In the heart of downtown Manhattan near Wall Street, there stands an iconic statue: no, not the charging bull, the imposing brass symbol of a strong market, optimism and prosperity.
There’s a new icon in town and she’s fearlessly staring down the bull.
She’s being dubbed “The Defiant Girl” – a statue placed in front of the bull by State Street Global Advisors, a $2.5 trillion asset manager. Lack of women on boards in the United States has long been a problem, and in recognition of International Women’s Day, State Street’s campaign aimed to bring attention to this issue, and urge “greater gender diversity on corporate boards.”
The US isn’t the only country with a lack of diversity in this arena.
According to a recent review published by the Canadian Securities Administrators, female board representation seems to be at a standstill. Women filled only 15 per cent of 521 vacant Canadian corporate board seats this year. In fact, according to a report by Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, a Toronto-based law firm, almost half of the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX)-listed companies still have zero women on the board.
Although board representation is lacking, Canada is making progress when it comes to diversity in other ways. After winning the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau named 15 women and 15 men to his cabinet – the first ever gender-balanced cabinet in Canadian history. When asked why, he famously replied, “because it’s 2015.” To this day, despite several cabinet shuffles, Trudeau has managed to maintain this ratio.
It is now 2017, and there is still a lot of work to be done. When it comes to Canadian businesses, women account for only 25 per cent of all managers, and only 32 per cent of senior managers, according to a recent report from Catalyst, a non-profit organization working to increase and accelerate female representation in the workplace. Moreover, in 2016, women only hold 42 of the more than 525 chief level executive positions among Canada’s 100 largest publicly-traded corporations.
Bill C-25 and a New Public Diversity Policy
In September 2016, Bill C-25 was introduced by Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, which included proposed changes to corporate governance rules in Canada. One of these changes included implementing a “widely used comply or explain model…which would affect about 600 (or 40 per cent) of the approximately 1,500 companies on the TSX.”
According to Bloomberg, this model would legally require corporations to “identify the gender composition of their boards and make public their diversity policies.”
Diane Finley (Haldimand-Norfolk) has stated that the Ontario Securities Commission implemented this model two years ago, and since then, the number of women on boards there has increased to 20 per cent.
The Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders
In February 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump held a roundtable meeting with female business leaders from Canada and the US as part of Trudeau’s first visit to Washington since Trump was elected in November 2016.
Both leaders acknowledged the vital role women play in the workforce, and announced a plan to create more opportunities for women in this arena. A Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders was established, a joint initiative that helps businesses owned by women as a “way to contribute to economic growth, competitiveness and the integration of the two economies.” According to The Financial Post, the council will be made up of 10 female executives — half from Canadian companies and the other half from American companies.
The Prime Minister’s Office will also “recommend ways to remove barriers to increasing competitiveness for women entrepreneurs, as well as tackle issues affecting women in the workforce — including those in senior leadership positions,” according to the Canadian Press.
Quotas to Boost Board Diversity
Finally, another potential solution to boost representation of women on corporate boards, according to Beatrix Dart, a University of Toronto business professor who serves on the board of construction company EllisDon Corp. is to establish quotas and award procurement contracts to companies who have more women representation.
Says Dart, “I’m happy to be a quota woman if that sets the level playing field.”