Absence of Indigenous Representation on Corporate Boards Can Lead to Poor Decisions

“There’s no excuse for not having Indigenous people on boards any more,” said Brenda LaRose, head of Leaders International’s national Diversity and Indigenous Board practice and a Métis Anishinaabe citizen. “We’re more than qualified.”

Indigenous peoples are underrepresented and sometimes nonexistent on corporate boards — a detriment to revenue growth and risk management. 

READ MORE: From the Editor: The Diversity Case for Native American Inclusion

Case in point: In May 2020, mining giant Rio Tinto desecrated a 46,000-year-old sacred Aboriginal site in Australia to mine iron ore, inciting shareholder outrage that led CEO J-S Jacques and two other senior executives to step down from their roles in September. 

Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson responded: “What happened at Juukan was wrong and we are determined to ensure that the destruction of a heritage site of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again at a Rio Tinto operation. We are also determined to regain the trust of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and other Traditional Owners. We have listened to our stakeholders’ concerns that a lack of individual accountability undermines the Group’s ability to rebuild that trust and to move forward to implement the changes identified in the Board Review.”

Rio Tinto’s blatant disrespect and poor foresight should serve as a lesson for other natural resource companies, as well as all corporations. Such a narrow-minded decision could certainly have been avoided with greater minority and particularly Indigenous representation on Rio Tinto’s board.  

Meanwhile Suncor Energy Inc. serves as an example of a company fostering strong Indigenous relations, thanks to an Indigenous individual on its board since 2000. The Independent Director of Suncor, Mel Benson, is a member of Alberta’s Beaver Lake Cree Nation.

“It behooves corporations to engage with us and they can do that by having a voice at the boardroom table and also on the executive,” Brenda LaRose, head of Leaders International Executive Search’s national diversity and Indigenous board practice and a Métis Anishinaabe citizen, told The Globe and Mail

Brenda LaRose

Clearly, the absence of Indigenous representation on boards of major corporations can prove costly. That’s something Ottawa-based Leaders International is addressing with the launch of its new national diversity and Indigenous board practice in September. The practice is helmed by LaRose, senior partner at the firm. 

“Leaders has been planning this new initiative for the past year, prior to COVID-19,” said Richard Joly, a managing partner at Leaders International. “Recent events clearly show that there is a need for greater diversity on the boards of Canadian corporations to better reflect the reality of our country.”

LaRose keeps a database of Indigenous professionals featuring candidates with numerous degrees.

“There’s no excuse for not having Indigenous people on boards any more,” LaRose told The Globe and Mail. “We’re more than qualified.”

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