The Liberal government has done its part with measures to bolster diversity on corporate boards at publicly traded companies, and now is the time for business leaders to pick up the torch, says Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.
“This is really a call to action for corporate Canada to step up,” Bains said in an interview Tuesday after the government’s changes to the Canadian Business Corporations Act received royal assent from Governor General Julie Payette.
That means publicly traded companies are now required, among other things, to disclose the number of women and others from equity-seeking groups, such as visible minorities, on their boards and in senior management.
They will also now have to share their policies on diversity — or explain themselves to their shareholders.
The act affects nearly 270,000 companies, but Tuesday’s amendments would only affect those that also issue shares and report to a securities commission, including about 600 companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The Conservatives, who began consultations on the possibility of bringing in such legislation when they were in power, supported it.
Bains said he wants Canada to lead the world on the issue.
“We want Canada to be that jurisdiction globally for governance, for board diversity, that go-to place, where Canada plays a leadership role in not only talking a big game on diversity, but actually promoting in the most senior levels in corporate Canada,” he said.
Now that it is the law of the land, Bains said the Liberals will be turning to the corporate world to encourage them to carry through — and to convince them that having more diversity at the top of a company can also translate into a healthier bottom line.
There is still a long way to go, he added.
“I’ve been in too many boardrooms where I’m the only minority. I’ve been in too many boardrooms where it’s all men, and that has to change.”
Bains said the Liberals will be stepping up efforts to raise awareness of the changes — and to change stubborn minds.
“I was asked recently if there is a strong enough pipeline of people of diverse backgrounds, particularly women, to sit in board positions,” he said. “And I was very clear about what I felt about that comment, because I felt that the talent is there.
“The excuses of talent no longer apply. We have the people with the right set of experiences, people that can make a meaningful contribution, people that can play a leadership role. We have to change the culture and make sure they are provided and afforded the opportunity to do so.”