Good morning, everyone.
Thank you for inviting me this morning.
Like any good teacher, I prepared a PowerPoint presentation.
I am not an arts expert at all. That’s what I said to the people who invited me. However, I have done a lot of work on the presence of women on boards of directors and their impact on them, mainly in Quebec, in various sectors of activity, both public and private. Today, I want to talk to you about lessons learned from those research projects. Like any good teacher, I likely have material for two or three hours, but I will try to limit myself to 10 minutes. As you can see, at the end of my presentation, I added the list of publications. We have published four or five reports on the issue. So there is probably a lot to say.
I tried to answer the four questions I was asked.
First, is gender parity an issue in organizations, on boards of directors and among senior management? The answer is yes. I do not want to give you any figures this morning, because I think everyone has them already. We know that the percentage of women on boards is about 20%. The number is pretty much the same for the boards of large, publicly traded companies.
In the Government of Quebec, this percentage has gone up because it passed a piece of legislation and set a quota a few years ago.
In short, it is a persistent issue, despite women being the majority in universities and colleges.
What I want to say to you this morning is that this is not a talent pool problem. I am convinced that all the skills are there, mainly in the field of the arts. There is a talent pool problem in the science and engineering sector, because fewer women are studying in those areas, and that is an issue. In all the other areas, however, for example medicine, law and administration, women are there and they are competent, even though we hear that it’s not always easy to find women to fill certain positions.
There is also a perception that equality is achieved in feminized sectors. People ask me why I’m working on that, since there are lots of women in the arts, law firms and hospitals. That’s true, but they are not sufficiently represented in decision-making positions. You know as well I do that there are still significant pay inequities for all sorts of reasons that we can talk about again later. There is still a lot to do on this front. Yes, we have the impression that there’s parity, but that is not actually the case yet.
When I meet with the presidents or members of boards, they all say that they are in favour of equality and diversity. The discourse is very interesting. I have never heard anyone say that they were against that. However, when you ask shareholders meetings, board members or related associations to take concrete action, that's a whole different story. There are things we could do; I can come back to this later.
It has been suggested that the appointment of women to boards would have a significant impact on organizations' senior management, but that is not the case. My colleague Jean Bédard and I are currently conducting gender parity studies on boards of directors and we are following the statistics. The situation is stagnant except in the government and crown corporations.
People tell us that it's easy to appoint people to boards of directors, but the real challenge is at the senior level of organizations, because that's where the decisions are mostly made. I'm not saying that boards are not important, far from it, but the bulk of the work is done at the senior level of organizations. The two do not always go hand in hand.
Furthermore, women are not automatically pro-women. I am often told that, since we have appointed women, the problem is solved. I often say that, if we do not change the system and the organizational practices, even if women have been appointed, there will not necessarily be a change. It's sort of the same with diversity. If the pattern stays the same, it will not change. This does not automatically mean that women will promote new topics and have more clout. People have told me that they had appointed women and that, fortunately, nothing changed.
Boards are fairly traditional organizations. If we want real change, the people appointed to boards must make real changes and work in a real context of diversity and equality.
In addition, there is clearly a lack of data tracking. When we request data from organizations, including large corporations, we have difficulty obtaining the percentage of women in senior management and the percentage of women on boards. That's important, and that's what we're doing right now: we're tracking the data to disrupt the perception of equality that we are constantly seeing when people think the matter is settled.
I now turn to the second question: why are women not asked to join boards?
There are still many stereotypes. It’s incredible how many stereotypes there are about women being like this and men being like that.
There are many stereotypes related to work-life balance. Some people are a little tired of hearing about it, but you have to talk about it because it's not settled.
It is a major issue for women, but also for men, especially young men, as we are hearing more and more. People don't have enough time. Sitting on a board is extra, on top of other activities, quite often. Management positions require time. Sometimes, people will not accept a decision-making position because they say that they already have a job and a family, so they have no time to do more.
So there is this perception: we are not going to try to recruit some women, because we think that they are already busy enough and that we cannot ask them to do this as well. There are also women who exclude themselves by saying that they are quite busy, that they do not want to do more, out of respect for their spouse, and that it will be difficult to balance it all.
Furthermore, there are stereotypes related to the skills gap. I still hear remarks that women lack leadership, have difficulty communicating and do not have enough knowledge in the field. As I said earlier, I do not buy this discourse anymore. Frankly, I don't think we're there anymore. There are skills galore.
We must also stop reinforcing the stereotypes that women are more human and more open to dialogue, or that men are more this or that. This kind of rhetoric reinforces stereotypes, and we can't go very far with that. Instead, we need to work together and stop confining people to predetermined roles, such as women on human resources committees.
People also have the reflex of asking people from their own network. It’s common for the boards to ask people they know, because that’s what the appointment process is. Real skills profiles must therefore be built using real appointment mechanisms. That helps a great deal with getting out of the pool. Board chairs have told me that they could easily find someone in two or three days, but it might take them two or three weeks if they had to find women or people specifically in certain communities. It sometimes takes longer, but they have to make the effort to step outside their own networks.
I forgot to mention the discourse on competence. We often hear people say that they do not choose candidates based on whether they are women, youth or people from other backgrounds, but rather based on their skills. However, this discourse on competence denies one problem. Skills have nothing to do with choosing a man or a woman. Basically, it is important to recognize that people are competent, but that now the boards must overcome inequities and that, at some point, they have to make specific choices. This does not mean that people are not competent.
There is also a limited turnover in these positions. It is important to keep that in mind. People have asked me how many years it would take to achieve a quota that we might decide to set. We have to look at turnover in positions every four or five years. If we want to appoint women, we have to take that into account.
In addition, the same people are often asked to sit on boards, and that's true for women too. It is therefore important to diversify the pool of candidates.
As for the organizational measures, I will talk about them quickly. I think we need to discuss this issue openly. We must adjust the selection criteria to what we truly want to achieve. It is not necessarily a question of lowering the requirements, but of sometimes changing them according to the traditional experiences of women and men as well. We must enable everyone to participate in board governance. We must stop thinking that we are going to train only women because they lack skills. We need to work on organizational measures rather than single strategies.
Finally, what can be done to promote parity? There are a few methods.
Collect data, as I said.
Avoid working only on single strategies. Let's stop saying that this is the problem of women. This is the problem of organizations. That's what I wanted to say this morning.
Legislative measures can produce slightly more concrete results than simply explaining why the organization does not have women. That does not improve parity much.
Avoid magic bullets.
Do not focus solely on boards. I mentioned that.
Encourage organizations and senior executives to review their practices, not just ask women to adapt.
Take into account the impact of maternity. It's part of reality. In the culture sector, people have atypical hours and have a hard time finding childcare.
Implement communications strategies to highlight the progress made on adding women to organizations' boards.
Spread the word about innovative experiences. Right now, I'm doing a lot of work on good practices, if you're interested. I am working on case studies. Many people are doing interesting things, and those need to be documented in organizations.
Do not believe that things will get better by themselves. I do not look that old, but I've been working on this for 25 years and things are not fixed.
Finally, it is important to work in partnership with stakeholders. I hear all the time that the new generations, in two or three years, will fix the situation. That is not true, because they will use the same mould. If the work is not done at the level of the organizations, the changes will be smaller.