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Victor Dodig said CIBC has internal targets for diversity and has developed programs to help women advance at the bank.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Supportive attitudes will not get more women to the top of the corporate ladder in Canada unless companies also adopt concrete processes and goals to make it happen, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce chief executive officer Victor Dodig said Tuesday.

At a Toronto launch event for the 30% Club, a new group championing women on boards, Mr. Dodig told an elite audience of board chairs and CEOs that they need to go beyond good intentions if they want to significantly shift their companies' diversity.

"It can't just be a mindset – you have to make it part of your corporate process to advance talented females," he said Tuesday.

Securities regulators in Canada have introduced new rules requiring companies to report annually on their efforts to advance women in senior roles in business, but many companies have been reluctant to adopt formal targets to spur progress.

A report released in May by Toronto law firm Torys LLP said 56 per cent of companies on the S&P/TSX composite index have developed policies supporting gender diversity, but only 13 per cent have set concrete targets for the proportion of women on their boards.

Mr. Dodig said CIBC has targets for diversity and has developed programs to help women advance at the bank, but he has concluded that informal actions are needed to be part of the mix to reinforce the corporate message.

"I could ask myself how many times during a month do I sit down with talented females that we have at CIBC who are not in executive roles today to encourage them to move forward? Candidly, I need to be setting aside more time to be doing that," he said. "There's stuff I'd encourage everybody else to do informally, too, because otherwise you rely on the formal stuff assuming it's going to happen and it doesn't always happen."

The 30% Club was founded in 2010 by British money manager Helena Morrissey with an aspiration to increase the proportion of women on corporate boards to 30 per cent within five years. The organization has expanded to 10 chapters around the world, including the new Canadian organization which has 48 members who are chairs or CEOs of 41 companies.

Ms. Morrissey, who attended the Tuesday launch in Toronto, said the proportion of women on boards of London's FTSE 100 index companies has climbed from 12.5 per cent to 25 per cent since 2010. All members of the FTSE index now have at least one woman on their boards, she said.

"We started from a lower base than Canada, but we've seen such huge acceleration," she said.

Although women filled only 15 per cent of seats on the boards of S&P/TSX composite index companies in 2014, Mr. Dodig said he feels it would ultimately be a failure if Canada only gets to 30 per cent board diversity and does not proceed further toward parity.

Bank of Montreal chief executive officer Bill Downe, who was in the audience at Tuesday's discussion, said there is currently fantastic energy around the issue of promoting women, but it has to shift into practical action. He said data show that women continue to have a pay gap compared to men in comparable jobs, but many executives assume their companies are not the ones with the problem. He urged executives to ask for data on their own organizations and take action.

Royal Bank of Canada chair Kathleen Taylor, who was also in the audience, pitched a similar message about the need to make active efforts to improve diversity, saying board chairs and directors cannot simply say they don't know any qualified women who would be appropriate for their boards.

"Then it's the board's responsibility to figure out how to get to know them," she said. "Put processes in place to canvass the entire spectrum of people who would be value-added to your board."