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WB to look at ways to get women in the boardroom

New rules to apply to companies traded on the TSX



It may appear to be a bastion of an old boys club but Whistler Blackcomb must now start to look at ways to entice women into its top jobs.

Beginning next year, publicly traded companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange, which includes Whistler Blackcomb, will be required to explain how they're recruiting women to their boards and executive.

WB currently has no women on its seven-member board or on its top executive.

It was a move spearheaded by the Ontario Securities Commission, Canada's top stock-market regulator.

In an emailed statement from WB's general counsel Thierry Keable this week he said: "Whistler Blackcomb has been aware of the rules since their initial proposal. We believe women at all levels of the organization including directors and executive officer positions, is a positive direction. The board is continually reviewing the skills and competencies of the directors and executive offices to ensure we have representation of the qualities and experience required by Whistler Blackcomb."

Whistler Blackcomb is not an outlier in respect to its gender disparity at its highest levels.

Rather, WB is just like almost 40 per cent of Canada's public companies with no women in the top brass.

Under the new rules, public companies must tell their shareholders how many women hold board and executive office positions and how the company will go about boosting those numbers.

The executive director of Catalyst Canada, the leading nonprofit organization with a mission to expand opportunities for women in business, called it a great approach.

There are three approaches around the world that different jurisdictions have used to boost female numbers — voluntary, comply or explain, and quotas.

"I always say the common denominator between all three approaches, all of which are working in moving the numbers, is goal setting," said Alex Johnston.

Canada is following the "comply or explain" approach.

"What they're saying is that you have to establish a goal for your board representation and your executive committee representation, you've got to disclose it publicly and on top of that you've got to disclose the strategies that you are using as a company to meet those goals," said Johnston.

"I think it's a great approach and I think it will have impact."

What that means for WB and other companies like it, said Johnston is that "those companies will be having a conversation now about what the regulations mean for them and how they're going to organize themselves to meet the new requirements."

As for getting more women into the boardrooms, Johnston said the research shows when you have more women in leadership roles, typically there is better financial performance, whether it's longevity of the company or the bottom line itself.

Whistler's Shannon Susko, who co-founded Paradata Systems and served as president and CEO before selling it, has been on all kinds of boards — all-female, ones where she is the lone female in a group of men, and a mixture.

The best ones, in her experience, are the ones with balance and diversity.

One board, which has five women of 12 directors, stands out.

"It's a really great environment because we have a really balanced view," said Susko.

Recently, she refused a board position on an all-female board.

"We have to have that diversity at the table," she said.

And, she added, the research shows that women can make a difference in male-dominated boardrooms, including a difference to the bottom line.

The changes are a good thing, said Susko, keeping in mind that the process is always about looking for the best candidate for the job.

B.C. Securities Commission will stand on the sidelines to watch new rules go into effect elsewhere across the country. B.C. lags as one of the worst places in the country when it comes to female representation in the boardroom.

"We will be watching to see how publicly listed companies adapt to the new framework," said Pamela McDonald, director of communication and education of the British Columbia Securities Commission, in an emailed statement to Pique. "We support diversity in all its forms. We want to see how this kind of initiative affects local companies and local investors and whether any potential extra costs justify the benefits."