The federal government has named 23 prominent business people to a new committee that will offer advice on how to get more women on Canada's corporate boards.
The new committee, which includes 16 women and seven men, will "suggest how industry and government can track and measure progress" on boosting women on corporate boards, Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose announced Friday.
The long-awaited committee was first announced in March, 2012, in the federal budget, but it has taken over a year to organize its membership.
Members include Linamar Corp. chief executive officer Linda Hasenfratz, Atco Ltd. CEO Nancy Southern, OpenText Corp. executive chairman Thomas Jenkins, Rogers Communications Inc. chairman Alan Horn and Suncor Energy Inc. chairman John Ferguson. The group also includes television personality Arlene Dickinson, who appears on The Dragons' Den .
Canada's publicly traded companies had 10 per cent female directors in 2011, according to research by women's advocacy group Catalyst, a number that has barely shifted in recent years and was unchanged from 2009.
Ms. Ambrose said it makes business sense for companies to to improve those statistics. Several research studies have suggested that companies with more women are also more profitable, although researchers say it is not clear if women are the cause of the trend.
"The evidence is clear – having more women on corporate boards is good for business and good for the economy," Ms. Ambrose said in a statement.
Catalyst Canada executive director Alex Johnston said her organization's research makes a strong case for increasing women on boards, showing links to better financial outcomes and greater innovation.
"Canada needs to stay competitive in a global economy," Ms. Johnston said. "Currently we are falling behind as other countries are moving ahead to increase the number of women on boards."
A report last month by Toronto-Dominion Bank deputy chief economist Beata Caranci concluded that Canada is falling behind other countries in its proportion of women on boards, sliding to ninth globally in 2011 from sixth in 2009 after other countries saw their numbers climb. Ms. Caranci said the trend "is simply an unacceptable outcome on equity grounds" and also "implies a market failure to appreciate the skills and perspectives that women can bring to the table."
Her report recommends public companies should report on their approach to gender diversity on boards and their statistics on women on boards and at senior executive levels "so that progress can be measured over time."
At least nine countries around the world, including France and Norway, have introduced some form of quotas requiring companies to add more women to their boards. Many other countries have developed disclosure rules requiring companies to set targets or report on their progress toward greater gender diversity. Britain has asked major companies to set a voluntary target of 25 per cent women on their boards by 2015 and requires them to report on their progress.
Canada has no rules or reporting requirements, and there is no indication the new committee has a mandate to develop such standards. Friday's release said the committee will provide advice on how business can increase women on boards and will suggest how government can track and measure progress and what tools could be used to do so.
It will also make recommendations by this fall on how the government "could recognize leaders in industry and applaud companies that have succeeded in reaching their goals."
THE COMMITTEE MEMBERS:
Beverley Briscoe, president, Briscoe Management Ltd.
Maureen Kempston Darkes, former group vice-president and president Latin America, Africa and Middle East, General Motors Corp.
Joan Dea, managing director and founder, Beckwith Investments
Arlene Dickinson, CEO, Venture Communications
Janet Ecker, president, Toronto Financial Services Alliance
Dawn Farrell, president and CEO, TransAlta Corp.
John Ferguson, chairman, Suncor Energy Inc.
Sheila Fraser, auditor-general of Canada from 2001 to 2011
Linda Frum, Senate of Canada Anne Giardini, president, Weyerhaeuser Canada Ltd.
Mike Greenley, chair, Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries
Linda Hasenfratz, CEO, Linamar Corp.
Alan Horn, chairman, Rogers Communications Inc.
Isabelle Hudon, president, Sun Life Financial Quebec Tom Jenkins, executive chairman and chief strategy officer, Open Text Corp.
Andrew MacDougall, managing director for Canada, Spencer Stuart
John Manley, CEO, Canadian Council of Chief Executives
Tracy Redies, president and CEO, Coast Capital Savings Credit Union Susan
Riddell Rose, president and CEO, Perpetual Energy Inc.
Kathy Sendall, director, CGG Veritas
Nancy Southern, CEO, Atco Ltd.
Catherine Swift, board governor, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
Charles Winograd, chairman, TMX Group Ltd.