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In an effort to increase much-needed gender equality on boards, YWCA Edmonton and DirectHer Network have teamed up on a unique 12-month pilot project aimed at blazing more pathways for women and gender minorities wanting to serve at decision-making tables. 

“This partnership is a made-in-Alberta solution to the real challenge of not seeing enough women on boards, particularly women of colour and Indigenous women. We need to open more doors for everyone,” said YWCA Edmonton CEO Katherine O’Neill. 

YWCA Edmonton has been a leader in creating equity, opportunity and choice for women and girls in Edmonton since 1907; DirectHer Network is an Alberta-based charity focused on educating and expanding the pool of Canadian women serving on boards of all shapes and sizes. 

“If we want rich diversity of thought on boards, we have to demystify governance in a relatable and inclusive way” says Chantel Cabaj, President and Founder of DirectHer. “Our e-training identifies barriers women face and works to remove them. Working with the YWCA will allow us to rapid-fire test this approach on a national stage.” 

Over the next year, DirectHer will work closely with YWCA Edmonton to deliver a series of educational offerings and experiences to support women in taking the next step in board service, whether that’s at an entry level or beyond. The first collaborative event will be a one-day virtual workshop on November 6 to educate women on the basic pillars of governance, including financial literacy, being a strategic director and developing impactful board resumes. There are also plans to host educational retreats and networking events at YWCA Edmonton’s Camp Yowochas, which is located west of Edmonton. 

“The specific obstacles that women encounter while joining and progressing in governance must be addressed if we are to improve gender diversity on boards,” said Cabaj. YWCA Edmonton and DirectHer hope to advance growth in intersectional gender diversity on boards by making governance training accessible and understandable, fostering an inclusive community, and connecting women with board opportunities. 

The collaboration with YWCA Edmonton will complement additional efforts DirectHer is undertaking to uniquely address women’s representation on boards, including a research project with Dr. Rachael Pettigrew and Mount Royal University, which will study the intersectional barriers diverse women across Canada face in achieving their board goals. 

Impact 

  • Women are still underrepresented on boards. Women hold 21.5% of TSX-listed company board seats, and 40.8% of board seats in 8 major Canadian cities when considering both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. [Osler (2020) Diversity Disclosure Practices: Diversity and leadership at Canadian public companies
  • Racialized women are disproportionately disadvantaged. Non-racialized women outweigh racialized women on boards by 7:1 to 13:1 in major cities across Canada. [Diversity Institute (2020) Diversity Leads; Diverse Representation in Leadership: A Review of Eight Canadian Cities
  • Gender diversity drives business performance. According to a meta-analysis of 90,000 businesses, board gender diversity supports organizational financial performance, with improved board functions in strategy and risk management. [Kirsch (2014) The gender composition of corporate boards: A review and research agenda
  • DirectHer is actively expanding the pool of women board candidates. Since January 2019, over 2,000 attendees have participated in DirectHer’s board governance courses and events, the vast majority who identify as women. –