Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Corporate Canada speaks out: 'I’m hesitant to say the word quota’

Leading corporate directors and business figures in Canada and beyond answer the question: Should there be quotas for women on boards of publicly traded companies?

1 of 16

Guylaine Saucier
Director of Bank of Montreal, France-based AREVA Group and Wendel Group

It was difficult as a woman to be on a board in France. When they imposed quotas, I was interviewed by a few journalists at the time. Quite frankly, I spoke against quotas. But now we are a year and a half in implementing this new legislation, and I’m beginning to evolve. Yes, they appointed some token women, no doubt about that. But at the same time, I do see coming on board women that really were not known and are really good.... And I’m sure I can bet you that they would never have been invited to boards without this legislation... It’s still a little bit early, so it’s very difficult to see how well it is integrated in the whole process of appointments. But I am more pleasantly surprised than I thought I would be.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

2 of 16

Leslie Rahl
Director of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, founder of Broads on Boards women directors group in New York City

I hate the idea of quotas for anything. But on the other hand, we did have an interesting discussion at one of our meetings last year, and I think we all agreed that as much as we dislike quotas, we doubted anything was going to happen to change the dynamic in our lifetime unless someone did something fairly dramatic. Preferably they’ll find a different name because the name is just so offensive. But it’s not going to happen organically.... I see how long it’s taken to get where we are. It will happen some day, but not in my lifetime. It’s not going to really happen unless there’s some exogenous stimulus. But hopefully it will be something that, even if it behaves like a quota, they’ll find another name for it.

3 of 16

Phyllis Yaffe
Chair of Cineplex Entertainment, director of Torstar Corp. and Astral Media Inc.

This is a very slow iceberg to move. And I’m not sure a law with the kind of recourse that the Norwegian law has is appropriate for Canada. But I do think that asking people to step up and change the reflection of our society on boards is an absolutely crucial thing to do. I think if you leave it to peoples’ best intentions there will be very slow and very minimal change. If you say there are rules about these things, Canadians follow rules. And I know when you say the word ‘quota’ people always get their backs up and that becomes the issue .... So I’m hesitant to say the word ‘quota’ because I real how difficult that is for people to get their head around. But then I ask, ‘What is the solution to changing things faster than the next 30 or 40 years? ... What is the answer if it’s not targets or quotas or rules or something that says to people, take this seriously and work at it?’

Tory Zimmerman/The Globe and Mail

4 of 16

David Beatty
Chairman of Inmet Mining Corp.

I think moral suasion is the way to do it, and Canada is particularly well suited to moral suasion. It’s a smaller community, less fractious, less litigious, less abrasive. And I guess I don’t think we’ve finished with that yet. So before I got to [former French finance minister] Christine Lagarde’s position [of mandating quotas], I’d probably give it another five years to see how we do.... I think making awareness the Number One job for the next little while to me is the first logical step. And when I ask in class at the Directors Education Program ... I think the universal response from women is, ‘I would like to be chosen as a director on a board because of my own skills, competence and experience, thank you very much.’

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Story continues below advertisement

5 of 16

Liv Monica Stubholt
Senior vice-president of strategy and communications at Norway’s Kvaerner ASA, former Norwegian deputy minister of petroleum and energy

I’ve seen people go from skeptical – not like gravely opposed, I haven’t really heard anyone be aggressive about it – but men being very skeptical to acknowledging that [a quota] has an overall beneficial effect. And very few have said that this has been a bad thing after it was introduced. There was a fair amount of opposition upon its adoption, but it has all but been completely silenced from what I hear, not the least because everyone seems to agree that the quota requirement has professionalized the candidate search and selection benefiting the overall board composition both with regard to male and female candidates.

6 of 16

Stella Thompson
Director of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., First Calgary Financial

I think even the threat of quotas would be very healthy. I’ve suggested setting firm targets of let’s say 20 per cent for all boards of publicly traded companies over a certain size. If it were not met by some reasonable time period, then quotas would be considered.... What I’ve observed is that the times that changes have happened to the standards of governance is when it’s been forced from outside. So setting a target with a threat of a quota – and a need to explain why you’re not meeting the target – I think would work. You start out with “comply or explain” and then if it’s not happening, things get tougher.

7 of 16

Kathleen Sendall
Director of Paris-based CGGVeritas and director of Enmax Corp.

We’ve been talking about these kinds of issues for a long time, and it hasn’t really moved the needle. People don’t generally change unless there’s something to push them a bit to change. I think the status quo is a pretty strong immovable force.... If you had asked me this question three years ago, I would have said, “Absolutely not. There’s no reason why boards shouldn’t be bringing on experienced, educated, articulate, strategic-minded women onto their boards. And there are lots of them around and eventually those women will make their way onto boards.” But I’m not as positive about that any more, because I see a lot of those women who aren’t making their way onto boards.

8 of 16

Gail Cook-Bennett
Chair of Manulife Financial Corp.

