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May 16, 2013Each country does it differently. Norway, Spain, and France have opted for quotas. The United Kingdom and the United States require disclosure. The Australian Stock Exchange has a “comply or explain” requirement.

And now, Canada has an advisory committee, whose members possess the best brains and finest track records in the fields of business and public policy. The committee advises industry and government about how to improve women’s representation on corporate boards. Even at the provincial level, the Ontario Securities Commission has just moved forward with a similar effort in Ontario, making it clear that the winds are shifting as more and more decision-makers understand gender diversity on boards to be a critical economic issue for Canada.

Regardless of the initiative, it’s great to see growing awareness and action.

I’m delighted to participate in the new Canadian Federal Government Advisory Committee as Catalyst Canada’s ex officio representative on the committee, along with our colleagues from The Women’s Executive Network and the Canadian Board Diversity Council. I’m especially pleased that the government has asked for recommendations by the fall of this year and that the Minister leading the committee is positioning this as an important economic issue.

We know that our economic competitiveness, as well as innovation and individual corporate performance, is enhanced when decision makers represent a broad spectrum of perspectives.

Specifically, we know that having more women at the top improves the bottom line.

I’d encourage the committee to look at initiatives that are already beginning to find traction in Canada. Launched in 2012, the Catalyst Accord asks Financial Post 500 CEOs to make a voluntary commitment to raise the overall proportion of board seats held by women in Canada to 25 percent by 2017. For many companies, getting to 25 percent means simply adding one more woman to their boards. But for the over 40 percent of public FP500 companies who currently have no women on their boards, there’s a lot more work to be done.

One year into the initiative, 13 companies have signed on.

Fortunately for them, there is no shortage of Canadian women who are ready, willing, and more than able to be effective, strong, board members. (The “lack of board-ready women” myth has more basis in corporate recruiting practices, which have often been restricted to familiar faces, than in fact.)

Our Catalyst Corporate Board Resource, launched in 2012 to support corporate efforts towards board diversity, offers member companies who choose to become Catalyst Accord signatories a long list of experienced, CEO-sponsored women to recruit for their specific needs. The leadership demonstrated by the 13 signatory companies is a critical first step in shifting Canadian corporate culture. The establishment of the Canadian Federal Government Advisory Committee is an important next step in enlisting federal government leadership to drive change.

Together, we can ensure that the Canadian economy benefits from the talents of Canada’s board-ready women, and the diverse leadership we need to make opportunities out of global challenges.

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