Caroline Codsi: does Canada Need Gender Quotas for Boards?

Caroline Codsi: does Canada Need Gender Quotas for Boards?

Caroline Codsi, the President of Quebec-based Women in Governance, on why Canadian women need to reach decision-making bodies of companies 

Canadian women make 51% of the nation’s population. However, their representation on boards of Canadian companies is still at 14%. The CEO percentage is even lower – only 5% of them are women. 

The President of Women in Governance is concerned about that. Thus, accepting the invitation to the Second Eurasian Women’s Forum, Caroline Codsi was “very interested in seeing how other countries are moving the needle”. According to her, she was hoping to meet her colleagues from around the globe and know more about their approach to women’s economic empowerment. Ms. Codsi wanted to know, “what works and what does not”. 

Caroline Codsi said: “People think Canada is so progressive but we only have 14% of women on boards”. 

Ms. Codsi provided an example of her own career path to support the statistics. She worked as an executive vice president of Canada’s largest medical expertise company. Nevertheless, her female coworkers could not make it to any of the company’s executive committees. 

Caroline Codsi recalled: “During my career, when it came to making a decision, I was often the only woman in the room, so my vote did not count”. 

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While European or Scandinavian countries, particularly France and Norway, successfully implemented quotas legislation for increasing female representation on boards, Canada does not have such a legislation. According to Ms. Codsi, she tried to lobby for removing that legal gap with Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister. She advocated the implementation of gender quotas law for the boards of Canadian companies. However, when she spoke on the issue, Canadian men supposed there was no such problem. 

Caroline Codsi is satisfied that culture and mentality of modern Canadian society has evolved a lot. People understand companies’ efficient functioning requires gender parity on boards and at the executive. The issue is pressing but everyone is only ready to discuss it while it is high time to take concrete action. 

However, not all Canadians agree that something has to be changed. It is generally accepted that personnel decisions remain within the purview of companies. 

Paradoxical as it may seem, many women in Canada do not support gender quotas legislation as well as men. 

They feel that they may be appointed only because they are women when the truth is that they are appointed because they are educated, experienced, ambitious and because their perspective and points of view differ from those of men thus enriching the conversation and making for a more robust decision-making process. 

Sometimes women are offered an executive role or a board position and decline because they do not feel ready or don’t think they have what it takes. They often lack confidence and self-assurance or don’t have a supportive partner at home which can be detrimental to their career. 

The Canadian delegate highlighted: “What we are trying to say is that quotas would stimulate more senior appointments but would not remove anything from their experience, professionalism, and knowledge required for that work. There are plenty of competent women out there who are waiting for a chance to fully contribute”. 

Caroline Codsi’s Women in Governance promotes women on boards and at the executive level. A Parity Certification was created for such purposes. Organisations are certified on 80 different points, being measured on policies, programs and mechanisms implemented to allow women to progress from entry level to the board. 

The Certification’s implementation demonstrated that companies were able to make their HR policies and guidelines flexible in terms of gender equality. 

Caroline Codsi finds that companies are ready to provide opportunities for women to grow professionally and should put a real focus on having senior men’s full support in the development of women. Besides, some women should alter their career views. It is time to step outside the comfort zone, learn to be brave, and take necessary risks. That is the only way to break the ice. 

Yan Zarubin, Nikolay Boykov, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community

Translated by Nikolay Boykov