News, events and inspiration.

Wanted: Women on Canadian Boards

By Josephine Victoria Yam

In Canada, we have so much to celebrate with the world today, International Women's Day 2017. After all, Canadian women have achieved impressive strides in the political, economic, academic, cultural and social domains of our society. According to a 2014 Government of Canada report, women:

+ comprise 47% of the Canadian workforce
+ earn more than 50% of all Canadian university degrees
+ represented 47% of students in business and management programs at the master’s level in 2010, and
+ received 34.5% of the Masters of Business Administration (MBAs) given in 2011.

So let’s raise our glasses twice or even thrice, right? No, not just yet.

Let the Numbers Speak for Themselves

When it comes to women serving on boards, the numbers are not as rosy, perhaps even discouraging. While a York University report notes that women comprised 44% of nonprofit board seats, the Canadian government’s report discloses disappointing figures relating to corporate and public boards, in which women represent:

+ 10.3% of board seats of top publicly-traded companies
+ 15.9% of board seats on FP500 companies
+ 0.0% of board seats on 40% of FP500 companies, and
+ 31% of federal board appointments to Crown corporations, agencies, boards and commissions.

We hear the same strains of slow music, a few years later.

In Fall 2016, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) reported on the representation of women on boards and in executive positions based on the “comply or explain” disclosures provided by non-venture public companies in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon. Here’s what the CSA found:

+ Women representation on boards increased by a measly 1% compared to the prior year from 11% to 12%
+ Only 15% of the 521 vacant board seats were filled with women hires, and
+ 45% of companies did not have a single woman on their boards.

Alas, when it comes to women on boards, Canada still has a long way to go.

Behind the Numbers

What gives? The underlying reasons for these discouraging numbers are numerous. The Canadian government’s report highlights the reasons:

+ Lack of focus on presenting talented female candidates by executive search firms
+ Lack of an executive-level commitment to gender diversity
+ Inadequate information about the availability of qualified women candidates
+ Predominantly male leadership networks that tend to choose candidates like themselves
+ Women having limited leadership networks and few high-level mentors, which restrict their opportunities for senior decision-making roles, and
+ Women lacking role models that can inspire them to pursue high-level board positions.

Why Have More Women on Boards Anyway?

Some of you may be asking: why should we have more women on boards anyway? And that’s a valid question to raise.

The Conference Board of Canada answered this very question so persuasively, citing both symbolic and practical reasons for doing so.

“Symbolically, a signal is sent to all stakeholder groups, most of which have very diverse membership, indicating that their voices will be heard at the top and that their perspectives are important to the organization. As our society, our labour force, and our corporate shareholders themselves become more diverse, this will become a more personal and compelling issue. Until now, the term “diversity” has often been interpreted as the promotion of outward, or visible, diversity. But at a practical level, it is inward, invisible diversity that matters: the range of different gifts, skills, experiences, views, and perspectives that individuals possess in every culture and organization. The use of outer differences as an indicator of inner diversity, though imperfect, can prove useful in wise hands.”

Diversity on boards, represented by having women on boards, facilitates “board unity, activism and independence”, which are intrinsic to good governance. Good governance in turn improves organizational effectiveness and produces increased profitability. In the same vein, a survey by the Institute of Corporate Directors reported that board gender diversity contributes to better governance and decision-making. Indeed, having more women on boards has become an imperative for good governance.

A Call to Action: Accelerating Gender Parity

In fact, the Canadian government knows that having more women on boards is a strategic competitive advantage for Canada nationally and internationally. In its “Good for Business: A Plan to Promote More Women on Canadian Boards”, the government set out a national goal of 30% women on boards by 2019 in the corporate and public sectors. That’s served as a compelling aspirational objective as provincial and territorial governments have taken their cue from the feds and have taken action on this front.

But how about action from us citizens?

The International Women’s Day 2017 celebration also calls us to take urgent and concrete action through its #BeBoldForChange campaign. Action that will move the needle beyond the measly 1% increase of women representation in boards. Action that will support women as they take on board roles in the corporate, government and nonprofit sectors.

Some examples in the #BeBoldForChange campaign include:

+ appoint a woman to the board
+ measure and report on gender parity gaps
+ keep gender on the agenda
+ call it out when women are excluded
+ monitor the gender pay gap
+ call for diverse candidate shortlists, and
+ embrace inclusive leadership

So go ahead and #BeBoldForChange.

As the Conference Board of Canada so eloquently advised:

“Women on boards is not only the ‘right’ thing to do, it is also the ‘bright’ thing to do”.

Women Who Are Brave Build a Better World!

