Status of Women Canada Ministerial Transition Book
Women in Leadership

Background

Gender diversity in public and private leadership is increasingly associated with more equal societies and more competitive advantage in business. Women leaders in democratic and economic life help to diminish social barriers for women by providing them with visible role models.

At all levels of governance, growth of women in elected positions has been incremental. However, few jurisdictions in Canada have achieved the 30% representation of women that the United Nations deems necessary in order for women to influence public policy. At the federal level, a record 26% of women were elected to the 42nd Parliament. At the provincial and territorial level, women represent roughly 23% of elected members; however, individual jurisdictions vary widely, from British Columbia at 36% to the Northwest Territories at 10.5%.

In terms of gender diversity in corporate leadership, as of October, 2014, 20.8% of board seats at companies listed on the S&P/TSX 60 index were held by women. Of Canada’s FP500 companies, those with the highest representation of women demonstrated stronger corporate management during times of economic uncertainty. At the federal level, women represent 33% of Governor-in-Council (GIC) appointees.

Current Status

In recent years, the federal government has sought to address the issue of leadership for women by promoting women’s increased participation on corporate boards. On June 26, 2014, the Government’s Advisory Council on Women on Boards released their final report, Good for Business: A Plan to Promote More Women on Canadian Boards, which included eleven recommendations to both the public and private sector. The Report included two key recommendations: that corporations aspire to 30% female board membership over five years (2014–2019) as a national goal to achieve gender balance; and the endorsement of a “comply or explain” model for corporate governance which would require companies to clarify why they have not implemented gender balance objectives.

On December 31, 2014, the Ontario Securities Commission formally adopted a “comply or explain” amendment to their disclosure requirements for corporate boards. Regulators in all jurisdictions with the exception of Yukon, BC, and Alberta have adopted similar requirements. Canadian Securities Administrators recently indicated that since the implementation of the amendment, 49% of TSX listed companies now have at least one woman on their board. However, they also noted that more needs to be done to increase the quality of disclosure and to increase transparency regarding the representation of women. Influential business leaders have recently formed a Canadian chapter of the UK-based 30% Club, which encourages corporations to aspire to 30% gender balance in board composition.

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