The recent death of Syd Jackson, who headed Manulife from 1972-87, reminds me how he advanced women in that organization. In an era when senior female executives were a rarity, Jackson appointed Jalynn Bennett as investment vice-president for Canadian equities. Bennett’s resulting high profile meant that she was among the first women to join the Society of Financial Analysts and, in the early 1990s, the first woman to join the Toronto Club.
During Jackson’s era, 12 percent of senior officers at Manulife were women, an impressive number at the time. Indeed, it remains an admirable number today. A recent survey of 91 countries by the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., sought to see how many women held senior corporate roles. Among the 2,074 Canadian firms studied, women comprised 7 percent of directors, 14 percent of executives and 3 percent of CEOs. Those numbers are pathetic.
A new group, called the 30% Club, was formed in Canada last September. The 50 member organizations seek to have their boards include 30 percent women by 2019. In the months since the group was founded, nearly 50 percent of the new appointees were women. That tells me there are lots of competent women available and that metrics work.
Regulatory bodies such as the Ontario Securities Commission that could accelerate change across the spectrum continue to promote foolish voluntary schemes like “comply or explain.” The trouble is that if a firm neither complies nor explains there are no repercussions.
The time is long since past for such meandering routes. We need to mandate a new tomorrow as has been successfully done in Norway and other European nations. Let’s make it the law in Canada that 40 percent of all boards and senior officers must be female by 2020, reaching 50 percent in 2024. That’s the only way we can finish the job that Syd Jackson began so many years ago.