Veteran corporate director Spencer Lanthier has been named the inaugural chair of the Canadian chapter of the 30% Club, a global group advocating for more women in senior business roles.
Mr. Lanthier, a former director of the Bank of Canada, has launched a campaign to recruit Canadian board chairs and chief executive officers to join the organization and pledge their support for greater diversity.
The 30% Club was originally launched in Britain by investment industry executive Helena Morrissey, and has since spread to four more countries which have active chapters. The name refers to the organization's original aspiration to boost the proportion of women on boards in the U.K. to 30 per cent by 2015.
While the U.K. club is aimed at board chairs, Mr. Lanthier said the mandate is being expanded in Canada to include both chairs and CEOs because both are critical in making progress on the issue.
"It's not just board positions – it's also pushing for women in senior management positions, and clearly CEOs will have a role to play in that," Mr. Lanthier said in an interview Tuesday.
Mr. Lanthier, a former CEO of KPMG Canada who has served on many corporate boards including TMX Group Ltd., Torstar Corp. and Rona Inc., said membership in the 30% Club involves a public pledge to aspire to greater diversity, but does not involve paying fees, participating in activities or offering evidence of internal progress on diversity.
"It's strictly a campaign," Mr. Lanthier said.
Ms. Morrissey, CEO of London-based Newton Investment Management, founded the 30% Club in 2010 because she was convinced that board chairs would be most likely to take action on diversity if they were approached by their own peers – primarily other men who head major corporate boards.
Since its launch, more than 100 chairs have joined the British chapter and the proportion of women on boards in the FTSE 100 index has climbed to 23 per cent from 12.6 per cent in 2010, due in large part to new disclosure rules introduced for all public companies in 2011.
Both Canada and Australia are launching new 30% Club chapters early in 2015, which will spread the 30% Club across seven countries, including the United States, Ireland, Hong Kong and South Africa. Further expansion is in the works for Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Norway, Poland, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
Mr. Lanthier said he expects the official launch in Canada to occur in late winter or early spring once a core group of members are confirmed. Seven business leaders have already agreed to participate and many others have been approached and are considering whether to join, he said.
Stephanie MacKendrick, who co-heads the steering committee creating the Canadian chapter, said the club is working in conjunction with women's advocacy group Catalyst Canada.
While Catalyst has its own Catalyst Accord campaign urging companies to commit to reaching 25 per cent women on their boards, Ms. MacKendrick said the two initiatives do not compete and organizations can opt to participate in either or both if they choose. She said the Catalyst Accord involves a more formal pledge that is monitored by Catalyst, which is different from the mandate of the 30% Club.
She said the 30% Club is aimed not just at publicly traded companies, but also at professional service firms, Crown corporations, pension funds and other business organizations.
"If they have a board and they're influential in terms of the business community, then we want them," she said. "We want a change in attitude across the board."
Ms. MacKendrick said Canada is falling behind other countries for the proportion of women on boards because there has been more focus on the issue elsewhere.
"We're in the middle of the pack now, but I think Canada's capable of doing this if we just get a focus. Canada should be a leader."