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Catalyst calls for women on 25 percent of FP500 boards

Friday, March 9, 2012  
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Catalyst is calling on Canadian corporations to increase the overall proportion of FP500 board seats held by women to 25 percent by 2017. Women currently hold 14.5 percent of board seats in FP500 companies and 10.3 percent in public companies.

The organization’s call to action is being supporting by RBC and Linamar Corporation, two companies that have signed the Catalyst Accord, pledging a commitment to furthering women on their boards and submitting confidential interim goals to Catalyst. To support these companies’ efforts, members of the Catalyst Canada Advisory Board will provide participating companies with a roster of board-ready women who they personally sponsor.

"The Catalyst Accord is more than a call to action -- it closes the loop,” said Deborah Gillis, senior vice president, membership and global operations for Catalyst. "At its core, it shows a highly focused commitment to increasing board diversity on the part of corporate Canada and it provides the tools to create that change. "Not only can corporate Canada address this challenge, as other countries have done, but it can also demonstrate how much it prizes diversity -- and smart business practices -- by exercising leadership on this issue.”

The Catalyst Accord was created in response to the "2011 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board of Directors” report, which shows the proportion of women on Canadian boards rose only half a percentage point between 2009 and 2011. Nearly 40 percent of FP500 companies and over 46 percent of public FP500 companies have no women serving on their boards.

"Increasing women on boards is good for business -- simply put, it’s the smart thing to do,” said RBC President and CEO Gord Nixon. "RBC has five women on its board and I’ve seen firsthand how their skills, experiences and perspectives enhance boardroom discussion, deliberation and ultimately business results. We've seen how focus and a shared commitment to recruiting women with the right skills can drive positive change.”

In addition to providing a list of board-ready women candidates, distributed upon request to the boards of companies that sign the Accord, Catalyst has committed to continue publishing its biennial "Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors;" maintain a rolling list of participating companies on its website; recognize a champion of board diversity at The Catalyst Canada Honours on Nov. 5, 2012, and annually thereafter; and work with corporate search firms to develop a voluntary code of conduct for efforts to recruit qualified women.

"If every FP500 company commits to filling a vacant board seat with one qualified woman, we can easily achieve at least 25 percent representation by 2017,” Gillis said. "Given the strong business case supporting gender diversity on corporate boards and the global trend to advance women to corporate boardrooms, we are confident that Canadian companies will harness the power of talented women leaders and seize this opportunity to lead and win.”

The Network of Executive Women recently published "Women, Leadership and the Power of the Purse: Gender Diversity in the Canadian CPG Retail Industry,” which outlines a number of complex barriers that have been hampering women’s advancement into leadership roles, despite the business case supporting gender diversity. These barriers include prejudice toward women’s abilities; lack of access to networking and mentoring opportunities; a persistent gender gap in wages and salaries; and the reality that the majority of women in Canada continue to bear primary responsibilities for child rearing and family life, a situation few employers are addressing through work/life policies.

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