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Editorial: Good start on board diversity

The Ontario Securities Commission is giving companies a bit more than a gentle nudge when it comes to increasing the presence of women on their boards.

Earlier this month, the OSC unveiled a number of proposals aimed at addressing the gender gap. They include of number of things issuers would have to disclose in their proxy circulars: Director term limits or an explanation for their absence; the number and proportion of women on their boards and in executive positions; policies on the representation of women on their boards or an explanation for their absence; actions taken and the progress made on any policies; the consideration of women in the director identification and selection process or an explanation for the lack of such an approach; and targets voluntarily adopted on female representation or, if there are none, an explanation for their absence.

The proposals, of course, fall short of mandatory quotas for women on boards and in executive ranks. While some countries have tried that approach given that it’s certainly a more effective way of delivering quick results, quotas have long been controversial in Canada. So the OSC was right to take a gentler approach that effectively tells companies to find ways to seek more women for their boards or explain why they fall short. Doing so will encourage greater transparency and accountability and should deliver results.

The proposals represent a compromise between the schools of thought that argue quotas are the only way to make real change happen and those who insist on looking only at merit. Voluntary targets and forcing companies to examine their policies and processes isn’t about setting merit aside, of course. Rather, the approach makes companies work harder, expand their criteria, and search more widely for qualified candidates given the systemic barriers to getting more women on boards. Lots of women have the qualifications boards need, but they may not know who they are or have looked for them very hard.

Statistics, of course, show Ontario companies continue to lag on female representation on their boards, so the OSC and the Ontario government are right to be moving on the issue. Little will happen without a push and while it’s unclear how quickly the proposals would deliver results, they’re certainly a good start.

— Glenn Kauth

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