I’m in a sector where there’s an awful lot of regulation, and I would prefer that the board has more rather than fewer degrees of freedom in making decisions. And if you can do it – as I think we have, we’ve made good progress – naturally I’m going to resist anything more formal. But I don’t think it hurts to think in terms of internal guidelines.... We had no problem in stating an internal goal here at Manulife.... The one thing that I haven’t heard a lot about is the question of how you strategize and how you effectively manage a [director] search firm. I’ve seen it done poorly and I’ve seen it done well. When it’s done well, you’ve got the right search partner who is essentially out in the market all the time for you. That’s essentially what we do – we have somebody out in the market for Manulife all the time.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

9 of 16

David Denison
Director of Royal Bank of Canada and BCE Inc., retired CEO of Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board

I think there’s merit in that [requiring disclosure of a board’s diversity plan] quite frankly. It’s not going down the quota route, but it’s identifying a guideline – a best practice, if you will. The act of disclosure is a powerful incentive for organizations to take an issue like that seriously.... Over and over again where you see an issue around clear disclosure and companies having to explain what it is they do, whatever their practice is, it does influence the outcome, no question around it. I think that would have a salutary effect in Canada.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

10 of 16

Stan Magidson
CEO of the Institute of Corporate Directors, an association of 5,000 Canadian board members

I think as a general observation we don’t view regulation and legislation as a panacea for getting things done. We prefer to see companies and boards come to the right decisions and go at it in that fashion.... What we would say is if the market is failing, if companies aren’t making progress in this direction, I guess at some point you have to ask yourself is more required here. Personally, we actually do think progress is being made here. From our discussions with folks who think about these issues, diversity we do think is top of mind in the boardroom. We think you will see movement in this direction.

11 of 16

Eileen Mercier
Chair of Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, director of Intact Financial Corp. and CGI Group Inc.

Even if you truly believe this is the best way to go – and in my more frustrated moments I think that if nobody moves for any other reason, you have to find a way of putting some kind of penalty on the table if they don’t – it’s not going to happen here [in Canada] because we’ve just got too many governmental bodies that would have to agree to something like this.... If I could wave my magic wand, there would be a “comply or explain” regime, simply because we’ve had that work before for us. If I were the OSC or the TSX or whoever, I think there is no reason at all why I wouldn’t go that way.

12 of 16

Mary Mogford
Director of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. and Nordion Inc.

I’m personally not comfortable with quotas. I always like to believe that we in Canada can evolve and change for the better because it’s the right way to do things rather than have change imposed on us through regulation and legislation. And we’ve done that in other areas .... But the stats just don’t seem to support my view that we can do it ourselves. I guess that’s where I’ve evolved to. I used to think we could do it ourselves, but I’m not sure we can. I guess the question is what do we do? .... The different approaches that involve targets – comply or explain – is one option.... If you think about what we’ve done in Canada around governance more generally, we’ve often done the route of comply or explain with best practices.... I do like the target-setting and disclosure model.

13 of 16

Beatrix Dart
Executive director of Initiative for Women in Business at the University of Toronto, director of EllisDon Corp.

If you really want to change something, I think it has to be done by legislation. I don’t think you can expect on a voluntary basis that anything will change. It’s just too much ‘who you know.’ .... I think it would have to fit the culture. I can’t imagine in Canada it would be “comply or we’ll shut you down.” I can’t imagine that would work in the Canadian culture. But you don’t want to be completely toothless either, because what’s the point of having it? So there has to be some happy medium.

Rosa Park/The Globe and Mail

14 of 16

Patrick O’Callaghan
Chair of Women on Board mentoring program

Our view is that something is needed, but likely not quotas. I think we just need to raise the profile of the issue. From my experience, quotas aren’t embraced by the women themselves because quotas force companies into sort of ... a sense of tokenism. Boards really need to think through what they require on the board and embrace what is needed on the board and the value of having background skills diversity on the board... It can change. You take a little [mentoring] program like ours – a carefully thought out program with an opportunity for a small group of women – this can work as well at raising the issue.

Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail

15 of 16

Beverley Behan
Board consultant, founder of Board Advisor

There are great women and men directors out there, but boards need to roll of their sleeves and do a lot more in their director talent searches than wading into the same shallow pool where everyone else is constantly trawling. Boards who are about excellence are the ones who do this – and they are rewarded with men and women who really add value at their board tables. And if quotas come, most of these boards will have no problem meeting them.... Unless boards get more proactive about the appointment of women directors, I believe they are soon going to find themselves facing legislation of this nature. Unfortunately, many boards are so compliance-focused that without some kind of regulatory requirement, they often won’t take action to move the dial.

16 of 16

Celine Hervieux-Payette
Liberal Senator, sponsor of private member’s Senate bill requiring quotas for women on boards

It’s an economic decision that we’re making. If we’re supporting women on boards it’s because they would be bringing something to the performance of the company. It’s not charity. It’s not a right. It is in fact an intelligent decision so that the company is doing better. It’s not feminist. It’s just a good self-serving decision for a company.... When you have a distortion in the system whereby the most talented are not asked to contribute, you understand that this is creating frustration. And it’s not giving the best performance to the company.

Report an error