Last month, the Ontario Securities Commission called for comment on a proposal that would require TSX-listed companies to provide disclosure regarding women on boards and in senior management in Ontario.
The OSC’s consideration of a “comply and explain” approach to diversifying corporate governance is timely and appropriate. Research has shown that companies that do not practice or ignore diversity are not working in the best interests, not only of their employees, but their shareholders as well.
The benefits of diversity are profound. Apart from being a clear indication to investors that a company with a strong cadre of women directors signals an effective enterprise, women directors reflect positively on information and communications technology (ICT) companies in other ways. Boards of directors represent the senior level of governance of public companies. Companies that strategically include women on their board send a strong message about the power of inclusion to the full workforce.
Our growth is only limited by the availability of smart people in research and development, sales and marketing and other parts of our companies. Yet finding these people is a persistent challenge.
This is critically important in a male dominated industry like the information and communications technology. We are a knowledge-based sector. Our growth is only limited by the availability of smart people in research and development, sales and marketing and other parts of our companies. Yet finding these people is a persistent challenge.
At the same time as we understand this fundamental reality of our business, the leadership of the ICT industry is equally aware that we need to do a better job of attracting and retaining women in our talent pool. Currently the engagement of women in our industry hovers at around 25% and has been at this level for a least a decade. Clearly if we do a better job of offering interesting, meaningful employment to more women, including our directors, we can build a stronger workforce.
In 2011 ITAC, the Information Technology Association of Canada, made improving its performance in attracting and retaining women into our industry a key priority. ITAC’s Diversity Advisory Group, a large working group of members and stakeholders, is committed to changing the gender ratio in our industry. It has devoted considerable energy to addressing women’s engagement in our industry in all dimensions of ICT operations, from entry-level employment, through management and into senior leadership.
About 16.5% of the directors in the top ten publicly traded ICT firms in Canada are women.
A key focus of the work of ITAC’s Diversity Advisory Group over the past 12 months has been to explore the role women play in the senior governance of Canadian ICT firms as directors. We share the belief that diverse boards of directors produce better run and more successful companies. So it is important to us to understand the extent to which women currently contribute to Canadian ICT boards of directors and to understand the obstacles and opportunities that impact fuller engagement.
Last month ITAC released a paper written by Karen Wensley entitled Gender Diversity of Boards of Directors of Canadian ICT Companies. Ms. Wensley’s study showed us that as an industry we are performing about as well as the Canadian average. About 16.5% of the directors in the top ten publicly traded ICT firms in Canada are women. But it also showed that we are well below the standard set by the financial sector where the top five Canadian banks have achieved 30%.
The paper outlines all the challenges that ICT companies face in diversifying their board at various stages in their evolution. But it also builds a strong case for why these challenges must be overcome. It also illustrates some remarkable examples of companies – notably Open Text and Softchoice – who actively pursued board diversification as a corporate priority. Hearing the business leaders of those organizations share the benefits this has brought to their companies is a wake-up call for their competitors who may be hoping that nature will take its course and women will eventually find their seats at the board table. Time has demonstrated it will not happen naturally. The broader engagement of the women we need in our industry hasn’t changed in a decade.
Clearly, focus and action is required on the part of leaders in our own industry, from organizations like the OSC and from governments. A diverse board does produce better companies and achieving diversity is fundamentally a matter of will. Our success in ICT certainly depends upon it.