The public and private sectors in Canada are getting a failing grade when it comes to how the diversity of this country is reflected in the boardrooms where power is held and big decisions are made, a new report says.

Overall, women occupied 40.8 per cent of board positions across the country, but few women of colour share the standing, according to a first-of-its kind Canadian snapshot of the gender and racial diversity in such positions of power.

In particular, Black leaders were deeply under-represented in these leadership roles, outnumbered even by other racialized groups, highlighting a need to continue tracking this population as a distinct group, says the study by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute.

“Diversity in leadership not only signals who belongs, but it is also linked to organizational performance on multiple levels,” said the 115-page report, DiversityLeads 2020.

“Progress in advancing women and other diverse groups on boards has been slow. This has contributed to economic and social exclusion.”

Racialized people on boards

0%
Municipal governments
0%
Provincial governments
0%
Corporate sector
0%
Voluntary sector
0%
Overall
0%
School boards
0%
Universities and colleges
0%
Hospitals
0%
Visible minority population in Canada

SOURCE: DIVERSITYLEADS 2020, RYERSON UNIVERSITY’S DIVERSITY INSTITUTE; STATISTICS CANADA

The extensive study reviewed the gender and racial backgrounds of 9,843 individuals who sat on the boards of directors of large corporations; government agencies, boards and commissions; hospitals; the voluntary sector; and educational institutions.

It covered organizations in eight Canadian cities: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton, London and Ottawa.

In addition to the data-mining, researchers also interviewed 36 individuals who identified as Indigenous, LGBTQ2S and persons with disabilities — the most unrepresented minority groups — to explore their experiences serving on these boards.

Under new laws passed by Ottawa, federally incorporated companies — about 55 per cent of Canadian companies — have been required to report the representation of women, racialized people, Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities since January.

“It’s quite discouraging to be working on this for years and to see how slowly things are moving forward. But I’m optimistic of the impact of this bill,” said Prof. Wendy Cukier, founder of the Diversity Institute.

“I’m optimistic with the formation of organizations like BlackNorth and the number of private companies stepping up to (make) a commitment around increasing the representation of racialized people in much the way they previously signed on to the 30% Club aimed at advancing women.

“We have seen a real massive shift in the focus on gender to now a focus on racialized people. That’s encouraging.”

Across Canada, women made up 40.8 per cent or 4,027 of the board positions, while racialized people accounted for 10.4 per cent or 1,027 of those jobs.

The Black community accounted for 1.2 million people or 3.5 per cent of the population in 2016. However, few have made it into the country’s boardrooms and they only made up 0.3 per cent of corporate boards overall.

In Greater Toronto, Blacks represented 7.5 per cent of the population but they only held 3.6 per cent of board positions in the region.

“The structural barriers to representation and discrimination that Black people face throughout their lives are unique from those faced by other racialized people,” said the report. “Tracking representation of the Black community is a crucial first step towards addressing the barriers to representation that they face.”

Different minority groups also fare differently across cities and sectors.

Women held the highest percentage of board positions in Halifax (46.6 per cent) but lowest in Calgary (33.7 per cent). They made up almost half of school board directors in the education sector and provincial agencies, boards and commissions.

Women on boards

0%
Municipal governments
0%
Provincial governments
0%
Corporate sector
0%
Voluntary sector
0%
Hospitals
0%
Universities and colleges
0%
School boards
0%
Overall
0%
Female population in Canada

SOURCE: DIVERSITYLEADS 2020, RYERSON UNIVERSITY’S DIVERSITY INSTITUTE; STATISTICS CANADA

They even held the majority of board roles in the university and college sector in London (69.2 per cent) and Ottawa (58.3 per cent). Yet, only 19.9 per cent of corporate leadership roles in Calgary were held by women, and just 28.6 per cent in Toronto.

While racialized people represented 28.4 per cent of the population in the eight cities examined in the study, they occupied only 10.4 per cent of board positions overall.

In Toronto and Vancouver, where half the population are visible minorities, the highest proportions of board positions held by racialized people were 15.5 per cent and 12.3 per cent, respectively, the highest in the country. In Montreal, racialized people represented a quarter of the population, but held only 6.2 per cent of board positions.

While universities and colleges had the highest level of representation of racialized people in board roles (14.6 per cent) overall, their representation in the corporate sector was at a dismal 4.5 per cent.

When taking both gender and race into consideration, researchers found white women outnumbered racialized women in board representation by a substantial margin. In Toronto, for example, for every 12 white women serving on a board, there’s just one woman of colour in that position.

Black people made up 6.8 per cent of Greater Montreal’s population but only 1.9 per cent of boardrooms had their representation. In fact, the study found no Black board members at all in the corporate sector, the voluntary sector, the hospital sector or the education sector in the city region.

The report said that as a society, Canada must combat stereotypes and promote policies and legislation that advance inclusion while individual organizations must make it a priority in governance through setting targets, embedding diversity and inclusion in corporate strategies tied to measurable outcomes.