Just under half of 722 TSX-listed companies have at least one woman on their board of directors, and progress in getting them to draft policies to recruit more female directors has been scant.

That's according to a review by Canadian Securities Administrators of companies who have completed their fiscal year since voluntary guidelines on women directors were introduced last year.

The percentage of companies who have at least one female director is at 49 per cent, up from 42 per cent in 2013.

The provincial regulators found just 30 per cent of large companies with market capitalization above $2 billion have adopted a written policy for identifying and nominating women to the board and half of them had created the policy in the past year.

Bigger companies doing better

Among the smaller companies and in some sectors, there were far fewer women on boards.

The review found:

  • 15 per cent of companies have added one or more women to their board this year.
  • 62 per cent of the companies with a market capitalization below $1 billion had no women on their boards.
  • 48 per cent of smaller companies (under $1 billion) said they had no women in executive positions.
  • 60 per cent of all companies have one woman in an executive position.

Utilities and companies in the retail sector had the highest number of women on their boards, while mining, oil and gas and technology companies were less likely to have female directors.

Securities regulators in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon adopted a "comply and explain" scheme for reporting on gender diversity on boards, meaning there were no firm targets, but companies were required to explain their policies.

The guidance issued last year requires listed companies to disclose whether they have adopted targets regarding women on their board or in executive positions, but very few had set such targets.

Targets to get to the top

Just 49 companies, or seven per cent, said they had a target to raise the number of women on their boards and just 11 (two per cent) had targets for women in the executive suite.

Most of the companies told regulators they had not set targets because candidates are selected on the basis of merit.

Michelle de Cordova, director of corporate engagement for fund manager NEI Investments, says she was surprised that this largely discredited argument was still being advanced.

"There's a lot of research pointing to this correlation between diversity on the board and the performance of companies," said de Cordova.

"Given that correlation argument, we would respectfully say that the companies citing this meritocracy argument don't really get it ... If there is a correlation between better diversity performance and better corporate performance, a shareholder should want there to be better diversity performance."

With files from the Canadian Press