Women held 23.4 per cent of the total 4,914 board seats among Canadian companies providing disclosure for 2021 — a steady increase of 2.2 per cent from 2020’s year-end results, according to Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP’s latest diversity report.

The report tracked companies subject to the Canada Business Corporations Act that disclosed the number of women, Indigenous peoples and visible minorities represented at the board level and in executive positions in 2021 up until July 31. “The rate at which women are being appointed this year reached its highest level yet, with women filling 39.1 per cent of the newly created or vacated board seats, a significant increase compared to a rate of 35 per cent last year,” noted the report.

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Indeed, of the 605 companies included in the S&P/TSX 60 companies that provided disclosure between January 2021 and the end of July 2021, 33.2 per cent reported board seats held by women — an increase of 1.9 per cent since the end of last year, when it stood at 31.3 per cent. On the broader S&P/TSX composite index, 31.5 per cent of the 1,991 board seats were held by women.

However, the findings also showed that women are still underrepresented at the executive level. The 565 companies that disclosed reported the proportion of their women chief executive officers increased slightly to an average of 18.2 per cent from 17 per cent last year. This number is largely unchanged since 2015, when it was 15 per cent. Additionally, only 10.7 per cent of TSX-listed companies have targets for women chief executive officers (largely unchanged from last year).

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Larger companies that set targets had more success in appointing women to executive positions. “Targets for women directors have been adopted by 71.7 per cent of the S&P/TSX 60 companies,” noted the report. “By contrast, only 32.3 per cent of all TSX-listed companies have done so.”

The numbers don’t fare any better with respect to individuals from other minority groups. Representation of the Black, Indigenous and people of colour community, as well as with persons with disabilities, still lags on boards and in executive positions throughout the country.

Among the 318 corporations that adhered to the diversity disclosure requirement at mid-year 2021, less than one per cent reported having board seats held by Indigenous peoples or those with disabilities, virtually unchanged from the year before. As well, just 6.8 per cent reported having board positions held by visible minorities, compared to 5.5 per cent last year. And less than one per cent said they had executive positions held by those from the BIPOC community or people with disabilities.

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