More Women in the Boardroom

As corporations compete in our global economy for market share, ideas, and talent, it has never been more evident that women leaders are essential to business success.

The Conference Board of Canada’s report, Women in Senior Management, found that at the current rate of change, it will take 151 years before the proportion of men and women at the management level are equal.

Waiting 151 years is not an option, change needs to happen now. One way to do this is to increase the number of women in decision making roles, namely in the boardroom.

More and more corporations are seeking to diversify their boards. Research has shown that diverse groups make better decisions because more perspectives are considered. The data backs this up.

Catalyst recently published data showing that companies with three or more women board directors outperformed companies with no women board directors. Yet, the 2011 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors reports that only 14.5% of board seats in corporate Canada are held by women, an increase of just 0.5 percentage points since 2009. Almost 40% of FP500 companies have no women on their boards, and more than 46% of FP500 public companies have no women directors.

While women’s participation in the labour force has increased dramatically, a report released by TD Economics in March 2013 says that Canada is falling behind other countries when it comes to putting women on corporate boards. According to the GMI Ratings 2012 Women on Boards Survey, Canada ranked ninth among major industrialized nations for female board membership in 2011. That’s down from sixth place in 2009. The resource sectors have the lowest share of board seats held by women, at 6.9% for energy and 5.9% for materials.

Why are there not more women on corporate boards in Canada? Some of the barriers limiting women’s participation in the boardroom include:

  • lack of access to power networks,
  • lack of profit and loss experience,
  • fewer women in executive roles to choose from,
  • fewer women with industry specific knowledge,
  • limited board opportunities because of the limited number of board seats and low turnover (a contributing factor is that many boards have no term limits or mandatory retirement age),
  • recruitment processes that draw from a closed network of people and are not transparent, and
  • women having limited contacts with exisitng board directors

Women need to take action and develop the skills required to sit at the board table. Here are five things you can do to help you become a board director:

  1. Build a powerful network. Get out and meet others who sit on boards. Connect with recruiters who do board searches. Make sure you know what your value proposition is; let them know why you want to be in the boardroom.
  2. Excel at what you do. Ensure you have business and financial decision-making experience. Develop and demonstrate your leadership skills; they are essential to being a successful board member.
  3. Develop a clear plan of your personal brand/core competencies. Be clear on why you would like to be on a board and what you bring to the table.
  4. Get non-profit board experience. The NLOWE Board of Directors is comprised of ten women, nine of whom are business owners like you. A non-profit board will teach you how to deal with tough issues while you learn about board governance. Once on the board, make sure you contribute. You will get noticed and it will allow you to be known for other possible board positions.
  5. Get educated and trained on governance issues. There are numerous resources available on board governance. Do your research. It is critical that you know the governance models of the boards you are targeting.
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