The creation of a Commonwealth database of board-ready (and board-potential) women — across all regions and a wide range of sectors and backgrounds — is one of six recommendations to help more qualified women attain corporate board positions by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) in a report.
"We have a long way to go — in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth," said Suzanne Godbehere, head of ACCA Canada, which has 2,500 members. "Gender diversity creates more effective boards, reflecting a broader range of skills, experiences and perspectives. This is especially important as women gain financial power throughout the world. However, too many companies still aren't getting it."
Women comprise 14.5 per cent of the directors on Canada's 500 largest company boards, said the report.
Most Commonwealth countries aren't faring any better — in the United Kingdom, for example, women make up 13.3 per cent of those serving on FTSE 250 company boards and in Australia, in a sample of 197 listed companies, women comprise 13.8 per cent of board directors. In India, it's just five per cent.
"Organizations that don't actively identify and recruit highly skilled women to their boards are missing tremendous opportunities," said Godbehere. "The global consumer spend by women is projected to reach $28-trillion by 2014 - that's a consumer market senior leadership needs to fully understand."
The 30 per cent rule
The "30 per cent rule" has been widely accepted as the baseline level for the proportion of women on boards to be sufficient to have an impact, said ACCA, which has 162,000 members in 173 countries.
Globally, according to the World Bank in 2013, 39.8 per cent of companies still have no female directors and less than one-tenth have reached the 30 per cent female representation that constitutes an effectively diverse board.
Within the Commonwealth, no country has legislation regarding corporate board composition, said ACCA. However, Kenya and the province of Quebec have passed legislation for state-owned enterprises. In 2010, Kenya mandated a 33 per cent minimum for each gender. In 2006, Quebec mandated that women comprise 50 per cent of the boards of state-owned enterprises.
To achieve diversity in boards and senior leadership across the Commonwealth, recommendations in the report Paving the Way to Opportunities: Women in Leadership Across the Commonwealth include:
The creation of a database of board-ready (and board-potential) women: A Commonwealth database should include women across all regions, and a wide range of sectors and backgrounds.
Supporting sponsoring initiatives: This approach will help to create consistent levels of quality in the sponsoring process, while sharing best practice across different regions.
Building a research monitor across the Commonwealth: A lack of comparable data impedes the ability to identify clearly what's happening in different countries. There needs to be more on the performance of companies with diverse boards.
Raising career aspirations: Career development needs much sharper integration from primary to tertiary education. The outcome would enable female students to apply and use their education to support career advancement.
Creating a media strategy: This should clearly and objectively demonstrate the impact of women in senior leadership positions, to enable stakeholders to make informed choices; this includes customers and investors. Media visibility helps to build and retain a critical mass of women in leadership.
Sharing best practice across the Commonwealth: The Commonwealth has a unique role to play and a perspective to add in sharing international and more inclusive best practice, supporting a stronger investor and regulatory focus on diversity, including gender.
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