The Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) has launched a program to train business people to be qualified directors and board members, with an eye towards furthering diversity and education in key areas, like intellectual property.
CCI is looking for candidates to take part in its inaugural cohort this fall, where it will focus on training people in important topics for technology companies: intellectual property (IP), data commercialization, cybersecurity, as well as compliance, finance, and capital investment.
“What came back was really demand for new potential board positions being filled but with supply sort of not matching the skill sets.”
CCI is a business council that works with and represents scale-up Canadian tech companies. Since it was founded in 2015, its membership has grown to more than 140 CEOs from companies like Wattpad, Vendasta, Axonify, Lightspeed, Mogo, Bluecat, D2L, Freshbooks, and Interac in Ontario. CCI works on behalf of its members to lobby for the needs of the tech sector to Canadian governments.
The launch of iGP is CCI’s first foray into programming for its members and is looking to address the need for qualified directors on Canadian tech company boards and increase diverse representation.
The training initiative follows the launch of CCI’s Board Member Advisory Program (BMAP), a referral program that helps Canadian companies identify prospective candidates for board roles. The program was created in July after the organization found its companies were seeking qualified board members but they were proving difficult to find.
“What came back was really demand for new potential board positions being filled but with supply sort of not matching the skill sets that people were looking for in terms of the intangible economy,” CCI executive director Ben Bergen told BetaKit.
“The other really big noticeable piece was also looking for diversity and inclusion as well,” he added. “There was a real gap in terms of those who sort of raised their hands, in terms of meeting some of [tech company’s] desired positions for diversity and inclusion and that being really specifically gender and BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Colour].”
Even while diversity is becoming increasingly discussed and mandated for public companies, with disclosure rules tracking the breakdown of company boards, a diverse group of board members is still rare.
Osler’s 2021 Diversity Disclosure report on TSX-listed companies and Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA) corporations found that while Canadian public company boards continue to add more women directors at a steady pace, “very little progress” has been made at the executive officer level and for visible minorities and people with disabilities on boards the numbers are abysmal.
Women hold approximately 23.4 percent of board seats among TSX-listed companies disclosing the number of women on their boards, Osler reported. Around 18 percent of women hold executive officer roles, a number that is largely unchanged since 2015. Among the over 2,200 board positions of the 316 CBCA companies that provided disclosure, there were only eight positions held by Indigenous peoples and nine by people with disabilities. Members of visible minorities have “made some small inroads,” according to Osler, with approximately 6.8 percent of board positions of CBCA corporations providing disclosure held by visible minorities, compared to 5.5 percent last year.
There are numerous training programs and initiatives that exist to train individuals for boards, including those with a diversity focus, such as Women Get On Board and The Boardlist, the latter focused on gender parity and, more recently, men of colour. What stands out about CCI’s new program is its focus on tech-specific education and diversity. And with its connection to hundreds of Canada’s biggest tech companies and CEOs, its reach is broad.
Lally Rementilla, managing partner of IP-backed Financing for BDC, told BetaKit she applauds CCI for its focus on diversity from day one of the program, and highlighted the importance of diversity of thought as well.
“It’s not just about diversity, per se, from a sort of physical perspective, but it’s also intellectual diversity,” she said. “What this program really touches is the fact that for companies to compete in the intangible economy, you have to have diversity in thinking. And looking at other areas that these companies tend to sort of struggle with … that would be in the areas of IP governance, data, cybersecurity, and capital markets because these are new, nascent, and emerging trends in the industry.”
“So having board members that understand what the strategic implications of these issues are is very important,” Rementilla added. “You just can’t have the same kind of board members who just have the sort of fundamental trainings, you need to have those that are uniquely qualified.”
Successful participants in iGP will be added to CCI’s board advisory list. CCI specifically noted that it established the link between iGP and BMAP in order to create “new pathways” for women, members of visible minorities, Canadian Aboriginal persons and persons with disabilities to join corporate boards in Canada.
iGP was created in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), CPA Ontario, and Export Development Canada (EDC). The Innovation Asset Collective (IAC), Cycura, Deloitte, and Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) are also helping develop content for the sessions.
CCI’s iGP inaugural sessions begin in November and will run through December. The six-week program is free to all selected participants. CCI is also committed to running a spring session of the program and hopes to grow it in the future.