Canadian boards of directors need to take the recent high profile revelations about sexual harassment of women seriously, said the chairwoman of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the chairman of Bank of Nova Scotia.

“This goes fundamentally to the issue of board culture and how much directors take responsibility to understand what’s happening within the companies they oversee,” CPPIB Chairperson Heather Munroe-Blum told BNN in an interview.

The addition of more female directors should better-equip boards to see potential harassment problems and deal with them more effectively, she said.

“One of the great things about bringing women into the board is that women have been through their own experiences. There’s nobody who’s sitting on a board who hasn’t had their own experiences,” she said.

Recent headlines have been dominated by news stories about harassing behaviour of powerful corporate executives such as Harvey Weinstein, the film producer and co-founder of Miramax films and The Weinstein Company, and Roger Ailes, the former Chairman and CEO of Fox News.

Those headlines have emboldened employees to speak out, said Bank of Nova Scotia chairman Tom O’Neill.

“The hotlines – if I can use that term – are wide open,” he told BNN. “There is an acceptance now that things were wrong, that they weren’t handled properly and people are now pretty confident in speaking out.”

'One of the toughest jobs': Scotiabank Chair defends CEO pay

Scotiabank’s board chairman is defending CEO Brian Porter’s $10.1 million pay package, describing the position as “one of the toughest jobs you’re going to have anywhere in the world.” Thomas O’Neill sat down with BNN’s Paige Ellis for a wide-ranging conversation, covering executive compensation, sexual harassment in the workplace, and CEO succession planning.

Boards of directors are treating the issue of sexual harassment as seriously as the accounting shenanigans that brought down high profile companies like Enron and Worldcom, O’Neill said, and workers are not afraid to speak up.

“Like [the Sarbanes Oxley] rules on whistleblowing in accounting matters – you have a lot more openness and transparency on people issues,” he said. 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Tom O'Neill. BNN regrets the error.