Gender Equality

Canada: Less than 20% of corporate board members are women

These stats put Canada behind Australia, Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden, Italy and Finland.

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Women account for just 19.4% of board directors in Canada, according to new data from Statistics Canada.

The data collected from 2016 highlights the diversity (or lack thereof) in corporate boards in Canada, looking at women in leadership positions in public, private, and government corporations.

More than half of corporate boards (56.8%) were made up entirely of men, 28% of corporations had one woman. Only 15.2% of boards had more than one woman.

Canada has long been considered a gender equality champion, but critics would argue that these stats paint a rather bleak image of female leadership in the country.

“The gender balance and representation of women in leadership and decision-making positions needs to be bolstered in Canada — not just in the corporate sector, but across sectors as well,” Andrea Gunraj, vice president of public engagement at Canadian Women’s Foundation, told Global Citizen.

“There has been progress in some areas over the last few years. But there is clearly so much to be done. We also can’t look at women as one big group. They have multifaceted identities and experiences and we need more diversity in leadership when it comes to, for instance, women of colour, Indigenous women, and women with disabilities.”

Government business enterprises had 28.8% of women on corporate boards, corporations had 20.5%, and private corporations had 17.4%, according to Statistics Canada.

In 2015, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) introduced disclosure requirements for the representation of women on boards and in executive officer roles.

This essentially meant that companies had to show who was on their board and if there were no women, they needed to explain why.

In the last Review of Disclosure regarding Women on Boards and in Executive Officer Positions by the CSA in 2018, data indicated that the percentage of women holding board seats increased from 11% in 2016 to 15% in 2018 in participating provinces: Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.

“We have seen movement, notable movement on the part of public companies to advance gender representation — women’s representation — at the board level,” Tanya van Biesen, Catalyst's executive director for Canada, told Global Citizen.

Van Biesen says that the CSA disclosure requirements have helped, but she argues that the change is slow. In order to see more progress, she says that new mechanisms need to be put in place, such as term or age limits for board members, as this would increase turnover rates and open places for new members.

She also points out that in order to see change, the country must ensure that half of its population does not continue to miss out on opportunities, adding that 60% of university graduates in Canada are women.

To ensure more women in leadership as a whole, van Biesen suggests that it’s not just about hiring women, but about supporting them at all stages of their career and continuing to cultivate that talent.

“While we are seeing areas of progress, we haven’t seen enough. The progress is slow, it’s in certain pockets, and it’s absent in other pockets,” van Biesen said. “[In Canada], we should be much farther ahead than we are.”

And in fact, Canada is lagging begin.

The 2018 Global Diversity Tracker from advisory firm Egon Zehnde reported that large companies in 19 out of 44 countries only had at least one female director, including Canada. But the country falls behind Australia, Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden, Italy and Finland, who all have, on average, more than 30% female directors.

“Changing this will take very intentional strategies, such as critically examining the policies and practices that set up barriers to leadership positions and opening new avenues that may have been closed to women and other equity-seeking people,” Gunraj said. “In the end, we can’t accept business as usual and expect change — that is what has gotten us in this imbalanced place we’re in right now.”

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