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A word of caution on International Women’s Day

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ANALYSIS: With great fanfare and gusto, corporations around the world will hail International Women’s Day as an opportunity to draw attention to women’s inequality in the workplace and what they are doing to address it.

This is a good thing. But there is a dangerous part of the argument that will undermine their virtuous efforts.

Here is an example: State Street in the United States announced a new Gender Diversity ETF that will trade under the clever symbol “SHE." The aim is to “address gender inequality” by encouraging investments in those companies that put it at the forefront of their corporate plans.

Why? Well, “companies with at least three female board members outperformed others in overall return on equity by more than 36 percent,” the statement proclaims.

Ah, so we should have gender diversity because it’s good for profits. Who doesn’t love that?

The problem is that men don’t have to show they are good for the bottom line or stock performance. Men don’t have to justify their position by showing incremental positive effect.

Why should women have to?

This argument forces a higher standard of proof on women that is not applied to men. It is an unequal standard on a day that is supposed to be about equality.Canadian women earned $0.74 for every $1.00 a man earned according to a 2011 report from Pay Equity Commission. Yet 65 per cent of Canadian women have some level of higher education compared to 63 per cent of men. That’s why equality is needed. No other reason should matter.

And what if a study comes out showing the opposite? That women oversee a decline in stock values? What then? Can we justify the removal of women for boards on that premise? Your answer has to be yes if you believe that women should be on boards simply because they enhance return.

I understand why people point to statistics like these. It makes their argument easier. How could anyone argue against higher returns? But it’s the easy way out. Women should be on boards, selected as CEOs and compensated equally because they are just as qualified to be there.

Today, celebrate the strong, powerful women in your life. Celebrate them for their accomplishments and don’t make them show why their accomplishments need to be greater than a man’s.

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