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March 3, 2014Every year about this time, there is that one day when you feel a shift. The snow is deep on the ground, and we’re carefully balancing over icy sidewalks. It’s cold. It still looks like winter. But the air is lighter. The sun is warmer. And you believe in your heart what your mind has been telling you through these dark months: Winter is almost over.

That’s the way I felt as I reviewed the 2013 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors. More than one-third of companies still have no women on their boards. Only five public companies had 40 percent or more women directors in 2013.

But there are signs of a shift:

  • Women’s representation on boards of public companies has grown from 10.3% in 2011 to 12.1% in 2013.

  • Catalyst has issued a call to action for Canadian corporations to increase the overall proportion of FP500 board seats held by women to 25% by 2017. Twenty-two companies have responded and that number is growing.  

  • More companies are seeking assistance from Catalyst’s Women on Board® program, and more qualified women who complete the program are moving on to corporate boards (from six in 2011 to 19 in 2013).

  • The Ontario Securities Commission has recommended that all TSX-listed companies set targets and disclose policy practices for the appointment of women to their boards and in executive officer positions. When Australia brought in similar requirements a few years ago, the percentage of women on ASX boards increased substantially.

  • Women continue to shatter gender stereotypes. The high-profile appointments of Kathleen Taylor as Chair of RBC and of Isabelle Courville as Chair of Laurentian Bank have provoked us to think about our own assumptions about women’s jobs and men’s jobs. Like many other women’s “firsts,” they establish powerful role models for young women.

There is much work ahead of us before we see women represented throughout the ranks and leading businesses in proportion to their numbers in the labour market. None of these small advances represents a revolution.

But they reflect changes in attitude and practice that could evolve into a new reality for the Canadian economy. A reality in which we leverage all of our talent and ensure our men and women can fully contribute their talents to growing and strengthening our businesses. What a spring that will be!