for me" - yes. Reluctant because they are looking for a woman and I would fit the profile and required experience - no.
I wouldn't be insulted. I'd want to understand the culture of the board and what support the chair would offer. But at the end of the day, I'd be prepared to sit on the board and demonstrate my value.
going on any Board is a complicated question. There are many questions you should ask first. If the answer to them is yes other than the quota question I would say yes and prove to them I was a valuable member for many reasons. But I think this is a very hypothetical question. Things are always much more grey than black and white.
Hi Denice. I don't know if there's been long enough experience with quotas for women on boards to have data on that point. Norway's only took full effect a few years ago, and most other countries like France, Italy and Spain are still phasing theirs in. I guess an obvious guess would be that quotas are less likely to work
where there is no penalty for non-compliance, like in Spain. That makes them more of a target.
France, Italy, Spain, Norway. Sounds like a good club to join.
Norway has had the longest experience of any country with a quota system. At the beginning, one of the negative consequences was that some Norwegian companies moved their headquarter to other countries in Europe who didn"t have the same quota system. That would be harder to do now, as more and more countries in Europe are signing on to a women quota on boards.
I interviewed a woman for Board Games this year who told me an off-the-record story about meeting with a chairman who knew nothing about her, and who only wanted her on the board because she's a woman. He hadn't even read her CV. She said no thanks, but I think that's probably an extreme example. I think Phyllis is right tha
t life is rarely so black and white.
Given that quotas might be a tough sell in Canada, I'm personally interested in disclosure requirements. Do any of you have thoughts about what makes a disclosure requirement about diversity effective versus ineffective? I'm thinking of the U.S. model in particular. Doesn't seem to have done much good.
The value in disclosure requirements is that it essentially forces boards to talk about the issue and the numbers suggest that many are not paying attention.
agree that we don't need handdouts, I just don't see change happening in this arena fast enough. Why is this the last bastion to change?
Just for those following along, the U.S. requires companies to report annually on their approach to diversity. In some cases, the disclosure is extremely vague and minimal, and doesn't even mention gender diversity specifically. I wonder if this is a case where we in Canada wouldn't want to copy the U.S. governance rule.
There is a big risk in over-using the term "diversity". It is a convenient (and much easier to accomplish) target than focusing on gender, as diversity can be whatever you define it to be - cultural diversity, religious diversity, age diversity, etc... So if you ask for disclosure, in my mind it would have to be specifically on gender diversity in order to move the numbers of women on boards.
Agree, Sara. Particularly for large government boards. See earlier comments about Quebec and Australia. Value is that women can get solid experience on these boards that serve as stepping stone.