Taking a cue from Ontario, the Manitoba Securities Commission will look into the gender gap bedevilling the province's corporate boards to see whether new rules should be imposed.
Those rules could echo Ontario's "comply or explain" regulations slated to be unveiled later this month. Though not hard targets or quotas, the new rules could force companies to disclose their percentage of female board members and their policies on gender diversity. If a company fails to disclose, it must explain why to shareholders.
'There's a whole population of people who are not being tapped. It's appalling'
A spokesman for the Manitoba Securities Commission said the commission is monitoring Ontario's progress and plans to launch its own review of the number of female directors in Manitoba with an eye to making recommendations to Manitoba's finance minister.
That is good news for Anna Maria Magnifico, who organized a lunchtime lecture Wednesday meant to tackle Manitoba's paucity of women in senior corporate roles.
"If it raises the bar and gets us to where we need to be so that women are a voice at the table, then that's a good thing," said Magnifico, who is with the Manitoba chapter of the Institute of Corporate Directors. "I can't imagine anyone in Manitoba would not be in favour of it."
According to a Free Press analysis last year, only six per cent of corporate directorships in Manitoba are held by women. That covers the boards of the province's 40-odd publicly traded companies such as Investors Group, Great-West Life and Buhler Industries, and it's dramatically below national figures that range between 10 to 13 per cent. Thirty of Manitoba's top-40 publicly traded companies had no female directors at all, including Pollard Banknote, Artis REIT, FP Newspapers and several mining companies.
Finance Minister Jennifer Howard, then the labour minister, found the figures "shocking" and said last year she would launch discussions with Manitoba's business sector. She also said she was interested in Ontario's proposed "comply or explain" approach and would follow its progress to see whether it's a policy Manitoba ought to implement.
Winnipeg businesswoman Ashleigh Everett, a featured speaker at Wednesday's event, called Manitoba's record of gender parity "abysmal" and said the lack of women on corporate boards isn't caused by a shortage of qualified candidates. Instead, it's due to a mindset that looks to mostly male CEOs as go-to candidates without digging down into the ranks of senior executives for equally qualified women. And, directors tend to recommend people they know as possible candidates, which can also subtly shut women out.
Everett, head of Domo Gasoline and a corporate director at Scotiabank and MTS Allstream, said improvements to corporate governance as well as new attention focused on the problem by the media, non-profits and the Ontario Securities Commission have created some momentum for change.
"Collectively, that's a call to action that's becoming hard for corporate Canada to ignore," said Everett.
Non-profit boards and Crown corporations in Manitoba have moved much more swiftly toward gender parity, which suggests there is a pool of qualified women.
Susan Boulter, director of the province's Vital Statistics Agency, said women have become a strong voice on non-profit boards but haven't yet been able to crack the private sector.
"There's a whole population of people who are not being tapped," said Boulter, who also sits on the CancerCare Manitoba board. "It's appalling."