black leaders

Canada’s black leaders rarely board members

Corporate sector has the lowest level of representation, says new study
Friday, August 7, 2020

Black leaders are mostly absent from Canadian boards of directors, according to a new report from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, which was released yesterday.

DiversityLeads 2020, builds on similar research by the Diversity Institute over more than a decade and shows women continue to make slow progress, but in some cases representation of racialized people is moving backwards. The situation for Black leaders, analysed for the first time, is particularly dire.

The study, supported by TD Bank Group via the TD Ready Commitment, is a first-of-its kind comprehensive Canadian analysis of the representation of women, Black people, and other racialized persons among 9,843 individuals on the boards of directors across sectors in eight cities: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton, London, and Ottawa. The study examined data from large companies; agencies, boards, and commissions (ABCs); hospitals; the voluntary sector; and educational institutions. When comparing the representation of women, Black people and racialized persons on boards, local demographics are considered.

Sector by Sector

While racialized people represent 28.4 per cent of the population across the eight cities studied, they occupy only 10.4 per cent of board positions in the sectors analysed. Universities and colleges have the highest level of representation of racialized people in board roles (14.6 per cent), while the corporate sector has the lowest level of representation (4.5 per cent). Among 1639 corporate board members, the study found only 13 who were Black (0.8 per cent). In Toronto, where 7.5 per cent of the city’s population is Black, there were almost no members on corporate boards (0.3 per cent). In Calgary, where 3.9 per cent of the population is Black, only 1.9 per cent of members on corporate boards were Black.

“When we look at differences between sectors and within sectors, it’s pretty clear that the issue is not the pool or lack of available talent, but policies and processes around board recruitment,” said Wendy Cukier, founder and academic director of the Diversity Institute and the report’s lead author. “Individuals’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour either advance or impede diverse representation.”

She says the research also reinforces the need to implement Canada’s new Bill C-25, An Act to Amend the Canadian Corporations Act, passed in 2018. The legislation, unlike provincial regulations, requires federally incorporated companies to report not just on the composition of board and leadership in terms of gender, but also on race, Indigenous people and persons with disabilities. The Diversity Institute’s research and advocacy played an important role in shaping the new law.

“Organizations need to address diversity and inclusion strategically, ensuring that leaders communicate its importance and make it a priority in governance through setting targets, embedding diversity and inclusion in skills matrices, and embarking on intentional strategies tied to measurable outcomes,” said Cukier. “Diversity and inclusion need to be supported with progressive human resources practices and inclusive cultures. They also need to be reinforced with performance goals and accountability and embedded in every step of the value chain from procurement to marketing, as well as in philanthropic activities.”

City by City

Racialized people are the majority in Toronto (51.4 per cent) and represent 15.5 per cent of board positions. While the gap is narrowing, white women still out-number racialized women in corporate board roles in Toronto by 12:1 (compared to 16:1 in 2017 and 17:1 in 2014).

In Vancouver where almost half of the population is racialized (48.9 per cent), only and 12.3 per cent of board positions are held by racialized people.  In Montreal, where racialized people represent 22.6 per cent of the population, they occupy only 6.2 per cent of board positions. This is less than the proportion of racialized people in board positions in Halifax (6.7 per cent), a city where racialized people represent only 11.4 per cent of the population.

“Research is key to understanding the need to address inclusion and diversity in business and the broader community,” said Andrea Barrack, global head, sustainability and corporate citizenship, TD Bank Group. “Through the TD Ready Commitment, our corporate citizenship platform, we are pleased to have a future where everyone has equal opportunity to thrive. These efforts, among others, are fundamental to helping to promote a fair and just society, and it is our responsibility, as one of Canada’s largest corporations, to help open new opportunities and level an uneven playing field.”

Corporate boards lack Indigenous people, LGBTQ2S+ community

Research has shown that Indigenous peoples, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and persons with disabilities are rarely members of boards. This study could not produce reliable data on the representation of these groups, but used interviews to explore the perceptions and experiences with boards of people who identify as Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and two-spirit), and persons with disabilities.

Among the 36 respondents, 90 per cent had non-profit sector board experience and 30 per cent had public sector board experience, but only 8 per cent had experience on corporate boards. Some of the barriers that were identified include: corporate culture, lack of social networks, discrimination (which is compounded for people with intersecting identities), pressures to refrain from self-identification, and a lack of mentorship or support.

The majority (80 per cent) of participants in the qualitative study were positioned at the intersection of more than one underrepresented identity (e.g., as a woman and an Indigenous person). Many were reluctant to discuss or reveal their identity at all for fear of discrimination.


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