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Province to ask firms for targets for women in their boardrooms

Following Ontario in bid for higher gender equality

Manitoba is following Ontario's lead and will ask companies to set targets in order to close the gender gap in boardrooms and in executive suites.

The Manitoba Securities Commission has joined several other provincial regulators and proposed new reporting rules that would oblige companies to tally the number of women on their boards and in senior jobs, lay out its recruitment policies and set targets.

SSLqI felt very strongly about it. We made a deliberate effort to look at diversifying our board'

-- Gendis president and chief executive officer James Cohen

"Corporate decision-making benefits from a diversity of opinions and viewpoints," the MSC wrote in its proposed rule, posted earlier this month. "We think that aspirational targets adopted by issuers can result in a higher level of representation of women on boards and in executive officer positions."

But there is no punishment if companies don't set targets or fail to meet them. As part of what's called a "comply or explain" model, companies must simply explain to regulators and shareholders why they ducked the rules.

Securities commission spokesman Kevan Hannah says the new rules should be in place by year's end, and companies will be obliged to report in their targets and progress in their next round of annual filings, expected next May or June.

The move comes as local companies have made only modest progress toward gender balance in the boardroom over the last year.

Last summer, a Free Press analysis found only six per cent of corporate directorships in Manitoba are held by women -- dramatically below national figures that range between 10 to 13 per cent. That figure covers the boards of the province's 40-odd publicly traded companies whose stocks are listed daily in the Free Press. That includes firms such as Pollard Banknote, Great-West Life and Buhler Industries.

Manitoba's significant corporate gender gap prompted some stern words from Finance Minister Jennifer Howard and led to a workshop at the Manitoba Club hosted by the Institute of Corporate Directors to raise the issue.

This week, the Free Press again crunched the numbers and found a slight improvement since last year. Five more women were appointed to boards over the last year, bringing their share of total board seats to just over seven per cent.

Gendis, a holding company with interests in the commercial real estate, oil and gas and agriculture sectors, was among those who recruited a female director, in part because of the increasing attention being paid locally and nationally to the corporate gender gap.

"I felt very strongly about it," said Gendis president and chief executive officer James Cohen. "We made a deliberate effort to look at diversifying our board."

Still, two-thirds of the publicly traded companies based in Manitoba or with significant operations here have no female directors.

Women on boards for some major Manitoba companies:


Updated on Monday, July 21, 2014 at 8:50 AM CDT:
Adds spreadsheet

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