From the Regulators

Larger companies and certain sectors tend to be doing a better job at finding female corporate directors

By James Langton |

Canada's public companies are inching towards greater gender equality, but they still have a long way to go, according to data published Thursday from the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA).

A CSA staff notice sets out the results of a regulatory review of the corporate governance disclosure of 660 issuers with year ends between Dec. 31, 2016 and March 31, 2017 as it relates to women in leadership roles. This is the third review following the implementation of rules under National Instrument 58-101 Disclosure of Corporate Governance Practices, which require non-venture issuers to disclose certain information regarding women on boards and in executive officer positions.

The current review found that just 14% of corporate directors are women. This represents an improvement from 12% last year, and 11% from the first review.

Indeed, many of the metrics reviewed by the CSA indicate that companies are trending in the right direction. For example, 61% of companies now have at least one woman on the board, up from 55% from last year, and the proportion of firms with at least one female top executive is up slightly to 62% from 60% in the first year.

Larger issuers tend to be doing a better job at finding female directors; and, certain sectors, such as retail, utilities, and manufacturing, are more likely to have female directors. The mining, energy, and tech sectors, are seeing improvement, but they remain the worst performers in terms of gender equality.

The one area where the regulators found meaningful improvement is in the adoption of policies on the representation of women on the board. The current review found 35% of firms have adopted some sort of policy to address the issue, which is up from 21% last year, and 15% in the first review. Still, only 11% of firms have adopted targets for female representation on the board, and just 3% have a target for executive officers.

The current review also found that almost all issuers are disclosing: the number of women on their board and in their executive suites; whether they've adopted targets; and if they have term limits for directors. "While a qualitative assessment of disclosure was not the focus of our review, we noted instances where disclosure… was vague or boilerplate," the staff notice says.

The use of targets is most common among larger firms. Approximately one third of issuers with a market cap of at least $10 billion have adopted targets, according to the review, versus just 6% of issuers with market caps of under $1 billion. Of the firms that do have targets, 57% of them have already achieved it.

Later this month the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) will be hosting a roundtable to discuss these latest results.

Read: OSC to discuss results of gender diversity review