The Issue

Little to no diverse membership, including from the LGBTQ+ community, on Canada’s Corporate Boards.

Why it matters?

It is important to have prominent LGBTQ+ individuals in the business community. Board members contribute to their organization’s culture and operating environment. They establish corporate goals, oversee the hiring practices of the organization, monitor the effectiveness of the business, ensure good corporate governance policies are in place, and represent the public face of their organizations.

An organization’s Board represent the company’s shareholders and employees, many of whom also identify as LGBTQ+. Having LGBTQ+ Board members shows their inclusion in the organization. It also confirms that one’s sexual orientation is not a barrier to either promotion or the ability to participate in the management of the enterprise.

The confidence of an out Board member with their sexual orientation reveals the honesty of the individual, thereby reflecting the values inherent in the company’s culture. Public disclosure shows leadership by example, an important trait in motivating others within the organization.

The presence of LGBTQ+ Boards helps to advance the efforts for global human rights. Through extensive networks of suppliers and customers they influence many other organizations to adopt open policies of diversity and inclusion. By having visible LGBTQ+ leadership in the organization they are sending a message to those partners that being a member of a minority group does not impair the economic functioning of the relationship that has been established.

The Barriers

There are two types of barriers to LGBTQ+ representation in the Boardroom: one is structural while the other is cultural.

Structural bottlenecks
The structural bottlenecks are well-known and acknowledged. They include among others: outmoded approaches to board recruitment, little knowledge of where to find LGBTQ+ candidates, lack of succession planning, low turnover, recruiters’ inertia, boards’ failure to look outside their own insular networks, and LGBTQ+ people’s exclusion or self-exclusion from some of these networks.

Shifting board dynamics, the intervention of regulators or even shareholder activism could over time reduce these barriers. Our newly created Association of LGBTQ+ Corporate Directors Canada is focused on showing companies and recruiters that identifying experienced, talented LGBTQ+ candidates is not difficult.

Pervasive cultural barriers
But there is a second and perhaps more pervasive cultural set of barriers which can be best described as the unconscious bias against LGBTQ+ people in the Boardroom. This refers to deep-rooted and cultural stereotypes against LGBQT+ people that negatively impact their board candidacy.

Tackling these biases can be difficult, mostly because, conscious or unconscious, they are never acknowledged. Board members’ lack of awareness of their own biases is the main issue.

Corporate Secretaries and Chairs of Nominating and Governance Committees should consider taking their Board through one of the many unconscious bias training programs that exist.

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