Time to act

The Ontario Securities Commission has called for submissions on the question why there are too few women in senior management and on corporate boards. Here’s a slightly condensed version of the comment I sent:

As a business journalist and author for more than 30 years, I have watched closely and often wrote about the dearth of women on corporate boards and in senior management. Indeed, while at The Financial Post in the early 1990s, I launched an annual feature called The 50 Most Powerful Women in Canada. I saw this as a way not only to recognize the contribution of women in business but also to inform young women that success was possible and inspire them to achieve whatever great goals they sought in commerce.

I’ve heard all the arguments about how the passage of time will solve the problem. Once more women move up, goes the story, there will be enough women available for top jobs and directorships. Such arguments are hollow given the lack of progress borne out by statistics. There are a few exceptions such as BMO Financial where Rose Patten and Tony Comper altered ancient patterns. During his time as Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Comper increased the proportion of women in senior management from about 8 per cent to almost 40 per cent. Without such constant commitment from the top, nothing happens. Regrettably, too few CEOs include the promotion of women on their agendas.

Some people are promoting the so-called “comply or explain” method to increase the number of women at the top. If the OSC decides to take this route, I’m afraid the result will simply be a few boilerplate pages in every annual report saying why Firm X or Company Y could not meet expectations.

The best way to change the current dilemma is to put in place the kind of stretch targets sought in Norway and other European nations. The OSC should require all Canadian public companies to have 35 per cent female membership on boards and a similar proportion in senior management within five years of proclamation and 50 per cent within ten years of proclamation.

I respectfully urge the Commission to seize the moment and take historic action that will end this significant problem that has handcuffed Canadian businesswomen for decades.

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