Canada’s publicly traded companies are making little progress on appointing more women to their boards of directors and C-Suites and are declining to implement formal diversity targets, according to a new Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP report.

The total percentage of board seats held by women was 14.5 per cent as of July 31, inching up from 13 per cent last year and 12 per cent in 2015. In executive officer positions women fared a little better, with companies reporting that an average of 15.2 per cent of their C-Suite positions were held by women – a number that has remained unchanged from the previous two years.

“We are making excruciatingly slow progress,” said Andrew MacDougall, a partner at Osler and an author of the report. “I think in part it is a fact that companies are not adding women to the boards at a rate that would be necessary to show substantive change in a shorter period of time.”

MacDougall cited a report from the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) noting that in one year only a quarter of vacant board seats were filled by women. “You would need to substantially increase the proportion of women that are added to the board when those opportunities come up,” he said.

The report, released Wednesday, reviewed disclosure documents from 2015 to 2017 filed by all TSX-listed companies that are required to report on the representation of women on their boards and executive officer positions through National Instrument 58-101. For 2017, the report examined the disclosures of about 700 companies.

The mining sector, with 225 issuer companies as of September, makes up an outsized portion of TSX-listed companies, and MacDougall said its results lowered the average of all companies. This year only nine per cent of directors on mining boards were women, a decrease from 13 per cent in 2016. The percentage of women in executive officer positions remained unchanged year to year, at 13 per cent.

However, MacDougall pointed out that the decreasing percentage of women on mining boards could be due to larger companies adding one woman to their boards and skewing the average – one new woman on a ten-member board, for example, would represent just 10 per cent of the board. The average number of women on mining boards increased marginally, but is still only at 0.75.

“I think the fact that we’re maintaining or somewhat increasing [representation of women] is a good sign, given the current economic climate of the mining industry,” said Nancy Komperdo, the president of Women in Mining Canada, adding that the recent decline in commodity prices had left many mining companies unable to dedicate resources to diversity initiatives.

RELATED: Michelle Ash is the first person at Barrick to hold the title of Chief Innovation Officer — and the job may be the first of its kind in the industry

Despite the lack of change in representation of women in boards and management, companies have declined to set formalized targets to bring them closer to gender parity; of the companies that disclosed whether they had set targets, only 12 per cent had done so in 2017. For the majority that chose not to create such goals, the reasons included not wanting to “compromise the principles of meritocracy” and a concern that the “best candidate” may not be selected.

“Adding a goal or a target is vitally important, because if you don’t have a goal or a target in mind you’re never going to reach it,” MacDougall said, adding that meritocracy was “too often used as a justification for non-action. There are absolutely extremely well-qualified women candidates for director that would meet any meritocracy test.”

Komperdo pointed out that mining board appointments have “historically been based on experience in the industry,” but suggested companies consider looking beyond the typical “mining executives with 20 or 30 years’ experience” to people with experience in other industries like automotive, avionics or finance who could bring different perspectives. “We need to look outside the current group of people we all know,” she said.

Nearly half of companies, however, reported adopting a “written board diversity policy,” a marked increase from 34 per cent last year. The Canadian Securities Administrators has previously reported a correlation between companies having formalized diversity policies and increased numbers of women on their boards.

Deborah Rosati, the co-founder and CEO of Women Get On Board, a company that connects and promotes women to corporate boards, said those diversity policies are only effective if they are “truly embraced” by company leadership. “It is one thing to have a written policy,” she said in an email. “It is another thing to execute on it.”

Komperdo, though, said the policies were a positive step forward. “When you’re actually publicly declaring [a policy] you’re putting yourself out there to shareholders and saying ‘this is important to us.’” She also noted that shareholders have begun to ask companies about policies on board and C-Suite representation.

RELATED: Maureen Jensen, the first woman to ever head Canada's largest capital markets regulator, is leading the OSC through a historic transformation

The report did note that Canada’s largest companies, included on the S&P/TSX 60 Index, have continued to be “leaders in gender diversity,” with an average of 25.6 per cent women directors. Only two companies of the 56 companies in that category reported having no women on their boards, including Vancouver-based miner First Quantum Minerals, which has since appointed Kathleen Hogenson, CEO of Zone Oil and Gas, to its board.

MacDougall also noted that many companies went from having zero women on their boards to one. “Companies that are all-male are definitely in the minority,” he said.

There has been a greater push for diversity on boards and in C-Suites in the past few years, with the OSC adopting “Comply or Explain” securities law amendments in 2014 that required TSX-listed companies to disclose the number of women on boards and in executive officer positions and outline a policy for improving their gender imbalance or explain why they were not making the effort.

The federal government proposed amendments last fall that would require companies incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act to report yearly to shareholders on diversity among their directors and members of senior management, following a similar comply-or-explain model.

However, Comply or Explain has no penalties for not making improvements, unlike setting representation quotas. France, Germany, and Norway, among other countries, have implemented quotas and seen results much faster than countries with comply-or-explain models like the United Kingdom and Australia.