At the end of 2016, Beatrix Dart came to a realization: Although there are hundreds of fantastic organizations in Canada dedicated to advancing women in various stages of their career, they weren’t working together as well as they could be.

Prof. Dart, the Executive Director of the Rotman Initiative for Women in Business and the Country Lead for the 30% Club Canada, was worried the impact was being lost. She wanted a space to foster collaboration between organizations to further their impact and ultimately ensure that more women achieve management and board positions. At the end of 2016, the Canadian Gender and Good Governance Alliance (CGGGA) was formed.

We spoke to her about how the CGGGA operates, and how she hopes to see it grow.

What is the Canadian Gender and Good Governance Alliance?

I don’t know who counted, but somebody told me that there are now over 400 organizations in Canada alone trying to support women on the topic of gender advancement. It’s lovely that we have so much passion for it, but on the other hand, if you have so many organizations it’s also very fragmented in the Canadian market. A lot of organizations have small budgets, small membership fees, many are not-for-profit, and everybody is struggling to find how to support their cause financially. But everybody has the right will, and everybody is truly passionate.

The idea was, wouldn’t it make sense if we were to come together as an umbrella organization. Let’s amplify each other’s’ efforts, and let’s see if there isn’t something we can do jointly in terms of collaboration – we really all have the same objective, we might just come at it from different angles. But if we could amplify what each of us is doing, we would get that much more impact and attention as well. That was really the impetus for founding the Alliance.

It’s currently comprised of seven organizations. All of them are not-for-profit, all of them work across Canada, and all of them have the advancement of women as one of their main goals. The members are: the Institute of Corporate Directors, Catalyst, Women in Capital Markets, the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance, the Clarkson Centre for Business Ethics and Board Effectiveness, the Business Council of Canada, and the 30% Club.

Why are there still so few women in Canada’s boardrooms and executive offices?

Some industries have done really well, but when you look at the smaller companies you can start to see the issue. They’re facing different gender diversity challenges than larger companies. For example, if you look at junior mining companies, most of them struggle for economic survival, which is why diversity might not be their biggest priority. If you look at the technology sector, the challenge there is very much the culture in that sector. It’s a knowledge-based industry, so there should be no impediment for women to be at parity in that sector.

Since launch, has the Alliance met? What sort of discussions are underway?

We have had several meetings, and we learned how to work together. Everybody is an organization in their own right, and nobody is expected to not serve their members the way they currently do. There is nothing imposed on the organizations to change what they’re doing.

The first challenge we tackled jointly as the Alliance was to help small and medium-sized enterprises think about gender diversity. We found that a lot of the large, publicly-traded companies, professional services firms, and firms in the financial sector are doing very well in terms of awareness about gender diversity. They’ve been at it for many years, they have equal representation usually of women on boards, or they’ve reached the 30% threshold. Out of the TSX composite index, which is about 250 companies, there are only I think 28 or 29 companies left that have no women on board.

Where the challenge comes in is with the small and medium enterprises, and the privately-held companies as well. The question is, is there anything useful we could provide to that segment that would help them to think about gender diversity? We came up with a toolkit which is full of practical suggestions that would really make a difference to the companies’ gender-diversity approach if they took them all on.  But even if a company only wants to pick one or two of them, it already would have impact. The toolkit was published as a joint initiative, and we called it the Directors’ Playbook.

We’re also beginning to work on the second joint initiative, and that’s a more sector-specific approach, because different industries have different challenges. The financial sector is doing quite well, for example, but then we have sectors such as mining, or manufacturing, or technology, and they need more targeted tips for tackling gender diversity.

What goals do you have for the CGGGA? Where do you hope to see the Alliance grow?

I’m hoping that the Alliance will grow in membership. We’d love to get the perspective of other organizations that fit. I think we’re coming at it from so many different angles, and I’m really excited that there seems to be positive momentum. We also should be celebrating some of the progress we’ve been making. We’re always quick to point out where we’re still short and that there’s so much more to be done. But a lot of progress has been made in the last couple of years. The idea that seven organizations can actually come together, check their ego at the door, and work together? To me that is such a Canadian, collaborative solution.

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