Progress is slow, says ITAC report. Still, it only says governments should “consider” rules requiring companies to publicly explain why diversity goals aren’t being reached

 

The boards of the country’s largest information and communications technology companies are still dominated by men despite the efforts of one of the industry’s major trade groups.

In a report issued Tuesday, the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) said 16.5 per cent of the boards of the 10 largest public ICT companies in Canada are made up of women.
Click here: Number of women on Cdn boards

On the one hand, that puts them on par with the average corporate board in the country. On the other hand, it doesn’t match the lead of the financial services sector. There, about 30 per cent of the boards of the nation’s five largest banks are women.

Overall Canada is now ninth among industrialized economies in terms of the percentage of women on corporate boards.“Other countries are making more progress than Canada,” says the report.

Still, when ITAC began in 2008 to ensure that women had a greater number of seats on its board it made significant progress: Today 32 per cent of its board is composed of women.

“There has been progress (in the industry), but it has been slow,” says report author Karen Wensley, a former ITAC board member who is now a consultant.
But in a conference call with reporters Wednesday to discuss the report she also said that “it is not a supply problem. It is true that there are more men than women in the eligible pool of (board) candidates, but there are plenty of strong, talented board-ready women. It is a matter of setting goals, making gender diversity a priority and using a systematic approach” to recruitment.

“Smaller ICT companies in Canada tend to be new, rapidly growing, and have significant challenges finding good candidates for their boards, whatever the gender” the report admits. Their priority, Wensley added in the conference call, is survival. Mid-sized companies are preoccupied with finding specialized board members — say, with knowledge on how to get business in Europe. That’s why she believes larger companies have to lead.

“It is important that the large companies set an example, for a number of reasons,” says the report. “First, accumulating research shows that more diverse boards are correlated with better corporate performance. Second, the ICT sector has struggled to attract women into engineering and computer science programs, and women board members can act as role models for younger women as well as women executives in the sector.”

The report calls on CEOs and directors of large ICT to use search firms to identify potential directors rather than rely solely on their informal personal networks, to engage with leaders of other companies on the issue of gender diversity, including ways of mentoring and championing women.

They should also consider signing on to the Catalyst Accord, which urges the top 500 Canadian corporations to have 25 per cent of their board seats held by women by 2017.

Meanwhile, leaders of small ICT companies should keep an eye open for “great women candidates for their boards.”

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What the industry doesn’t want are federal or provincial requirements for a minimum percentage of women on boards. However, it is open to the idea of regulators instituting “comply or explain” policies, where companies that fail to meet goals have to explain why to the public.

In Australia, the report notes, this approach has resulted in board membership for women jumping: Women now account for 25 per cent of new board appointments.

“The Canadian government should study the approaches taken around the world and implement the most effective,” says the report – as long as “onerous” regulations not be imposed on smaller companies.

By coincidence, on Tuesday the Ontario Securities Commission, which regulates companies that trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange, released a discussion paper proposing that TSX-listed companies and other non-venture issuers have to annually disclose their policies on increasing women on boards and senior management.

One problem – a continuing problem – is that the ICT sector struggles with attracting young women: Only about a quarter of the ICT workforce are women. That reduces the number of women who could be recruited by boards. Women in high school believe ICT companies “would not be places at which they would want to work,” says the report.

As to why it’s important for more women to be on boards, the report argues diversity pays in two ways: By sending a signal to groups that the organization is open, which brings in new ideas that end up helping the bottom line.

The report does cite two companies here that went out of their way to find women for their boards: software and services firm Softchoice (which before going private last month added two on its nine-member board), and document management company OpenText, which has three women on its nine-person board. CEO Mark Barrenechea told the report’s author that he told a search firm retained for board recruiting  that it needed to actively look for women leaders.

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