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Blakes Board Report: Women GCs Progressing in the Board Pipeline

February 3, 2023

The number of GCs on public company boards has more than doubled since 2016, with women GCs now exceeding their male counterparts by a ratio of 2:1.

Stacy McLean, Partner in the Investment Products & Asset Management Group
The 2022 Blakes Board Report reveals the significant strides women general counsel have made over a six-year period in their trajectory on boards. Year over year, women GCs have continued to exceed their male counterparts on boards by a ratio of 2:1. In this episode of Blakes Sound Business, Blakes lawyers Kate McGilvray and Stacy McLean tell us more about the findings and director insights contained in this year’s study, Unlocking the Value: Women GCs in the Board Pipeline.


Jordan: Hi, I’m Jordan Virtue.

Nathan: And I’m Nathan Kanter, and welcome to our first episode of the Blakes Sound Business podcast in 2023.

Jordan: As we start off the new year, we wanted to share a good news story on the progress women general counsel are making in claiming their seats at the board table.

Nathan: Absolutely, Jordan. The recent Blakes Board Report, also known as Unlocking the Value: Women GCs in the Board Pipeline, reveals significant strides in a positive trajectory for women GCs. So, there’s a lot to talk about and celebrate.

Jordan: Joining us today to tell us more about the findings from this latest study are Blakes lawyers Kate McGilvray and Stacy McLean. Kate is a member of the Pension Funds group and Stacy leads the Investment Products & Asset Management group, and both are actively involved on a number of corporate and non-profit boards.


Nathan: Kate, I understand the Blakes Board Report is in its sixth year. Can you tell us more about the study and why we continue to do this year after year?

Kate: Absolutely. So, we launched the Blakes Board Report in 2016, and that was [at] our fifth annual Women GCs on Boards program. We hold that in partnership with a couple of great organizations. One is Women General Counsel Canada, and the other is Women Get on Board Inc.

So, the Blakes Board Report looks at women GCs on boards of Canadian publicly listed companies. We looked at the S&P/TSX Composite Index. And the concept was really to benchmark how women GCs are doing on boards and to track their progress and to hope to show them as potential candidates for boards. Our concept is not just to inspire women GCs to see themselves as potential candidates but really to do the leg work and help them secure opportunities on boards. So, we have resources, we have programing, and we are trying to create networks so that women GCs can pursue opportunities to be on Canadian public boards.

Nathan: Are there are any key takeaways that we can focus on today?

Kate: In terms of key takeaways, at the six-year mark, I think the reports show that boards are viewing women GCs as strong candidates. I think the reports show that women GCs bring the right skills and experience in an increasingly complex and heavily regulated world.

I think the other thing that the board report shows is that boards recognize the business imperative of diversity. So, as they broaden their search for women executives beyond just the CEO and CFO roles, they are finding a great pipeline of talented executive women in in-house leadership roles.

I think we’re really showing through this report that the value proposition is strong. GCs have experience in governance, compliance and risk management, and they also have operational and strategic experience. Because they understand both the threat and the opportunity of disruption, we think that what they really are showing is that they’re practical solution-oriented decision-makers.

Jordan: Stacy, can you share some of the positive results highlighted in the report?

Stacy: Thanks, Jordan. I’d be happy to. It became quite clear to us the time has never been better to leverage the GCs value proposition as an ideal candidate for board positions.

In terms of their opportunities, 2021 saw the most significant degree of change in the composition of S&P/TSX Composite Index boards since Blakes started tracking this data six years ago. The number of board appointments in 2021 was almost twice the number of board seats that turned over in 2016.

We also saw that women GCs were leading the way in the materials, energy and banking insurance sectors. These are also the most likely sectors to have in-house legal leadership, which suggests a link between the trust that a board has built with the legal leaders in the executive pipeline and the likelihood of board appointments.

Jordan: Is there more work that needs to be done?

Stacy: Definitely. For starters, more than two-thirds of companies on the 2021 S&P/TSX Composite Index do not yet have a GC on their board, and while trends are heading in the right direction, progress isn’t exponential. Eighty-one per cent of companies have an in-house legal leader, but only 40% are women, representing an increase of only 4% since 2020 and indicating that there’s still room for improvement to level the playing field.

Jordan: Were you surprised by any of the findings?

Stacy: Yes, the results in the first year of our study revealed a good-news story that did surprise us. First, GCs were having some success in getting on boards. Although the overall number was small, being 44 board positions held by GCs, it was increasing. And second, women GCs made up 59% of those 44 board positions. Women had already exceeded gender parity on board representation.

The 2022 Blakes Board Report shows that the number of GCs on public company boards has more than doubled since 2016, with women GCs now exceeding their male counterparts by a ratio of 2:1.

Nathan: Kate, does the report have any practical advice for general counsel looking to fill board roles?

Kate: Absolutely. So, we gathered a group of women who had been GCs and who now serve on public company boards, and we asked them, listen, what did you find the most useful in terms of allowing you a pathway to sit on boards. And, so, what they said was try and get as much exposure to the board as you can. Maybe take on the corporate secretary role or something which will give you real access to the board on a continual basis. Raise your hand and say, hey, I can take that on in my portfolio, because what that allows is to allow the board to see you as not just a lawyer but a leader in another area in the organization.

Another piece of advice that they gave was to make sure that your online board presence is curated such that it shows you want to sit on a board. So, make sure your LinkedIn is updated, and make sure, too, that you’re connected with other people in the business sphere who can give you some board opportunities.

Nathan: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Kate: Sure. I think it’s important to note that more and more businesses and leaders recognize the importance of diversity, and with better diversity, you have better decision-making in the boardroom. So, we’ve really noticed a trend that says, hey, let’s really look at our board composition. So, we have nominating committees really considering what the board should look like.

And I think the other important thing to remember is that when women serve in leadership roles in a corporation that they make sure that they are well positioned to be recognized as good board members, because we’ve seen how well women GCs are at being board members, so we want to make sure that nominating committees recognize these women who are currently in leadership roles in a corporation and say, yes, this would be a great future board member.


Jordan: Kate and Stacy, thank you for participating in our podcast and sharing these valuable insights on such an important topic. We can’t wait to see what 2023 brings for women GCs looking to venture into new roles and unlock their value proposition.

Nathan: Listeners, to learn more about the Blakes Board Report and our podcast, please visit

Jordan: Until next time, keep well.


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