Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce plans to set formal targets this year for the number of women on its board of directors and in executive officer positions, the bank’s CEO said Tuesday following the release of data showing that most Canadian public companies don’t set such targets.
“In business, people respond to targets,” chief executive Victor Dodig said during a roundtable hosted by the Ontario Securities Commission on the issue of gender diversity on corporate boards.
But companies will have to go beyond simply setting targets to achieve greater board diversity, Dodig said, noting that “a target without a plan is doomed to fail.”
Alex Johnston, executive director of Catalyst Canada and one of the speakers at Tuesday’s roundtable, said new recruitment processes are needed in order to get more women on corporate boards.
For one thing, the myth that there are not enough qualified women — because CEO posts are still dominated by men — needs to be debunked, Johnston said.
“Less than 50% of sitting board members today have CEO experience, so let’s not apply a different standard to women,” Johnston said. “There are a huge number of qualified women who have executive experience, which is typically what you’re looking for.”
In a joint initiative with other securities regulators, the OSC released a review Monday of a new “comply and explain” policy that requires publicly traded companies to disclose certain statistics around the representation of women on their boards and in executive officer positions.
Regulators in every province and territory except for Prince Edward Island, Alberta and British Columbia implemented rule amendments at the end of last year requiring issuers to provide targets for how many women should sit on their boards or in executive officer roles.
The rule changes also require companies to disclose policies relating to how women are identified and nominated for such posts.
If an issuer chooses not to implement targets for female composition and other related policies, it must explain why it has chosen not to comply.
A similar policy was proposed in the Harper government’s latest budget, which suggested changes be made to the Canada Business Corporations Act requiring all companies listed on Canadian stock exchanges to abide by the comply-or-explain model.
More than half — 51% — of the 722 companies included in the review published Monday disclosed that they did not have even one woman on their boards, while 40% reported no women in executive officer positions.
Only 7% — or 49 issuers — said they had a target in place for the number of women that should sit on their board. And only 11 companies reported setting a target for the number of executive officers, representing about 2%.
The most commonly cited reason for not setting targets was that candidates are chosen based on merit, not gender.
Dodig said roughly 30% of CIBC’s (TSX:CM) directors are women, while the rate of female representation in executive officer roles is in the “high 20s.”
“Our goal is to continue to move that upwards because we think it’s good for the company, it’s good for our culture, it’s good for business,” Dodig said. “It’s very straightforward for us.”
Bank of Nova Scotia (TSX:BNS) said it strives to have at least 25% of its board be comprised of women. The bank said in an email that it has been above the 30% mark since it signed the Catalyst Accord in 2011.