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The Globe and Mail

Investors must speak up about corporate gender inequality

Fred Pinto is chief executive officer of OceanRock Investments. Peter Chapman is executive director of the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE).

The Canadian Securities Administration recently released summary results of its most recent report on women in board and executive positions at Canadian stock-issuing companies. The news isn't good.

The number of board seats occupied by women inched forward from 11 to 12 per cent. At the executive officer level, numbers were stagnant, with no gains in the percentage of companies with female executive officers.

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These results, like other recent data on the subject, reflect a disappointing state of affairs for the advancement of women in corporate leadership. What they don't reveal is that the gender gap is pervasive at all levels in Canadian business and is holding back our economic success.

In Ontario alone, Deloitte estimates that $18-billion in income – 2.5 per cent of GDP – is lost to gender wage inequality each year. Canada ranks 28th of 34 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries for gender wage equality.

By not fairly rewarding the performance of female employees and overlooking them for promotions and leadership, Canadian companies risk passing up an enormous talent pool, as undervalued women look elsewhere.

Research from McKinsey & Co., RobecoSAM and Credit Suisse has found that companies with greater gender equality in leadership outperform the stocks of companies with low gender equality and the overall market. But to achieve equality at the executive level, women need to be recognized and rewarded for their performance at all levels.

Across the work force, companies with policies that promote gender wage equality and the advancement of women attract more talented employees of both genders. Moreover, companies with policies that promote gender wage equality and the advancement of women have better employee engagement, innovation and productivity.

We know from Statistics Canada data that on average, a Canadian woman working full-time earns just 82 per cent of what a Canadian man does each week, and that gap grows larger with age and income level.

What we don't know is which companies are taking steps to address the gender gap at all levels and which are ignoring pay and leadership gaps at the risk of lower returns and human-resource underutilization.

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This situation is raising red flags with OceanRock Investments and other investors who want Canadian companies to create the conditions for strong financial returns. OceanRock is working with the Shareholder Association for Research and Education on gender-gap issues at the companies in its Meritas Jantzi Social Index mutual fund portfolio.

OceanRock is asking companies to conduct an annual companywide gender-pay analysis and to review hiring and promotion processes and procedures to reduce unconscious bias and structural barriers, as U.S. companies are doing under the White House Equal Pay Pledge.

In Canada, the federal government just introduced legislation to amend the Canadian Business Corporations Act to require reporting on board- and executive-level gender data for all federally incorporated companies. The Ontario government is mulling over a long list of policy recommendations from the Ontario Gender Wage Gap Strategy steering committee.

These are good first steps, but investors can't wait for governments to regulate corporate gender-gap issues writ large.

Businesses, investors and society benefit when women's skills are fairly rewarded and women have equal opportunity to work to their full potential. If investors want to benefit from improved practices, they need to speak up.

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