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More gender diversity needed in Canadian IT boardrooms: report

Brenda Bouw
Women are beginning to crack Europe's boardroom glass ceilings thanks to government quotas, while their advance in the United States has nearly stalled, a new study found.

Canada’s IT sector has seen its share of successes, but boosting the number of women on its boardrooms isn’t one of them.

A new study from the Information Technology Association of Canada says there is room, and a growing number of reasons, to increase diversity on its decision-making boards in the sector.

“The more diverse a group is, the better decisions it will make,” said Karen Wensley, the author of the study released by ITAC, the Information Technology Association of Canada.

The report says boards of the top 10 Canadian information and communications technology companies (ICT) have an average of 16.5 per cent female representation, which is barely in line with the 17 per cent figure based on the Spencer Stuart 2012 Board index of larger Canadian companies.

“We don't think that's good enough,” said Wensley.

She said the industry still lags well behind Canada’s big five banks, with about 30 per cent female board representation.

The study comes a day after the Ontario Securities Commission said it believes companies should have to disclose how many women they have on their boards, and explain why the number is where it is.

It also follows a Conference Board of Canada report this spring that shows the number of women in middle and senior management roles has stalled over the past 20 years.

That report says men are part of the problem, for not taking seriously the issue and need for advancement of women in the workplace.

The ITAC report is the latest to cite research showing that the more gender diversity on a board, the better off the company is not just for appearances, but also in profits.

“Studies have repeatedly found that, on average, companies with the highest representation of women on their boards financially outperform those with the lowest," the report notes.

It also says the ICT industry has a shortage of workers and by being more diverse it the decision-making room it can inspire more diversity across the workforce in general.

"The ICT sector has struggled to attract young women. And many young women in high school believe ICT companies would not be places at which they would want to work,” the report says. “Women board members can be role models who can help change this picture."

The report recommendations companies set goals to increase female representation on boards, citing examples from companies such as OpenText and Softchoice as good Canadian examples.

Finally, the author encourages women to actively seek out board membership, instead of waiting to be asked or discovered. That includes starting out with non-profit boards to gain experience, as well as letting influential people know their desire to sit on boards down the road.

“Women who want to join boards of ICT companies need to do their part to become visible and board-ready,” the report says.