Experts say a consultation on board and executive diversity by the Canadian Securities Administrators should address more equity-seeking groups than the organization's previous disclosure policies have targeted.
The group of provincial and territorial securities regulators announced Wednesday that it will begin a consultation in late spring or summer to help determine whether and how needs have evolved since it adopted requirements around the disclosure of how many women are on boards.
Groups advocating for more diversity say the consultation is an opportunity to ensure corporate Canada moves beyond inclusivity measures aimed at genders and sexuality.
"It's really important for us to look at (diversity) not just with the gender lens like the CSA has been looking at it but also with a broader lens to make the right recommendations and modernize the workforce," said Andrea Gunraj, the vice-president of public engagement at the Canadian Women's Foundation.
The CSA consultation comes roughly six years after the regulator implemented a “comply or explain” policy, requiring companies to disclose annually how many women are on their board and in executive officer positions, and whether there are targets in place to increase such numbers.
If a company does not have a policy, it must explain why.
Even after the "comply or explain" policy was implemented, advocates for increased representation of women argued that progress was too slow and companies weren't going as far as they should to make their leadership ranks more equitable.
An April study from the Conference Board of Canada found women only held 15 per cent of board seats in 2018 — an increase of just four percentage points from 2015, when comply or explain requirements were launched in many provinces and territories.
The study found more than half of the board seats that became vacant in 2018 went to men and about a quarter were left unfilled or eliminated.
While it's important to keep pushing for more gender diversity, experts say it's time for regulators to think about how they can help racialized, Indigenous and LGBTQ communities and those with disabilities too.
"Organizations really need to mirror Canadian society and mirror Canadians at all levels, especially with respect to the senior levels of organizations where there is the ability to have impact and influence," said Vandana Juneja, the executive director of Catalyst Canada, which has long pushed for policies helping get more women into leadership positions.
She wishes comply or explain targeted a wider range of equity-seeking groups, when it was rolled out.
"If we had actually had a focus on intersectionality at that time, we would be at this point, light-years ahead," she said.
There's also room to improve the model itself. Companies that don't comply can often resort to simplified explanations and Juneja believes they should be pushed to share more.
"For example, if a company says there weren't any qualified women ... that's pretty simple, but what does that mean?" she said.
"Let's dig further into that and explain it."
Like Juneja, Gunraj would like to see the administrators be more overt in efforts to boost representation of equity-seeking groups because a passive approach stunts progress.
One way Gunraj believes that could be done is by closing wage gaps — and not just the ones associated with gender.
"There are pay gaps when it comes to racialized women and when it comes to women with disabilities and those are huge ones," she said. A Statistics Canada study released Tuesday found women in executive roles made an average $495,600, about 56 per cent less than male counterparts who made about $1.1 million.
Visible minority women in executive roles made an average $347,100, about 32 per cent less than non-visible minority women.
Gunraj also wants to see the motherhood penalty, where having kids is perceived as a roadblock for women's careers and a problem for companies, addressed.
If companies were required to be more flexible and understanding with parents, it would help many equity-seeking groups advance their careers and ensure there is a pipeline of talent leading to the top ranks, she said.
"It's not just about getting people in the chairs and getting people in the boardrooms, but it's also about making sure that they can stay and are supported."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2021.
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press