03/03/2014 12:34 EST | Updated 05/03/2014 05:59 EDT

Women on corporate boards on the rise

The number of women on the boards of public companies increased to 12.2 per cent in 2013 from 10.3 per cent in 2011, but 41.7 per cent of listed companies still have no female board members.

The new figures from the 2013 Catalyst census comes at a time when there is increasing pressure on companies to make their boards more diverse, including an Ontario proposal for wide disclosure over the issue.

The Ontario Securities Commission has recommended TSX-listed companies disclose the number of women on their boards and make public their efforts to improve diversity at the board level.

Catalyst has done a similar review of boards at 500 of Canada’s largest companies every two years since 1998. The non-profit group also has an initiative called the Catalyst Accord, which invites companies to sign on to efforts to increase the proportion of board seats held by women to 25 per cent by 2017.

Women now account for 15.9 per cent of board directors at Canada's 500 largest companies, including listed and private companies and Crown corporations. Only 4.1 per cent of board chairs are female.

Executive director Alex Johnson said she was encouraged by the improvement at listed companies and supports the Ontario Securities Commission’s recent "comply or explain" recommendations for all TSX-listed companies.

“Regardless of industry, corporations should tap into the full talent pool when naming board members, as a strategy essential to business success,” she said.

Crown corporations have the highest proportion of women directors – 30.4 per cent in 2013, compared to 26.8 per cent in 2011. The number of women on the boards of private companies is 18.6 per cent, better than the listed companies, but a drop since 2011, when women comprised 19 per cent of their boards.

The companies least likely to have women on their boards are those in the mining, quarrying and oil and gas sectors.  

Quebec has the highest percentage of board seats held by women (19.8 per cent) while British Columbia has the lowest (11.9 per cent).

One of the standout companies in the study is Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec with 46 per cent of its board seats filled by women.

“The opportunity to combine different approaches to a board matter is part of the beneficial effects of gender diversity,” board chair Robert Tessier said in a statement.

“This leads to deeper discussions where a greater variety of  viewpoints can be expressed. In addition, this plurality of views has a ripple effect; it increases the level of preparedness of each board member. Finally, I would add that diversity contributes to board decisions being made in a calm and courteous manner.”