Resource economy partly to blame for poor gender diversity on boards: CIBC CEO

TORONTO -- The CEO of CIBC says Canada's resource-centric economy is partly to blame for the country falling behind others when it comes to increasing the number of women who sit on corporate boards.

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"We've made progress, but I think we're lagging behind other countries, and that's probably the greatest concern that I have," Victor Dodig said Tuesday during a panel discussion about women in business at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

Ratings and research firm GMI Rating ranks Canada 15th out of 23 industrialized economies in terms of gender diversity on corporate boards, according to a report from the Canadian Board Diversity Council issued late last year. That's a steep decline from 2009, when Canada was in sixth place.

Dodig said one of the reasons why Canada has fallen behind is because the country's economy is "heavily tilted" towards the mining, energy and real estate sectors.

"We haven't attracted women to those industries, particularly mining and energy -- particularly in the engineering fields, the science fields -- like we have in some of the other sectors that represent the country," Dodig said.

Women occupy only 12.2 per cent of board seats at Canada's biggest mining, oil and gas companies, according to a report released late last year by the Canadian Board Diversity Council. That's compared to an average of 19.5 per cent across all industries.

Attracting top talent -- including female talent -- will become critical as Canada's economy continues to shift more towards the service sector, Dodig said.

"The service sector economy is highly, highly dependent on human capital input," Dodig said. "If we're going to be successful as a country, we need to make this happen."

Dodig was joined by two other panelists -- Alex Johnston, the former head of women's advocacy group Catalyst Canada, and Howard Wetston, the former chairman of the Ontario Securities Commission -- at the event, which was held on International Women's Day.

Johnston, the incoming vice-president of strategy and public affairs at CBC, said that while board diversity is important, it's only one piece of the puzzle.

"At the end of the day, the conversation is not about whether we get 25, 30 or 35 per cent of women on boards," Johnston said. "That's a proxy for how we're doing."

Several female business leaders present at Tuesday's event noted the importance of engaging men in conversations about gender diversity.

"This is not a women's issue, it is about getting the best talent, and that should be a priority for every leader," said Jennifer Reynolds, the president and CEO of advocacy group Women in Capital Markets.

Kristine Remedios, director of diversity and inclusion at KPMG Canada, said she would have liked to see more men in attendance.

"We don't just want women talking about women's issues, and that tends to be what happens at a lot of these events," Remedios said.

"If you look out in the audience, you tend to see a lot more women than you do men. I do think it's really important to engage men in those conversations, especially because if you look at CEOs, there is a high percentage of men who are in those decision-making positions and sit on those boards. They need to be educated and need to be involved in this conversation in order to be able to make any change happen."


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