Wildeboer Dellelce a founding partner in Board Diversity Network promoting governance inclusivity

Aim of program is to get director candidates of diverse backgrounds 'board ready,' co-founder says

Wildeboer Dellelce a founding partner in Board Diversity Network promoting governance inclusivity
Peter Volk, Wildeboer Dellelce LLP; Lori-Ann Beausoleil, Board Diversity Network

Getting potential corporate board members of diverse backgrounds “board ready” is the aim of a new education program supported by law firm  Wildeboer Dellelce LLP, designed to make governance more inclusive – and better for business.

“What makes diversity so impactful in the boardroom is the different lived experiences, perspectives, views and thoughts of these diverse groups,” says Lori-Ann Beausoleil, one of the founders of the Board Diversity Network. She is a much-sought candidate for corporate boards, with a background as a retired partner at PwC Canada and more than 36 years of government, finance, risk, audit compliance and ethics experience.

Beausoleil says diversity encompasses race, colour and religion and is vital to creating inclusivity. It’s also essential to look at diversity from the perspective of eliminating “groupthink,” she says, with people with different knowledge and skills and who have lived different experiences.

“You don’t have all like-minded people in the room when you have a diverse group. And nothing is more powerful than having diversity of thought guiding the boardroom conversation.”

Boards that are too homogenous can wind up with blind spots or unconscious bias and miss important cues and trends about culture, markets, or internal human capital issues, says Beausoleil.

“That’s why a diverse board is so critical, particularly today when businesses are facing unprecedented disruption. We believe bringing diversity into the boardroom creates outstanding business outcomes.”

The need for board composition to change as Canada changes

Perry Dellelce, Wildeboer Dellelce’s managing partner, notes that “the faces and voices of the communities that corporate Canada serves today are changing,” and to remain relevant, it is imperative for organizations “to embody the lived experiences of their clients, vendors and employees.”

He adds that his firm’s advocacy for board diversity is a business opportunity for the type of corporate clients his firm works with. “We want to assist diverse candidates to become meaningful and effective board members.”

By providing access to a network of board-ready candidates, Dellelce says, the program aims to “bring about real change in the boardroom and throughout corporate Canada.”

After eight years of monitoring the changes in gender, race and disability composition in senior positions and boards of Canadian publicly traded companies, the latest annual report from Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP on diversity and inclusion says that these firms are surpassing milestones. However, there is still a long way to go.

Across all companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, more than one in four directors (26 percent) on boards is a woman, a significant change from 2015, when women represented, on average, 10 percent of directors at TSX companies.

However, according to Statistics Canada data, visible minorities collectively represent about 22.5 percent of the population, but they represent only about eight percent of board seats on the TSX. Just over 160 directors self-disclosed as being a visible minority, up from about 120.

Also, the numbers for Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities are disappointing, with 17 board directors self-disclosing as Indigenous, compared to seven in 2020, and 10 directors self-disclosing that they had disabilities, compared to six in 2020.

Looking for board directors beyond whom you know

Peter Volk, a Wildeboer Dellelce partner practising in the areas of securities, corporate finance, M&A and corporate governance, says his interest in working with the Board Diversity Network comes from his background as a “middle-aged white male” who often gets asked to sit on boards of directors simply because people knew me.

He says it got to the point where he realized that he was doing clients a disservice “by saying yes or recommending someone like me.” He had worked with Beausoleil in the past and understood her work on board diversity, “so I started pushing back, saying to those who asked me to sit on boards’ I am happy to help you, but I’m not the person you need.’” He adds that having more diversity on boards is not only about shareholders but various stakeholders like customers or employees.

Beausoleil, who sits on the boards of Canadian Apartment Properties REIT, Brookfield Real Estate Income Trust Inc., Metro Inc., and Slate Office REIT, acknowledges that she understands how hard it may be “to reach out to people not already in your network.”

That’s why the aim of the Board Diversity Network is to “help boards find the diversity they need,” whether based on gender, colour, race, or lived experience.

Beausoleil founded the network with Oliver Jordan, Chair of the Board of the Financial Services Commission of Barbados, a Director of the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute, and a governing council member for the University of the West Indies.

A retired advisory partner from PwC in the Caribbean, Jordan has taken the Institute of Corporate Directors of Canada designation course. Beausoleil says the ICD program is useful for potential board directors, but different from what the Board Diversity Network is offering, which is an earlier stage of developing board readiness.

Board diversity “not about tokenism”

Beausoleil stresses that the board diversity initiative is “not about tokenism.” Rather, it aims to find those people who have skills that would make them excellent members of corporate boards but maybe don’t have board experience or need to be educated on what they need to do to make themselves potential solid candidates who also represent diversity and inclusivity.

By getting more diversity on boards, “you can bring a whole new level of conversation to the boardroom table.”

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