Don’t un­der­mine im­por­tant mis­sion

Toronto Star - - INSIGHT -

Cat­a­lyst Canada, an ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion “ded­i­cated to ac­cel­er­at­ing progress for women through work­place in­clu­sion in Canada,” has found it­self in the news in a way that is dis­tract­ing from its im­por­tant man­date.

CIBC chief ex­ec­u­tive Vic­tor Dodig, a man, has been named chair of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ad­vi­sory board. He re­places Bank of Mon­treal CEO Bill Downe, an­other man, in the role.

It’s im­por­tant that pow­er­ful men de­nounce and work to cor­rect the per­sis­tent problem of gen­der dis­par­ity in the cor­po­rate world and else­where. And no doubt Dodig brings tal­ent, valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence and a laud­able com­mit­ment to eq­uity to the po­si­tion, as his pre­de­ces­sor did.

At the same time, how­ever, it’s in­con­ceiv­able that an or­ga­ni­za­tion whose man­date is to in­crease the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in the cor­po­rate world could not have found highly com­pe­tent women to fill this role — twice.

“This is kind of ironic. As an or­ga­ni­za­tion you might want your leader to be a re­flec­tion of your stated man­date,” said Tr­ish Hen­nessy, di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives’ On­tario of­fice. Hen­nessy’s or­ga­ni­za­tion has done much to high­light the con­tin­u­ing gaps in pay be­tween men and women, an is­sue no doubt ex­ac­er­bated by the lack of women in ex­ec­u­tive roles.

Cat­a­lyst should lead by ex­am­ple. Its work is pro­foundly valu­able, not only be­cause gen­der par­ity is a right­eous goal. Nor sim­ply be­cause gen­der bal­ance in ex­ec­u­tive roles is bound to have a self-re­in­forc­ing ef­fect, in­spir­ing more women to seek out top cor­po­rate jobs. But also be­cause it’s good for business.

As Cat­a­lyst points out, com­pa­nies with three or more women direc­tors in at least four of five years sig­nif­i­cantly out­per­formed those with sus­tained low rep­re­sen­ta­tion by an as­ton­ish­ing 84 per cent on re­turn on sales, 60 per cent on re­turn on in­vested cap­i­tal and 46 per cent on re­turn on eq­uity.

Yet women are still vastly un­der-rep­re­sented in the up­per ech­e­lons of Cor­po­rate Canada. At do­mes­tic banks, for in­stance, women are still in the mi­nor­ity when it comes to top ex­ec­u­tives. Only nine, or 21 per cent, of the 43 named ex­ec­u­tives at the eight banks are women, ac­cord­ing to reg­u­la­tory dis­clo­sures. And those women only earned 10 per cent — not 21 per cent — of the $214 mil­lion the ex­ec­u­tives earned in to­tal.

The num­bers are even worse among other TSX-listed com­pa­nies, as a 2016 re­port by law firm Osler, Hoskin & Har­court LLP re­vealed. De­spite a push by the On­tario Se­cu­ri­ties Com­mis­sion to im­prove fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion on cor­po­rate boards of direc­tors, nearly half of all pub­licly traded On­tario com­pa­nies still have zero women on their boards. Fur­ther, women held only about 13 per cent of all board seats, up just 1 per cent from the year be­fore. This, in a coun­try where more women than men grad­u­ate from univer­sity.

De­fend­ing Cat­a­lyst’s de­ci­sion to ap­point an­other man to chair its ad­vi­sory board, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Toronto-based ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Tanya van Biesen said that men, who lead 95 per cent of com­pa­nies in North Amer­ica, play a very im­por­tant role in the ad­vance­ment of women in the work­place. “We need to en­gage them to ad­vance change,” she said. That is no doubt true. But it doesn’t mean they have to lead.

As Biesen’s pre­de­ces­sor, Alex John­ston, said about Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau nam­ing a gen­der par­ity cab­i­net, it isn’t tal­ented women who are in short sup­ply. It’s the de­mand for them that has been lack­ing. Ap­par­ently that’s true even at Cat­a­lyst. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has an im­por­tant man­date that would be well served through lead­er­ship by ex­am­ple.

It’s in­con­ceiv­able that an or­ga­ni­za­tion whose man­date is to in­crease the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in the cor­po­rate world could not have found a highly com­pe­tent woman to guide it

VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR

Cat­a­lyst Canada, an or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to push­ing for more women on boards, just named Vic­tor Dodig, CIBC CEO, to head its ad­vi­sory board over women can­di­dates who were in the run­ning.

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