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Skills development

Getting more women into entrepreneurship and onto boards

December 8, 2022

Despite the fact that women have a lot to bring to the table, there are fewer women than men on corporate boards. What if having more women on boards helped them become more successful entrepreneurs?

Sitting on the board of directors of a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) is one of the best strategies for women entrepreneurs. It’s a great opportunity to share their knowledge and experience, expand their business network and sharpen their skills. Yet there aren’t many women in the boardroom.

Under-representation of women in governance

A recent publication by the Institut sur la gouvernance d’organisations privées et publiques revealed that only 29.43% of the boards of public companies are women.1 While we don’t have publicly available data on Quebec SME boards specifically, we estimate that women’s representation on these boards is less than 30%.

The benefits of a diversified board

A board of directors is where the future direction of the company is charted. Diversity encourages richer thinking, which considers different points of view and contributes to better decisions. Conversely, an environment where the age, gender, cultural background and experience of directors are too similar can create blind spots and a false sense of harmony.

Governance: helping business women grow

Women entrepreneurs and their businesses go hand in hand: what helps one usually helps the other. Sitting on a board of directors gives women the chance to find out about a new industry, learn from other board members, tackle new challenges, exercise influence, give back to the community and develop relationships with valuable allies. But they shouldn’t join a board just for the sake of joining. It’s important to choose the right roles and join boards of companies that interest us and that we believe in.

Finding the right board

Unlike job postings, SME board positions are rarely advertised. Board members are usually found through word of mouth. We recommend that women entrepreneurs who want to join a board put the word out to their network. Another suggestion: contact investors such as Desjardins Capital, who help companies set up boards.

Questions to ask

Being on the board of an SME is a significant investment of time that goes beyond attending meetings. You have to make sure it works for you and that you’re willing to put in the energy it takes. It’s also a good idea to set up a meeting to clarify mutual expectations and make sure it’s a good fit. Both sides should feel good about working together.

Desjardins supports women in governance

To boost the representation of women on boards, Desjardins Capital created a short SME governance training program. The 20 participants from the first cohort learned about governance concepts like risk management and corporate strategy, which enabled them to sharpen the skills needed to fulfill their role on a board. We don’t want to find women for the sake of finding women, we want to find the best people to join boards and broaden the pool of women board members with SME experience.

Maintaining momentum

Diversity is becoming more and more important in the business world, and many organizations are walking the talk. Gagnon is happy about this trend, but says we still have a long way to go. One woman on a board of five isn’t enough. We’re aiming for 40% to 60% gender diversity so we can get to parity.