Extending Equality to Corporate Boardrooms

by | March 9, 2012
filed under Can-Con, Feminism

by E. Cain

To me, corporate boards are synonymous with the old boys club – elitist, behind closed doors, and lacking representation of women and minorities. That’s why I was pleased to see recent headlines about European leaders looking to increase the number of women on boards by mandating quotas.

That’s right, the Q word.

This proposal to promote women’s equality is being driven by very bleak statistics which show that only one in seven board members at the region’s top firms is female (13.7%). Let me also add that in Canada, the stats aren’t much better as women make up only 14% of corporate board members.

It’s an issue that we’re facing around the world. In fact, last year I attended an Equal Voice event featuring Liv Monic Stubholt, a Norwegian business executive and former Government Minister. Norway is an interesting case study on this issue as the country successfully passed legislation that mandates corporations to have at least 40% women on their boards of directors building on their excellent record of electing women to the legislature.

Two important points from Monic Stubholt’s presentation have stuck with me a year later and I would like to share them:

First, Norway’s quota legislation was introduced by a man, Conservative Minister: Ansgar Gabrielsen. He was not a feminist and his party did not support his Bill (it passed with support from the left-wing parties). However, his objective was to ensure that the best candidates were sitting on Norway’s corporate boards. In an interview he commented:

“My thinking was that we had invested millions of dollars to educate our daughters, in fact 65 per cent of students in universities are women, and we were not using this significant resource. It didn’t make sense. I really think you get the best ideas when men and women work together in equal numbers.”

Second, Monic Stubholt argued that if the quota legislation was removed today, women in Norway would maintain strong representation on corporate boards. Her reasoning was that the quota legislation forced corporations make the application process more transparent and widen their search processes beyond the old boy’s network. There isn’t a shortage of qualified women – they just need the opportunities.

In addition to Norway, Spain and Iceland also have quota policies in place for corporate boards. Further, Quebec has legislated gender parity for the boards of its Crown corporations. I think there is a good case for this example to be followed across Canada.

(photo by VectorOpenStock)

Editor’s Note: Yesterday the NDP introduced legislation requiring mandatory gender parity within the boards of directors of Crown corporations. Under this bill, women could account for no less than 40 percent of directors in federal organizations.

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