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opinion

Vandana Juneja is the executive director of Catalyst Canada

At Catalyst we have watched the glacial pace of progress for women and underrepresented groups for years. Along the way, the message from Corporate Canada has been fairly consistent: There’s no need for regulation, really – we’re on it. Except that most are not.

The most recent example of Corporate Canada’s faint-hearted position on the matter was last Friday’s recommendations from the Ontario government’s Capital Markets Modernization Taskforce, which retreated from mandating specific diversity targets. It was the latest blow to women, Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), persons with disabilities and members of LGBTQ communities at Toronto Stock Exchange-listed companies, effectively ensuring that progress for these groups will continue to move forward slowly, if at all.

This latest report was an opportunity for Ontario and publicly traded companies on the TSX to adopt a meaningful position on promoting and advancing all talent in this country. Yet in the final analysis, it was deemed most appropriate to embrace a “market-driven diversity framework” that encourages companies to set targets and leaves shareholders to hold companies accountable for driving change.

This approach not only lacks courage but also simply ignores the facts. Unfortunately, we know exactly what happens when companies are asked to set their own targets, as the task force report recommends: It seldom happens.

A good example is the “comply or explain” rule implemented by Canadian securities regulators in 2014. To date, less than 10 per cent of TSX-listed companies have set targets for female executive officers, despite being encouraged to do so. The end result is predictable. The proportion of female executive officers on TSX-listed companies has remained largely unchanged over the past five years, since the rule was implemented.

Recent reports such as The Globe and Mail’s Power Gap are important, serving to remind Canadians that women continue to be missing from positions of influence that shape our lives and that we should be concerned about this. But here’s my question: Is anyone really surprised to hear this?

Catalyst has been working to accelerate progress for women in the workplace across the globe for more than 50 years, and we know women continue to be underrepresented at leadership levels across almost every sector. BIPOC women are even more underrepresented. Catalyst’s work, including thousands of research reports, speeches, blogs, case studies, webinars and more offers clear, actionable and proven solutions. Yet despite the tireless efforts of our organization, and many others like it, progress remains agonizingly slow.

Why is this? Because much like all things pertaining to gender and racial inequity, the deepest roots of these issues are archaic, insidious and therefore tough to tackle. But they persist – and it’s time we stand taller against them.

The message is simple, really: Canada can start to close the power gap by mandating the very 50/30 targets (50-per-cent gender parity in board and executive management, 30 per cent for underrepresented groups) that the task force originally considered. Take a lead from the organizations that have taken this approach and are seeing the results.

Companies and institutions can’t profess to be committed to diversity and having a work force that represents the country if they aren’t prepared to build in the accountability to make it happen. Our economy rides on us getting this right. And business leaders need to know that they have a vital role to play in ensuring future generations of Canadians benefit from the economic growth tied to advancing women and underrepresented groups. The benefits are well documented; we now just need to make it happen.

Are we really surprised that there’s a power gap in Canada? Not at all. But let’s take collective and intentional action to do something about it.

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