They say a problem redefined is a problem half-solved.
Nowhere is this truer than with the problem of women on boards and in corner offices. The problem, of course, is that while there are scads of women qualified for these positions, far too few actually fill these leading indicators of power.
Osler LLP recently came out with its fourth annual report on diversity disclosure practices on women in leadership roles in TSX-listed companies.
It reveals that women now hold 16.4 per cent of all board seats among TSX companies reporting in; that nearly 69 per cent of all companies have at least one female director; that close to a third (31.3 per cent) have boards that are all-male; and only 3.3 per cent of companies have a female CEO.
As the Osler Report concludes: “Though these results are encouraging, more work needs to be done at the board level, and results at the executive level remain disappointing.”
That’s putting it mildly.
This is benign neglect dressed up as steady progress.
In America, 22 per cent of Fortune 500 board members are women; in London, it’s 30 per cent with the London Stock Exchange Group lobbying for 40 per cent by the end of 2020; and in Norway, 40 per cent of board members are women.
Meanwhile, the 30 per cent Club still holds to its goal of having 30 per cent women on Canadian boards by … … well, by 2019. Which is now.
One way we can get a move on is to change the language we use around women and power, or at least change how numbers concerning them are reported.
So, rather than saying “women now hold 16.4 per cent of all board seats…,” we should be saying: “…..men continue to hold 83.6 per cent of all board seats.”
If we do this, suddenly we’re no longer talking about a women’s issue; we’re making it a men’s issue by putting them in the middle of it. After all, the overwhelming majority of board members who decide if a woman is suitable for their board are men.
Look what happens when we recast those other percentages mentioned above:
- 71 per cent of TSX companies have only one female director.
- 31.3 per cent of TSX boards don’t have a single female director.
- 96.7 per cent of TSX companies have a male CEO.
That doesn’t sound quite as progressive, does it?
In fact, as long as the ratios between women and men are so lopsided when it comes to power, why don’t we ask the TSX to report their figures by leading with the group that has the power, rather than the group that’s seeking more of it?
By doing this, we can rid ourselves of two delusions around women and power:
1. That it’s just a matter of time before women take their rightful and equal places in the boardrooms of the nation.
Actually, no. Rising numbers of women are earning their ICD designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors, and women accounted for a third of the board seats created or vacated this year past. But the reality is, if female board membership keeps growing as it has in the last three years, it will be 2030 before they reach 30 per cent representation.
2. Canadian women are storming the gates of senior management.
Also wrong. Not one of Canada’s 60 largest companies is headed by a woman. Only three of those 60 companies had a woman CFO. (This compares to one female CEO and 8 female CFOs in 2012).
How seriously do Canadian boards take this issue?
Only 17.2 per cent of TSX companies have even set targets for female directors. Or to put it another way, 82.8 per cent of our public companies couldn’t be bothered.
Justin Trudeau famously replied why gender parity was important to him on the day he announced that his Cabinet was 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men: “Because it’s 2015.”
If you’re a woman who’s eager and qualified to join a TSX board, that must feel like centuries ago.