Black and racialized leaders underrepresented on Canadian boards: study

Aug 6 2020, 10:56 am

A new study out of Ryerson University shows that Black people are nearly non-existent as leaders on Canadian boards, while people of colour are underrepresented.

The report by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute analyzes the representation of women, Black people, and other racialized persons on the board of directors of major companies in Canada across a number of professions.

The report specficially focuses on eight major cities: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton, London, and Ottawa.

According to the report, “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.”

Racialized people represent 28.4% of the population across the eight cities studied, yet they occupy only 10.4% of board positions in the sectors analysed, while Black people represent 5.6% of the population across the eight cities studied, and they occupy only 2% of the board positions overall in the five sectors analyzed.

“Black leader representation on boards across all sectors were disproportionately lower than other racialized groups, highlighting a need to continue tracking this population as a distinct group with disaggregated data,” reads the report.

Among 1,639 corporate board members, the study found only 13 who were Black, which represents 0.8%.

Universities and colleges have the highest level of representation of racialized people in board roles (14.6%), while the corporate sector has the lowest level of representation (4.5%).

In addition, Municipal ABCs (2.9%) and university and colleges leaders (2.7%) have the highest representation of Black people on boards, while the corporate sector (0.8%) and school board directors (1.0%) have the least representation of Black people.

Women are also underrepresented in leadership, with 40.8% of board of director positions are held by women in the sectors studied, yet with white women still out-number racialized women in corporate board roles.

“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.”

Cukier says, as a result, it is imperative to address systemic discrimination and racism, specifically anti-Black racism, that is “embedded in board policies and processes presenting unfair barriers to diversity and inclusion on boards.”

The Diversity Institute at Ryerson is currently working with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, among others, to develop a strategy and tools to support businesses in Ontario and across the country in creating more inclusive workplaces.

“Complex problems require complex solutions,” said Cukier. “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.”

“Diversity and inclusion need to be supported with progressive human resources practices and inclusive cultures.”

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