As Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet gets ready for Parliament to open Dec. 3 more people are reflecting on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comment that parity is important “because it’s 2015.”

In some circles, the move to have 15 women in cabinet raised the debate about using merit or targets as criteria for determining who gets to sit around a leadership table. Let’s bring this question into the world of business.

Imagine if Canadian securities regulators said all publicly traded companies had to have women make up half of their board members, or face serious penalties.

Here’s what I think would happen as a result:

1) Executive search firms would be knocking down the doors of women who are seen as qualified to sit on boards. These women would likely win board seats in short order and that would be a win for those companies.

A study released today by Randstad Canada, one of the country’s largest staffing providers, found that 8 per cent of working women in the country are in senior executive positions, 21 per cent are in management positions. And 71 per cent are in roles below management, according to the survey, which was based on 1,005 respondents.

“Change is hard, but it’s critical for businesses that want to grow and flourish,” said Faith Tull, senior vice president, human resources, Randstad Canada. “Our research shows that organizations that promote and support women perform better in an array of areas, including financially.”

2) The price to attract qualified women would go up. This would help attract more women to join and stay in the executive development and educational pipelines that lead to board readiness.

3) Women on boards would push chief executive officers and senior management to improve diversity. They’d also be an inspiration to other women, showing what can be accomplished and the paths they can take. I expect there would also be more supportive networks for women. These would represent a long overdue antidote to the “old boys” networks that currently lead to so many board appointments.

4) Pointless discussions about merit versus targets would soon end.

5)  Every CEO would meet with their chief human resources officer and demand a plan to attract, identify, develop and retain women with senior executive potential. Human resources would undertake a serious analysis of the systemic barriers that make it difficult for women to be noticed and encouraged to reach their highest potential.

I bet that we would see new approaches to a whole host of HR programs such as parental leaves, childcare, sabbaticals, access to executive development courses and succession planning. I’d also bet that businesses, which currently believe in developing leaders only from within, would look outside for women with the potential to fill executive positions. And they would find them.

6) Companies would build more bridges with business schools in order to find women with a lot of potential. I’d also wager that businesses would invest more in scholarships for women to study appropriate technical and commercial disciplines.

Ultimately, parity on boards might just be an asset for companies. Let’s see if the government’s initiative sets a good example for Canadian business.

Martin Birt is president of and has been in the human resources consulting business for 30 years.

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