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How does Canada compare to the rest of the world when it comes to female representation on corporate boards? Not as well as global frontrunner Norway, where women hold 35.5% of seats, but not as bad as laggards like Australia, Ireland and Portugal, all of which top out at 13% or less. In Canada, women hold 20.8% of board positions, according to the results of a new global census conducted by Catalyst.

The Canadian numbers aren’t as high as Catalyst Canada would like them to be, says Executive Director Alex Johnston. (The advocacy group has set a goal of 25% by 2017 through its Catalyst Accord initiative.) But in a release accompanying the report, she said she’s “encouraged by the momentum we’re seeing in this country.”

The numbers have nudged up from 15.9% in 2013, when Catalyst Canada surveyed the number of women on Financial Post 500 boards, and new comply-or-explain regulations initiated by the Ontario Securities Commission will likely push the statistics higher now that companies are required to disclose female representation on boards and in senior management.

Why do the numbers matter? Because a growing body of research shows that diverse boards perform better, including financially. Not everyone agrees that quotas are the best way to achieve diversity, but most business leaders agree that more female representation is needed. A federal advisory group has set a target for Corporate Canada of 30% by the end of the decade. Canadian companies even have a new resource to turn to in their quest for female candidates: a recruiting firm launched last year by Pamela Jeffery, founder of the Women’s Executive Network.

The Catalyst global survey measured women’s share of board seats at stock market index companies in 20 countries (Canada’s figures come from companies included in the S&P/TSX index). The dog of the list? Japan, with a paltry 3.1%.

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