Canadian ICT companies needs more board-level women. So says the Information Technology Board of Canada (ITAC), and it even has a list of likely candidates.
ITAC is Canada’s national IT business association, and it wants the country to have a strong digital economy. Mary Whittle, chair of its Women on Boards Committee, believes that getting women into IT positions is a key part of that process. Having women in technical jobs on staff is important, but so is having female directors at non-executive director level, she argues.
“I’m a firm believer that you can’t be innovative if you have a very homogeneous community that is grappling with an issue,” said Whittle, herself an almost thirty-year veteran in business, with much of it spent in the ICT sector. “The board provides strategic direction and understands where the company needs to be.
If you don’t have that diversity of thought then it’s very difficult to craft a strategic outlook for the company that takes into consideration the reality of what the company is going to be dealing with in the next three-to-five years. And that is the role of the board.”
Whittle’s committee has interviewed and qualified senior female IT professionals from within the ITAC network, with the help of executive recruitment firm Knightsbridge.
“The issue is that nominating committees and C-level people in companies don’t know where to look for women, so why don’t we help them?” she explained, estimating that perhaps 80% of non-executive C-suite jobs are typically attained through networking.
A registry of board-ready female ICT experts
ITAC created a registry of 33 board-ready women experienced in technology, who it believes can lend new, informed perspectives to the boards of ICT companies, and also to non-ICT firms that nevertheless have a need for technology expertise.
The organization said that there are 37 female board-level directors in the TSX Tech 60, representing under 10 per cent of total board seats. 11 were from the US and 26 (6.5 per cent of the total) were from Canada. The registry doubles the number of qualified women publicly available, it said.
The list isn’t as geographically diverse as it could be, though: most of the women in it are from Ontario, with a couple hailing from Quebec. Vancouver, a thriving tech engine for Canada in its own right, isn’t represented at all. That will change, promises Whittle. She promises that the Committee will be holding more board discovery days soon, both out east and in Canada’s western region.
The gender imbalance in Canadian ICT companies mirrors that south of the border, as researchers have found Silicon Valley wanting when it comes to gender representation. Legal firm Fenwick & West’s tech practice surveyed gender diversity there in 2013, and found that 150 firms in the region averaged 10 per cent female directors, compared to 20.9 per cent for the S&P 500.
Since then, firms have been working at improving, at least in some areas. Intel boosted female new hires to 40 per cent, bringing the total number of women in its workforce to just over a third, it said in a report earlier this year. When it comes to its board, though, it still needs some work: only one of its ten board of directors is female, and employs just four women on its list of 24 executive managers.