B.C. Securities Commission considering corporate gender diversity requirements

B.C.'s securities regulator is considering whether to make larger publicly traded companies disclose the gender diversity on their boards of directors, which would put B.C. in line with the majority of the country.

The regulator is considering whether to make companies disclose how many board directors are women

The B.C. Securities Commission is seeking feedback on whether it should require B.C. publicly traded non-venture companies to disclose the gender diversity of their boards and executives. (CBC)

The B.C. Securities Commission (BCSC) is looking for feedback on whether it should require publicly traded B.C. companies to disclose how many directors and executive officers are women.

The requirement wouldn't apply to venture companies, which tend to be much smaller, and it would put the B.C. regulator in line with the rest of the country (except P.E.I., which doesn't have gender disclosure rules).

"Diversity matters in the workplace. It matters in companies, and we support the efforts to increase women's participation in publicly traded companies," said BCSC spokesperson Pamela McDonald.

The issue of requiring public companies headquartered in B.C. to report gender diversity is somewhat moot, since they're traded on markets like the TSX or Nasdaq and subject to gender diversity disclosure rules put in place by the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) in 2014.

"The larger B.C. companies, the non-venture companies are already captured under the current rule, and so they're already reporting out on this and they have for three years," said McDonald.

But B.C. and P.E.I. were the only provinces that didn't join Ontario and adopt the OSC rules when they came into effect. 

Support for disclosure

The B.C. Chamber of Commerce has been pushing the BCSC to require gender disclosure. 

"The reality is that Canada still lags behind the rest of the developed world in terms of gender diversity in our corporate boardrooms," said Chamber president and CEO Val Litwin.

"What the research shows is that companies that have more female board directors simply perform better. So with greater gender diversity comes better returns on equity, higher stock prices and overall better financial returns," said Litwin, who added that his organization has nine women on its 15-person board — far above the Canadian average.

Litwin said, with the OSC and other jurisdictions carrying out a scheduled three year review of the rules, it's a great chance for the BCSC to "play catch-up."

He wants to start with making companies report gender diversity to the BCSC, just to make sure it's being considered at a high level. He would also like to see targets put in place.

"I think that could very quickly move toward a quota system like we're seeing with some of our counterparts in Europe, and that wouldn't be a bad thing," said Litwin.

Currently, many European countries have corporate quotas in place, some as high as 40 per cent.

McDonald says quotas are not part of the conversation she expects to take place while the consultation process is underway.

Some gender diversity progress

For Tracey McVicar, who sits on the board of B.C.'s second largest publicly traded company, Teck, gender diversity is moving in the right direction. She's one of three women on the 14-person board.

"I talk to lots and lots of other [female] directors and everyone has different experiences — and they have different experiences over time too — so I think we're inching toward a better place." said McVicar.

"This [board] room feels extremely open and comfortable and it's a very collegial and respectful group — not without active discussion and debate, but it's very healthy," she said.

McVicar said complying with the OSC's disclosure rules is one thing but raising the idea of a gender quota is another matter entirely.

"It's a big debate and I think that it's going to be challenging to make that happen here," she said. "I'm not entirely positive it's the right way to go."

Anyone interested in commenting on the disclosure rule can find more information on the BCSC's website.

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