By B3 Canada Media Team

We're raising our girls to be perfect, and we're raising our boys to be brave, says Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. Saujani has taken up the charge to socialize young girls to take risks and learn to program --- two skills they need to move society forward. To truly innovate, we cannot leave behind half of our population, she says. "I need each of you to tell every young woman you know to be comfortable with imperfection." (Source: TED Talks)

About Reshma Saujani

In 2012, Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code to stoke excitement for computer science among young women. She aims to enroll 40,000 young women by the end of 2016 and has won support from Google, Twitter, Facebook and AT&T. Saujani is the author of the 2013 book Women Who Don't Wait In Line: Break The Mould, Lead The Way. (Source: NPR)

Boardroom Diversity Isn’t How You Look, But How You Think

By B3 Canada Media Team

Excerpts from the Globe & Mail article of Susan McArthur.

The experience and exposure that high-potential executives get by sitting on outside boards can provide valuable corporate training and expand an individual’s reach, knowledge base and perspective. This benefits the executive’s company – and it adds to the depth of the board talent pool.

In order to improve the diversity of thinking around the boardroom table, we have to shake up conventional wisdom on what makes a good board member. We need to draw from a wider talent pool.

Some boards, frustrated by the lack of diversity in traditional pools, have already begun to seek outside-the-box candidates. There are valuable perspectives on strategy, risk, problem-solving, leadership and other board issues to be gained from many corners: academia, the military, community leadership, public service, entrepreneurship. And, in an economy that is disrupted by new technologies every day, millennials.

3 Features of High-Performing Nonprofit Boards

By Josephine Victoria Yam

According to Imagine Canada, there are about 170,000 charities and nonprofits in the country, which makes Canada’s nonprofit sector the second largest in the world. This number translates to some 170,000 nonprofit boards providing governance over this $106 billion sector. As in any sector, while many nonprofit boards are high-performing, many are unfortunately lackluster.

David Simms, in his Harvard Business Review article, articulates the following 3 distinct features of high-performing nonprofit boards:

First is Leadership.

The maxim “Everything rises and falls on leadership” rings ever so true in nonprofit boards...

Read more ...

Board Diversity: Why It Really Matters

By Josephine Victoria Yam

As a female lawyer who is Asian and a visible minority, I have always been an active advocate for diversity in the workplace. As I practiced law and held leadership positions in various sectors, I often observed that I was either the only woman, the only Asian or even the only visible minority — whether in a boardroom, a business lunch meeting or a workshop. From where I stood, leadership positions in the private, government and nonprofit sectors were more often held by more males than females, more older people than younger ones, more white people than people of colour.

Interestingly, my observations were more pervasive than I initially imagined.

Canada has the second largest and most robust charitable and nonprofit sector in the world. According to Imagine Canada, 2 million Canadians are employed in the sector and over 13 million Canadian volunteer for the sector. The sector provides about 8.1% of total Canadian GDP, which is more than what the retail sector contributes and almost equal to what the oil and gas and mining sectors contribute. Most nonprofits involve volunteers including those at the board leadership level.

Read more ...

Show more posts

Categories & Tags


  • Alberta's Promise operates within the Government of Alberta’s Department of Human Services. With over 1,800 business, nonprofit and community partners, they help businesses connect with non-profits across Alberta to make meaningful contributions that benefit children and youth ages 0 to 24.

  • CanadaHelps is a nonprofit serving Canadian charities and donors. They increase charitable giving across Canada by making it easier to donate and fundraise online. Because CanadHelps is a charity, their fees are a fraction of for-profit alternatives, making donation dollars go further.

  • The Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations is a member-based nonprofit organization founded in 2002 in Edmonton, AB. They serve the nonprofit and charitable organizations in the Alberta Capital Region.

  • The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) is the provincial network for the approximately 55,000 nonprofit organizations across Ontario. As a 7,000-strong provincial network, with a volunteer base of 300 sector leaders, ONN brings the diverse voices of the sector to government, funders and business to create and influence systemic change.

  • For over 62 years, Propellus has been supporting volunteers and volunteerism within the communities of Calgary. It strongly believes that volunteering is essential to creating and sustaining healthy, supportive and connected communities.

  • The Sustainability Network is a national organization that works with environmental nonprofits to make them more effective and efficient. Their mission is to enrich environmental leaders and nonprofit organizations so that they can help us all achieve sustainability.

  • Founded in 1943, Vantage Point delivers learning opportunities focused on governance, leadership, planning and people engagement for new and seasoned sector leaders, board directors and managers, aimed at advancing not-for-profit leadership.

  • Women Get On Board is a leading member-based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards. They do this through an engaged community of women and men in Canada committed to advancing gender diversity in the boardroom.


Please type your email address
Thank you! We received your subscription!×
Something went wrong. Please try subscribing again.×

Calgary     Edmonton     Toronto     Vancouver

+1 866 503 3320

#200, The Dineen Building, 140 Yonge St., Toronto, Ontario M5C 1X6 Canada

Stay In Touch