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Achieving our board diversity target among private companies

A conversation with Maria Morsillo, Senior Managing Director, Value Creation & Analytics, Infrastructure & Natural Resources (INR)

Our commitment to promoting DE&I extends across all of our asset classes. In 2017, we made a commitment to reach 30% representation of women across all 300+ board seats we control among our more than 100 private portfolio companies. We achieved this goal in 2021 and Maria Morsillo was one of the leaders at Ontario Teachers’ responsible for this initiative.

How did we meet our goal of increasing representation of women to 30% on our private company boards?
When we examined how many women held board seats on our private companies in 2017, we clearly saw a gender gap and recognized that needed to change. Data empowered us to take actionable steps and informed our decision making in support of this clearly defined goal. Once we set the 30% goal, we became laser focused on reaching it by 2022. Clear deadlines helped speed up the change.

What actions did you take to drive this change?
We changed the way we approached board construction. We started to think of the Board of Directors as a team instead of as a group of individuals. This meant that we considered the portfolio company’s strategy and compared it to the experience around its boardroom table allowing us to more precisely define what expertise was needed.

This challenged our thinking and our unconscious biases as we searched for candidates for the roles, and regardless of gender or background, we searched for candidates who possessed leadership skills, have managed a P&L, or have experience managing complex stakeholder environments. We removed requirements such as previous C-level, or board experience, which can be inherently exclusionary for women. We were also more proactive in reaching out to qualified candidates to build a broader pipeline of potential board members. Taking a more thoughtful and systematic approach to recruitment yielded strong results: we tapped into a more diverse talent pool with a deep cross-section of skills and leadership experience and who may not have been considered in years’ past.

When we took a close look at the skills around each boardroom table and challenged our biases on the best fit, we found candidates with the leadership skills needed to complement others around the boardroom table. This proved to be a win-win scenario; both in identifying qualified women candidates while also rounding out the skillset in boardrooms.

Why is diversity and gender balance on boards so important?
Research proves that diversity of thought and experience drives better business decision making. It leads to broader skillsets and experience on boards so they’re better able to understand and solve complex business problems; avoids groupthink; allows for status quo to be challenged; and deeper discussions around the table. We know that a board is better equipped to manage issues when assessed from multiple angles and is much more effective in addressing the risk of those issues where more perspectives are included. Fostering inclusivity around a boardroom table, and, in fact, at all levels of an organization, helps companies reach their full potential and has benefits for employees, communities, the economy – and beyond.

Achieving 30% is good progress but not the end goal. How do we keep companies motivated and engaged in this journey?
I like to say that 30% is a floor, not a ceiling. Achieving this goal is something to celebrate but it’s what we do now – sustain it, increase it and build on it – that will make the most impact. We strive to hold ourselves and our companies accountable. We keep the dialogue open and keep pushing for change. Our efforts go beyond our private-company holdings as we’ve used our voice to call for at least three women directors on a public company board. Importantly, we support diversity in its broadest sense, and we are working hard at ensuring all forms of diversity are represented around the table. We will keep pressing for the inclusion of more diverse perspectives at the board level and all levels.

“30% is a floor, not a ceiling. Achieving gender balance is only the beginning. Importantly, it’s what we do after.”

Maria Morsillo, Senior Managing Director, Value Creation & Analytics, INR
Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan

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