As a leader in Canadian business law, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP has long made a commitment to embracing diversity in our leadership – it is rooted in our history and is integral to who we are as a firm.
Diversity also influences the research and thought leadership we develop, in particular our annual Diversity Disclosure Practices report which highlights best practices for improving gender diversity among boards, executive teams and the pipeline of future leaders. This frequently referenced publication, now in its eighth year of reporting on this important issue, also highlights top companies achieving gender parity on boards and executive officer roles.
Osler started tracking diversity-related data on the TSX in 2015 when securities regulators amended laws to require public companies listed on the Toronto exchange to disclose gender diversity on boards and in senior leadership positions. The objective is to update the data, presenting an annual snapshot each year of how issuers are making progress. The report also provides a roadmap for companies to help guide them on the journey to building their own talent pipelines and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations.
Last year, the authors of the report, Andrew MacDougall, partner in the Corporate group, John Valley, Chair of the firm’s ESG practice, and Jennifer Jeffrey, associate in the Corporate group, saw that significant progress had been made in the number of women on boards and senior leadership positions since the launch of the first Diversity Disclosure Practices report in 2015. However, representation from visible minorities, Indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities is still lacking.
This is a significant change from 2015 when women represented, on average, 10% of directors at TSX companies. As well, the number of TSX companies with more than 50% women directors on their boards almost doubled from the previous year.
Looking at larger issuers, the news was even more encouraging.
And for the first time, there are no all-male boards among the S&P/TSX Composite Index companies, and none of the S&P/TSX 60 companies has fewer than two female directors. Across all TSX-listed companies, only 11.6% of boards have no women directors, compared to 47.1% in 2015.
A deliberate focus on recruiting women directors has been required to get to this stage, the report stated. This focus is reflected in high levels of adoption of board diversity policies and, in recent years, the adoption of targets for women directors. These efforts resulted in 43.6% of new board positions being filled with women candidates last year (that number was 39.1% in 2021). Institutional investor pressure to increase diversity has also been a key driver of change.
Other statistics from the 2022 report include:
- 41% of TSX-listed companies disclosed that they had adopted a target respecting the representation of women on the board; a sharp increase from 2021.
- By contrast, only 12% of TSX-listed companies have targets for women executive officers.
- Among disclosing TSX-listed companies, women held 5.3% of CEO positions (4.7% in 2021) and 7.4% of board chair positions (6.6% in 2021).
Advancing leadership at Osler
Internally, Osler has its own roadmap to achieving its own equity and diversity goals. The firm is a long-time member of the 30% Club, a campaign developed by a group of business chairpersons and CEOs taking action to increase gender diversity on boards and senior management teams, with the aim of achieving a minimum of 30% female representation on boards and executive leadership teams and the goal of reaching parity.
The firm’s Partnership Board (equivalent to a company’s board of directors) has set the mandate that at least 30% of its members be women and has implemented a guideline that women comprise at least 30% of the partners on our Compensation Committee.
As of the end of 2022, four of the 12 members of the Partnership Board were women, and the Operations Committee consisted of six women and 14 men.
Last year, we celebrated the career and contributions of Dale Ponder, National Co-Chair, who retired from Osler at the end of 2021. Before becoming Co-Chair, Dale led the firm as our National Managing Partner and Chief Executive from 2009 to 2016. When she assumed the role, Dale was the only woman in the country to serve as chief executive of a major law firm and is still among the very few woman lawyers to have led a business law firm in Canada.
Maureen Killoran, KC, succeeded Dale and joined Shahir Guindi as National Co-Chair, effective January 1, 2022. Maureen, who practises out of Osler’s Calgary and Vancouver offices, was formerly Office Managing Partner in Calgary from 2011 to 2017 and was the first woman to be named Managing Partner of a Calgary law firm.
A trusted advisor to clients in Western Canada, Maureen is regarded as one of the nation’s top litigators. “While we are extremely proud of what we have accomplished over the years, we recognize that continued growth and support is a perpetual requirement in our profession to shorten the gap in equality and increased diversity”, says Maureen Killoran.
Osler has five Office Managing Partners, two of whom are outstanding women – Sandra Abitan in Montréal and Donna White in Ottawa. Several senior administrative positions (Chief Client Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Legal Talent Officer and Chief Human Resources Officer) are also held by women.
Advancement of Women Lawyers initiative
The advancement of a greater percentage of women into the firm’s partnership is a strategic priority for the firm, with the overall objective of greater gender parity. In support of this goal, the firm has committed significant resources to a multi-faceted Advancement of Women Lawyers (AWL) program since 2020. This program helps to identify and remove obstacles that hinder inclusion, focusing on implementing targeted and tailored strategies to enable Osler to retain women lawyers, promote women associates to partner, and advance women partners into leadership positions within the firm.
We recently concluded the second year of the program with 19 women participating after starting the 2022–2023 program in late summer with 17 participants.
Helping our clients develop leadership in their organizations
As part of supporting gender diversity and equality, Osler also provides opportunities for women founders to amplify their voices and foster connections with each other. Launched in late 2021, Osler’s Women in Emerging and High Growth Companies Leadership series features inspirational women leaders from the Canadian emerging and high growth community sharing their stories of success, challenges encountered along the way, and lessons learned from their careers.