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Time for ‘action’ on corporate diversity, Status of Women Minister Ambrose says

There are no restrictions to the mandate of a committee looking at ways to boost the number of women on boards of directors, but Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose doesn’t anticipate the group will recommend mandatory quotas.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

A federal committee developing proposals to get more women on boards of directors must draft "action-oriented" recommendations and not produce a lengthy report on an issue that has already been studied for years, says Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose.

Ms. Ambrose, chairwoman of a new committee of business executives studying women on boards, said she has given her committee a broad mandate to consider legislative or other reforms that would help boost the number of women on corporate boards in Canada. "The only caveat I gave to them is that I didn't want a study or necessarily a report," Ms. Ambrose said in an interview.

"I wanted action-oriented recommendations for the government to immediately act on. My belief is, as someone who has studied, researched and observed this issue for over a decade, that we have had enough studies and enough reports."

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The 25 members of the advisory committee include Weyerhaeuser Co. Ltd. president Anne Giardini, Linamar Corp. chief executive officer Linda Hasenfratz, Open Text Corp. executive chairman Tom Jenkins and TMX Group Ltd. chairman Charles Winograd.

The committee is scheduled to meet Monday for the first time to launch discussions, and has been asked to report its recommendations by the fall. Ms. Ambrose said she has already had one-on-one conversations with committee members and most already have strong ideas about how to address the issue, so they may table their recommendations more quickly.

"They have until the fall, but I wouldn't be surprised if they came back in a shorter period of time," she said.

While there are no restrictions on the committee's mandate, Ms. Ambrose said she doesn't anticipate the group will recommend mandatory quotas for women on boards, which have been put in place in some countries in Europe, including Norway and France. "My sense from the members is that's not where they are going," Ms. Ambrose said.

She said many businesswomen she has spoken to about the issue "feel really strongly about taking bold action, looking at potential regulatory issues," but said they also believe "merit and competence" are key considerations.

Women comprise about 10 per cent of the directors of publicly traded companies in Canada, a number that is virtually unchanged since 2007, spurring calls for reforms to try to improve women's representation in the top ranks of business.

The federal committee is commencing its work just weeks after the Ontario government revealed plans to introduce reforms to boost the number of women on boards. Laurel Broten, Ontario's Minister Responsible for Women's Issues, told The Globe in May that her government is working with the Ontario Securities Commission to develop a rule that could require companies to set their own targets for women and report on their progress, or else explain publicly why they opt not to comply with the guideline.

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A "comply or explain" standard could be similar to rules already in place in Australia, where companies are required to develop targets to improve gender diversity in management and on boards and report annually on their progress, or else explain why they have no policy and targets.

At least nine countries around the world have some form of quotas for women on boards while many others, including Australia and Britain, have introduced disclosure requirements or voluntary targets. Canada has no legislation or rules to bolster board diversity, and Ms. Broten said she is concerned Canada is falling behind other countries that are making better progress on the issue.

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