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Time to bring more diversity to the boardroom, expert says

Despite some recent progress, there are still far too few women and visible minorities in leadership positions, says Deborah Rosati. And at this month’s Conference for Audit Committees, she’ll moderate a session on that very topic

Group of diverse business people collaborating in an officeWomen hold just over 20 per cent of board seats among TSX-listed companies that disclose the number of women on their boards, according to one report (Getty Images/gremlin)

“It’s just not good enough.” For Deborah Rosati, FCPA, a certified corporate director, entrepreneur and founder of Women Get on Board, that statement says it all when it comes to the advancement of women and visible minorities to corporate boards and other leadership positions in Canada.

“I’ve been on boards for 20 years and, throughout that entire period, I have been either the only woman or one of few at the boardroom table. So, it gets lonely,” she says. “When you consider the latest data, including Osler’s 2020 Diversity Disclosure Practices Report, women hold just over 20 per cent of board seats among TSX-listed companies that disclose the number of women on their boards. And it’s not good enough to be the only woman, it’s not good enough to be that visible minority.”

It’s with a view to helping rectify that imbalance that Rosati founded Women Get on Board, a member-based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards. Founded in 2015, the organization now has 500 members across Canada from a range of industries, ethnicities, locations occupations. “I’ve been very fortunate because we have built a diverse community of women leaders across Canada that are board-ready,” she says.

Portrait of Deborah RosatiFCPA Deborah Rosati, FCPA is a certified corporate director, entrepreneur and founder of Women Get on Board (Image provided)

At CPA Canada’s virtual Conference for Audit Committees on Dec. 8 and 9, Rosati will be moderating a session called “Diversity: Addressing Gender and Visible Minority Representation in 2020.” The session will look at progress made on boards and in the C-suite, not only in terms of gender parity, but also other forms of representation.

“When you look at diversity at the board level, you’re really looking at diversity of thought,” she says. “A board is a collective pool—it’s not the individuals making the decision, it’s the board as a whole. And, in order to avoid group think, you need diversity in terms of ethnicity, race, culture, skills, gender, expertise and more.”

As Rosati explains, new diversity disclosure requirements came into effect Jan. 1, 2020 under the Canada Business Corporations Act for gender disclosure, not only on boards, but also at the executive level. It also broadened the scope to include visible minorities, Indigenous people and persons with disabilities. And, in the first part of the conference session, John Valley and Jennifer Jeffrey, partners at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, will look at the results of those new requirements along with other notable developments over the past year.

In the second part of the session, Rosati will interview Wes Hall, founder of the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism and founder and executive chairman of Kingsdale Advisors, about his views on making changes at the board level.

“All in all, there is a growing body of research showing that diversity on boards makes good business sense,” says Rosati. “But we cannot rely on diversity disclosure requirements alone to widen our focus. We need the right culture and mindset. And I really hope this session encourages more people to step up and become agents of change.”


To find out more about improving diversity on boards, attend CPA Canada’s Conference for Audit Committees, Dec. 8-9. You can also attend a pre-conference workshop on how to get on a board. And listen to a podcast in which Ismail Akhter, associate director, members in public practice, with CPA Canada, interviews Deborah Rosati about the importance of diversity on boards.

Also, learn how Canada’s Big Four accounting firms fare on diversity and inclusion efforts. Put in the work to become a better ally and foster a more inclusive workplace. And heed this advice to make your workplace more welcoming for trans people.