B.C.'s female representation growing politically but not in province's boardrooms

On International Women’s Day the B.C. Legislature will have a higher percentage of women compared to other provinces. But in the province's boardrooms, it's a much different story.

In B.C., the NDP says 92 per cent of B.C.'s top 100 private sector boards are occupied by men

Thirty-eight per cent of MLAs in B.C. are women — the highest percentage in the country. But in the province's boardrooms, it's a much different story. (iStock)

The walls of the B.C. legislature are lined with photographs that tell the story of the province's history. As the portraits transition from black and white to colour there is another change — diversity, particularly when it comes to gender.

The last black and white photos — from 1953 — show just one woman sitting in the Legislature. In 1987, the number of women jumps, but only to seven.

The most recent photos show 32 women — 38 per cent of MLAs — the highest percentage in the country.

"We work very hard to recruit the best person for the job. But we also want to make sure we are focused on encouraging women to either step up and run, or that they are included in the public service," said Jobs Minister Shirley Bond.

"We lead by example. We have a female premier. A female Lieutenant Governor. A female speaker. My deputy minister is a woman."

In B.C., 38 per cent of MLAs are women. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

'Doesn't strike me as great progress'

In terms of federal representation, British Columbia struggles. Just 12 of the 42 MPs, about 29 per cent from B.C., are women. 

The group Equal Voice is pushing for gender parity at all levels of government. There is a profound sense of disappointment from the group that in the most recent federal election just 26 per cent of the elected MPs were women. 

In British Columbia, Equal Voice has a great sense of optimism. The organization's B.C. chair Carolyn Jack calls the gender mix in Victoria "a good news, not-so-great news situation."

"In December of this year will will mark the centenary of the referendum that gave women in B.C. the vote," Jack adds.  In 100 years we got to 38 per cent and over 100 years that doesn't strike me as that great of progress."

Recruiting More Women

The organization has launched a national campaign called Daughters of the Vote. Equal Voice will enlist women nationwide in a campaign to provide a better understanding of the electoral system, an understanding of how to run and most importantly, a boost of confidence.

"Girls and young women disproportionately from boys and young men do not think that [being a] politician is a job they can do," Jack adds.

There is a reason why many women feel that way. Of the 18 largest municipalities in the province just Vancouver, Surrey, Abbotsford, Kelowna and Victoria have an equal number of women compared to men on city council.

'Old Boys Network'

It is hard in many cases to control how many women are elected, but governments do have control over appointments to boards that run public sector organizations. 

And in B.C., 41 per cent of government-appointed public sector board seats are occupied by women. Women make up about two thirds of the seats around the table on the boards of Community Living B.C. and Legal Services B.C. .

"This government is leading by example. Women make significant contributions wherever they are and we need to continue to reduce barriers where we can," Bond said.

B.C. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond says the province works hard to recruit women into the public service.

But some high-profile boards skew towards male domination. The boards of PavCo, BC Hydro and Destinations B.C. are all less than 30 per cent female.

But that's pretty positive when compared to the private sector. Figures gathered by NDP MLA Adrian Dix show 92 per cent of B.C.'s top 100 private sector boards are occupied by men.

The government has failed to get on board with other provinces on a disclose-and-explain policy, Dix says. Right now companies have to make their board members public, but Dix wants tougher rules that would force companies to disclose the reasons board members were selected.

"The fact of explaining forces companies to come to terms to what they are doing. How does it make sense that 59 of the top 100 companies in B.C. have no women on the board at all," said Dix. "That doesn't make sense. That is not merit. That is the old boys network at play and the government seems to support the old boys network."

Dix is once again capitalizing on International Women's Day to remind the government it can push private companies to put more women in positions of power — role models to the girls and young women who will one day help run the province.


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