B.C. Premier Christy Clark rapped the province's private sector for "terrible" efforts to recruit women to their boardrooms, and says she'll seek advice from female business leaders to drive change.
But she will not advocate for new standards adopted by seven other provinces that require companies to disclose policies for improving the number of women on boards.
"If you want to make a difference, you have to ask people to do things that are going to be really effective," she said in an interview Thursday. "I would be reticent about wanting to impose red tape on companies when we don't know if it is going to render us the outcome we want."
Instead, she said, the government has been promoting women in its Crown corporations, hoping that the experience will open doors in the private sector.
"We pay attention to that balance. It's disappointing it hasn't had a bigger impact," Ms. Clark said.
"When I look at the number of qualified women in British Columbia, it's astounding that the numbers are so low." She said she will consult with her Women's Economic Council to look for ways to tackle under-representation.
Women comprised 12.3 per cent of directors in the S&P/TSX composite index last year. However, women account for just 6.6 per cent of board membership at the top 100 public companies based in British Columbia, The Globe and Mail reported last week.
The Globe's annual Board Games report, published this week, looked at board diversity as one factor in ranking Canada's top companies.
Ms. Clark said her government has aimed to ensure a third of the members of publicly appointed boards are women. The president of B.C. Hydro, the province's largest Crown corporation, is a woman – but seven men sit on the nine-member board. However, the Insurance Corporation of B.C., another major Crown, has four female directors out of 10.
Despite the low representation of women on boards in the private sector, B.C. is not among the seven provinces and two territories that will require companies to report annually on their plans to improve the ratio. The B.C. Securities Commission said the framework might not be suitable for B.C. companies, because the consultation was carried out in Ontario. Other provinces and territories, however, carried out their own consultations, something B.C. is not doing.
The diversity statistics for B.C. reported by The Globe last week were compiled by NDP MLA Adrian Dix with the assistance of the legislative library. The list of the top 100 public companies was put together by the publication Business in Vancouver.
"The idea here is not to have red tape, but to force companies to disclose their policies and encourage them to improve what is a bad situation," Mr. Dix said Thursday. "This is not the market, this is the old boys' network at play."
He called on the Premier to take action. "Even the Harper government is more progressive than the Clark government on this, that's how out of touch the Premier is on that question."
Last year, the federal government announced measures to increase the participation of women on boards. "Businesses with more women on their boards are more profitable and routinely outperform those with fewer," then-public works minister Rona Ambrose stated at the time.
The Globe attempted to contact more than a dozen companies about the representation of women on their boards. Most declined to comment or did not respond.
One of those that did respond, Telus said its goal is to have women make up 25 per cent of its board by 2017. Two of the company's 14 current directors are women (14 per cent). A company spokeswoman could not say why it would take three years to get to 25-per-cent board membership, and would not disclose whether it would support B.C. signing onto the framework the other provinces and territories had adopted.
Teck's board also had two female members out of 14, before it announced last week two more women had been appointed. A Teck spokesman said the company would support rules requiring disclosure of board and management senior representation for women.
Goldcorp, which has two women on its 10-person board, said it would not support the adoption of quotas for its diversity policy. It said it recognizes the benefits of employee and board diversity, but employees and directors will continue to be recruited based on their ability and contributions.
First Quantum Minerals, which has no women on its nine-person board, and Canfor, which has no women on its eight-person board, did not respond to requests for comment despite repeated attempts.