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Canadian Boardrooms Need More Than Binders Full of Women

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In 2003, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney looked to fill his cabinet with a little "diversity." Romney claims he "took a concerted effort" to find experienced professionals of the fairer sex by sifting through binders full of women, as he famously stipulated during a presidential debate. A decade later Mitt Romney's gender conundrum is still prevalent in many North American boardrooms.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Board Diversity Council released its annual report card on the representation of women, visible minorities, aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities on the boards of Canada's 500 largest organizations. The 2012 independent research concludes that women hold 14 per cent of board seats. A survey further examined diversity beyond gender, revealed that visible minorities made up just 4.6 per cent of FP500 boards while they make up almost 20 per cent of the Canadian population. Aboriginals (1 per cent) and persons with disabilities (3 per cent) were also underrepresented.

According to the CBDC, board directors claimed the lack of diversity was due to "a supply shortage of diverse candidates in the talent pool." It seems the ocean of ethnically neutral board members is conveniently stricken with a bout of colour blindness and gender-equality deficiency.

This predicament raises many issues -- both for the FP500 boards and the future of our country.

First, studies have shown that boards which include women perform better. It seems the introduction of estrogen in the boardroom is so effective it can lift the bottom line. Reasons vary: a woman can better understand 50 per cent of the consumer base, often viewing common problems from a different lens that that of her male counterparts. By offering up distinctive approaches during board discussions, the presence of women leads to more thorough debates, fruitful results.

Secondly, Statistics Canada projects about one-third of Canada's population -- up to 14.4 million people -- will be a visible minority by 2031. By bucking the trend of Canada's increasing plurality, homogeneous boards are further regressing into the twilight zone of the Mad Men era -- condemned to languish in a fantasy world disconnected from the veracity of the landscape they are meant to serve. Surely, the vacuum will be filled by savvier, more competitive entities as is the rule in competitive markets.

For the same reasons women should be invited to the decision-making table, visible minorities and immigrants can offer perspectives which elude multi-generational Canadians with respect to common issues and situations they may face. In an increasingly globalized world, a board armed with a multifaceted understanding of the subtleties of culture, language, and other intangibles can leverage its reach by widening its circle of influence. Women and minorities raise the issue of diversity by simply being in the room.

Calling the monocultural masculine boards on their condition, the CBSC released today a binder full of women, visible minorities and persons with disabilities who are willing, available and qualified to sit on corporate boards.

The easy prescription has been unearthed: Take two binders full of women and minorities and call one in the morning.