Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Peter MacKay: Pale, Male and Stale

Peter MacKay’s recently revealed Mother’s Day and Father’s Day greetings to his staff clearly demonstrate the extent of institutionalized gender stereotyping by decision makers in Canada.

Here’s what he had to say to mothers, “By the time many of you have arrived at the office in the morning, you’ve already changed diapers, packed lunches, run after school buses, dropped kids off at daycare, taken care of an aging loved one and maybe even thought about dinner.”

And fathers? “I wish to take this opportunity to recognize our colleagues who are not only dedicated Department of Justice employees, but are also dedicated fathers, shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders.”

(Read the full text of both messages here.)       

Gender diversity on boards and in the C suite is an important issue for socially responsible investors. We have been working tirelessly, engaging management and sometimes bringing resolutions in an attempt to increase the number of women on corporate boards, and in senior management, in Canada.

In an article discussing Britain’s efforts to get more women on Boards, Jacey Graham, co-author of The Female FTSE Board Report 2014, comments on equality, ‘It will not be easy, for while there is a "lot less outright sexism, there's still a huge amount of unconscious bias".’
The idea that systemic biases exist, or that there is an ’old boys network’ that prevents women from moving onto boards is frequently dismissed. However humiliating this most recent episode is for Mr. MacKay, he has added immeasurably to the debate by bringing this latent sexism into the open.
Often, when quotas or results based legislation is discussed, the response is either that there are not enough qualified women available, or that we are moving in the right direction and it is only a matter of time before we achieve gender parity.

A Globe and Mail editorial discussing the OSC ‘s new rules on board diversity lauds the voluntary guidelines stating “unlike quotas, it’s a reasonable step”. However, that purported reasonableness is undercut by the fact that “Women make up just 12 per cent of directors on the boards of major publicly traded companies in Canada, a number that has climbed painfully slowly from about 9 per cent a decade ago.“

Discussing gender quotas, The Economist suggests they are becoming more popular due to both the “glacial pace of voluntary change” and that Norway’s quota law (requiring 40% of directors be women)  “has not been the disaster some predicted.”  

“The average number of women on Canadian boards is about 14 percent, which reflects a complete failure to draw on the deep female talent pool that is out there.” Peter Dey, Canadian Director as quoted in Women on Boards: A Conversation with Male Directors.

Quotas. It’s time.

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