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ITAC initiative seeks to bring women onto IT advisory boards

Female Executive, Woman, Board of Directors
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Do diverse boards make better boards?

The Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) seems to think so.  In a new effort to promote diversity in IT leadership, the group is creating a registry of qualified female tech industry executives that want to gain visibility and shape companies by joining boards of directors.

The goal, according to Mary Whittle, director of global distribution management at Avaya and lead on the project, is to bring the percentage of women on ICT industry boards from the historic average of 15 to 20 per cent up to 30 percent over the next two years.

ITAC’s own general board of directors consists of a 3 to 1 male to female ratio.

“Why would you not feel that qualified women don’t belong on boards?” said Whittle.  She explained that prior to this initiative, ITAC had commissioned a white paper looking into the issue, and found that it was not for a lack of willingness.  Rather, nominating committees didn’t have a lot of women in their network.

“They didn’t know where to look,” Whittle said.

To build the database, ITAC reached out to its own network, who in turn reached out to the networks of its subcommittees, looking for those who were not only qualified but also interested, considering the significant amounts of responsibility and accountability required by this type of a position.

Furthermore, it’s partnering with several organizations including Deloitte, the Institute of Corporate Directors, Amrop Knightsbridge’s Board Practice, the Canadian Board of Diversity Council and more.

With their help, ITAC hosted a “Discovery Day” in February, where female executives learned to present themselves as good candidates, and to create a board resumes.  Another session is scheduled for May 12.

The first database, which should have about 30 names, will be available in June, to be expanded to 50 by the end of the year.

“In companies where more than three women sit on the board, the ROI is 18 per cent higher than those boards without women,” said Lloyd Bryant, managing director of Hewlett-Packard Canada and co-chair of ITAC’s Diversity Initiative, in a statement. “Our new Women on Boards initiative is just good business.”

To Whittle, it’s important that even if interested women are not yet qualified, they take up volunteer and mentorship opportunities and get a range of experience, and consider moving horizontally on the corporate ladder as opposed to just vertically.  While CIOs and IT directors are high on the list, those with finance, HR, and legal experience are also in high demand.

“People are really interested in having tech-capable women regardless of the discipline,” she said.  “There’s a strong need for board members who can help a company understand the impact of technology. It’s accomplishing two things at the same time.”