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Sweep the 'old boys' from boards

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2Almost three years ago in this paper, I pointed out that of the 40 top corporate CEOs in Manitoba, not one was a woman. The boardrooms were overwhelmingly male. I pointed out that change could come about by legislation, by business itself or by shareholders demanding change. None of this has happened, and today the situation is just as bad as it was then.

Great-West Life has 17 men and two women on its board. Not to be outdone, IGM Financial has the same. At first I was hopeful that IGM had three women, only to learn that director Christy Clark is a male. The Boyd Group remains all male. Manitoba Telecom Services has one of the best records, with three women and seven men.

The Northwest Company has made a modest improvement in the last few years from one woman to two, and has added an aboriginal person, surely necessary in a company that does consumer business primarily in the North. Artis Real Estate has no women; the Exchange Income Group has 10 members, one of whom is a woman. HudBay also now has one woman among its governors.

By limiting their membership to men, these boards do not reflect the population, and the pool of outstanding women available to build our economy is being ignored. While female membership on boards in the U.S. has risen to 18 per cent in 2013 from 16 per cent in 2008, it is seen as proceeding too slowly. Canada lags behind the U.S., and the boards of Manitoba's 12 largest public companies have an average of less than 10 per cent women.

Many of Manitoba's Crown corporations have chairwomen or female CEOs, and the Crowns as well as the quasi-judicial boards tend to have roughly equal numbers of men and women on their boards, so we have first-hand experience of women's business and administrative competence.

There is a concern being articulated in the U.S. that directors are staying on boards longer and longer, and discussions are taking place about limiting the members' ages or terms. Manitoba's boards are incestuous, and some members, like former premier Gary Filmon, can make a full-time career of multiple directorships. Circulating the same directors around these boards limits the likelihood of building gender equity or ethnic diversity.

Evidence is overwhelming that diverse boards are more successful and profitable than those that cling to past practices. The traditional old boys' network is alive and well in Manitoba and the same names appear again and again. Clearly, these are not people who respect the opinions of women or change would have happened.

Nominating committees should be mandated to seek new members and to base their recommendation on competence rather than membership in the Manitoba Club. Maybe every time a board member resigns, he or she should be replaced by a woman until reasonable goals are reached.

The situation reflects the value placed on women's involvement in decision-making and the respect for women among business leaders.

Countries such as France, Iceland, Norway and Spain have developed gender quotas for their boards. Many other countries have policies that require goals to be set and a "comply or explain" policy. The highly successful Scandinavian countries have the largest percentage of women on their boards. Canada has slipped to lower than 10th place among industrialized countries, and the federal government has appointed business leaders to a committee to advise them on how to increase the number of women on the boards of publicly traded corporations.

Ontario's government asked the securities commission to hold public hearings on ways to increase the participation of women. The Manitoba Securities Commission could be one place to start here as well. However, in spite of the Manitoba government's claim to support gender equity of boards, the securities commission is headed by a man who oversees a board of two women and four men. One position is vacant and the two women have served 10 or more years.

The Manitoba government recently met with business leaders and interested women to discuss this issue and the Institute of Corporate Directors (Manitoba) is meeting on the topic in January. But really we don't need any more talk. It is time for Manitoba to stop talking and start acting.

Linda Taylor is a Winnipeg freelance writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2013 A9

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