McCarthys signs accord calling for more women directors

McCarthy Tétrault LLP is the first Canadian law firm to sign the Catalyst Accord, partnering with the organization in its call for Canadian corporations to increase the overall proportion of board seats held by women to 25 per cent by 2017.

“McCarthy Tétrault has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to diversity, including developing the conditions for women to advance and succeed at our firm and in our industry,” says Marc-André Blanchard, McCarthy Tétrault’s chairman and CEO and member of the Catalyst Canada advisory board. “By signing the Catalyst Accord [], we are publicly committing that women will continue to be well represented on our Board of Partners and our leadership team. We hope other companies, including our colleagues in the industry, will follow suit.”

Paul Boniferro, McCarthys’ national leader of practices and people, says signing the accord meets some of goals the firm has established over the years but the move is in no way connected with a discrimination case launched by a former employee four years ago.

In 2008, former McCarthys’ lawyer Diane Lacalamita sued the firm for sex discrimination, claiming the firm “artificially restricted and isolated” her practice and failed on its commitment to advance her to equity partnership. The firm dismissed her after three years of employment “without reason or explanation.”

“Her case is not about discrimination and we’ve said that all along,” says Boniferro. “I don’t think this step we’re taking is in any way connected. In fact, these initiatives we’ve been taking at our firm have been around for many years before 2008. Our current board is roughly 20 to 30 per cent women. This accord just matches our values and we thought it important to jump on it.”

The “2011 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors” found that just 14.5 per cent of board seats in corporate Canada are held by women, an increase of just 0.5 percentage points since 2009. Almost 40 per cent of FP500 companies have no women on their boards, and over 46 per cent of FP500 public companies have no women directors. Catalyst conducts the census biennially and has found exceptionally slow growth each year.

In December, the “Davies Governance Insights 2011”, found that women chaired just seven (three per cent) of the 360 issuers on the combined S&P/TSX Composite and S&P/TSX SmallCap indices in 2011 and only 53 of the more than 1,500 board committees across those same public companies. That report also found directors of TSX 60 companies are typically men in their early 60s.

Companies that sign the Catalyst Accord commit to increasing the proportion of women directors on their boards and to encourage other companies to do the same.

It’s a step in the right direction, says A Call to Action Canada founder Joy Casey.

“This is the kind of positive action that ACTAC has been calling for,” says Casey. “Catalyst has been a forceful presence in promoting the advancement of women in business, and in documenting their disappointingly slow progress to proportionate senior management levels and board representation. The Accord is a very good step.”

When it comes to improving the number of women who sit at board tables, Casey says while she believes discrimination is still an issue, the solution is a two-way street.

“I think there is also a need for women to put themselves forward more for board positions. I think there’s also a need for some education on what is involved in serving on a board,” she says.

The goals outlined in the Catalyst Accord are aligned with McCarthy Tétrault’s own long-standing commitment to diversity: over the last five years, the percentage of women on the firm’s board of partners has ranged between 20 and 30 per cent, and the firm says it is committed to putting forward a slate of candidates having no less than 25 per cent women partners running for its board.

Some of the other programs McCarthys has developed for women in the firm include:
  • Parental support program: Assists new parents in managing the demands of juggling a career with home life.
  • Maternity leave buddy: Each woman going on maternity leave is paired with a contact in her practice group providing contact during the leave and assists with reintegration.
  • Emergency daycare: Support for emergency daycare assistance is offered in the Ontario region.
  • The Judy Project: The firm is a founding sponsor of this University of Toronto/Rotman program that brings together 25 Canadian executive women each year to develop skills for advancement within strategic leadership positions.
  • The Business Leadership for Women Lawyers Program: Eight female lawyers from the firm’s offices attend an annual Rotman School of Management/University of Toronto program for women focusing on how to succeed in the legal environment.

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