Diversity and Inclusion in Leadership

Diversity and inclusion are no longer nice-to-have optional elements in the workplace, but an imperative for corporate performance and good governance. Diversity in leadership, particularly in the boardroom is linked to organizational performance on multiple levels and serves as a signal of who belongs.[1] There are several advantages of diverse boards for organizations; the more diverse a board is, the wider the range of perspectives that each individual brings to the table.[2] A diverse board better understands its customer base and the environment in which the organization operates. As a result of this enhanced understanding, the board is better placed to find and seize opportunities for innovation, which ultimately creates value for the business.[3] Moreover, research reveals that inclusive and diverse boards outperform less diverse and inclusive boards not because of a flurry of new ideas, but rather the heterogeneity that prompts a more careful evaluation of the information at hand, which is absent in a less diverse and inclusive boardroom.[4]

Recent progress in achieving diversity and inclusion in organizations

For more than thirty-five years, Canada has attempted to use legislation to advance diversity and inclusion in organizations. Canada’s Employment Equity Act (1986) required federally regulated corporations to report the number of employees and leaders belonging to four specific groups: women, visible minorities, Aboriginal peoples, and persons with disabilities.[1] However, the Act has been unevenly implemented and enforced.[2]There is minimal consistency across organizations regarding the collection and sharing of data on gender and racial identity.

In 2018, Canada passed Bill C-25: An Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA), the Canada Cooperatives Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, and the Competition Act. This Bill requires federally incorporated companies (approximately 55% of Canadian companies) to report at the very least, the representation of, women, racialized people, Indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities.[1]This legislation positions Canada as a global leader by addressing four dimensions of diversity. However, again, its effectiveness depends on implementation and enforcement.[2]

A quick scan of senior leadership positions in select Canadian organizations reveals that racialized men and women are hitting the ceilings in the middle administrative ranks.[1] Conversely, white men and women are significantly overrepresented in senior governance positions.[2] Furthermore, from an intersectional lens, racialized women’s representation is significantly much worse than that of white men, white women and racialized men within senior governance positions.  For example, one study showed that in corporate leadership roles in the Greater Toronto Area, white women outnumber racialized women 17:1.[3] This does not imply, however, that white women do not experience gender-based discrimination at work. For instance, white men hold two-thirds of board seats on the Fortune 500, while white women hold roughly four times as many positions as women of colour.[4] These findings raise concerns about processes of racialization that may hinder career progress for some but accelerate it for others. This also raises concerns about who elevates whom into senior governance positions, which has implications for justice, knowledge, and social meanings of peoples’ capabilities.

A closer look at demographic data for governance positions reveals that efforts to advance the representation of diverse groups have made only little headway.[1] To support this statement, if we take a look at 2022 data on Canadian mid-cap organizations, only 10% of all directors are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) with only 2% self-identifying as Indigenous.[2] These figures are similar to data from 2019, suggesting that not much progress has occurred in the past few years.[3] While it is acknowledged that there is an issue with the underrepresentation of Black people, the representation of Black leaders in governance is still not tracked, making it difficult to assess any progress in their participation on boards.[4]

According to a study conducted by the Toronto Metropolitan University Diversity Institute’s study of eight Canadian cities, and five sectors, Black leaders are almost non-existent on Canadian boards.[1] Despite some groups making progress, Black leaders are largely missing from Canadian corporate boards of directors. The study, which draws on similar research by the Diversity Institute over more than a decade, demonstrates that women continue to make slow progress, but in some instances representation of Black leaders, which was examined for the first time, reveals extremely poor representation.

The Diversity Leads 2020, is a groundbreaking 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.[1] The study examined data from large companies; agencies, boards, and commissions (ABCs); hospitals; the voluntary sector; and educational institutions.  While racialized people make up 28.4% of the population across the eight cities studied, they occupy only 10.4% of board positions in the sectors analyzed.[2][3] 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]

Among 1639 corporate board members, the study found only 13 were Black (0.8%).[5] In Toronto, where 7.5% of the city’s population is Black, there were almost no members on corporate boards (0.3%).[6]In Calgary, where 3.9% of the population is Black, 1.9% of members on corporate boards were Black.[7] In comparison to other racialized groups, Black leader representation on boards was lower, underscoring the need to continue tracking demographic data for this population.

Black people make up 5.6% of the population across the eight cities studied, yet they hold only 2% of the board positions overall in the five sectors analyzed. The highest representation of Black people on boards are seen in municipal agencies, boards, and commissions (2.9%) and University and college leaders (2.7%).[8] The hospital sector (1.9%), voluntary sector (1.9%) and provincial ABCs (1.6%) have medium representation of Black people on boards.[9] The corporate sector (0.8%) and school board directors (1.0%) have the least representation of Black people on boards.[10]

When we look at the differences between sectors and within sectors, it is pretty evident that the issue is not the pool or lack of available talent, but policies and processes around board recruitment. There is a need for action to address systemic discrimination and racism, particularly anti-Black racism, that is often embedded in board policies and processes representing unfair barriers to diversity and inclusion on boards.

To put things into perspective and to further emphasize the lack of representation, the following statistics reveal the representation of Black individuals in senior leadership positions in Vancouver

  • Black individuals represent 0.7% of board members in Vancouver despite representing 1.2% of the population. Other racialized people represent 11.6% of board members.[1]
  • Black board members have 41.7% lower representation when compared to the overall Vancouver Black population.[1]
Representation of Black Board Members in Vancouver

In Vancouver 0.8% of government appointees to ABCs are Black. Black individuals represent 0.9% of municipal ABCs board members and 0.0% of provincial ABCs board members.

  • Black board members on ABCs have 33.3% lower representation when compared to the overall Vancouver Black population.
  • Black municipal ABC board members have 25.0% lower representation when compared to the overall Vancouver Black population. [1]

In the corporate sector, Black individuals represent 0.3% of board members.

  • Black board members have 75.0% lower representation when compared to the overall Vancouver Black population.[1]

The statistics presented in the table above from the 2020 Diversity Leads Report, reveal that are no Black individuals in board positions in Vancouver’s voluntary sector and no Vancouver hospital board members are Black.[2]

In the education sector, Black individuals represent 1.5% of board members, whereas 2.2% of university/college board members and 0.0% of school board directors are Black.

  • Black board members have 25.0% higher representation when compared to the overall Vancouver Black population.
  • Black university/ college board members have 83.3% higher representation when compared to the overall Vancouver Black population.[3]

So, what do these numbers mean?

This data shows that Black leaders are significantly underrepresented on boards across Canada and are outnumbered by other racialized groups, highlighting a need to continue collecting demographic data on Black people as a distinct group. For example, the study showed that Black individuals hold only 3.6% of all board positions in Toronto despite comprising 7.5% of the Greater Toronto Area population.[4]  The picture of Black representation on corporate boards in particular is even bleaker, where only 0.3% of board members are Black.[5] Black board members in Montreal are also starkly underrepresented, holding only 1.9% of board positions despite making up 6.8% of the population in Greater Montreal – 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 Montreal.[6] In Calgary, Black individuals make up 3.9% of the population but represent only 1.9% of members on corporate boards. London also has a major issue in terms of representation; Black board members are outnumbered by other racialized members.[7]

Barriers that hinder Black people from progressing in the workforce.

Barriers that hinder Black people, particularly in obtaining board positions, include but are not limited to lack of social network, discrimination – which is compounded for people who face multiple grounds of discrimination, and a lack of support, mentorship, and sponsorship. Barriers to the advancement of Black, racialized people, and other diverse groups are complex and exist on multiple levels. These exists on the macro (societal) level, the organizational level, and the individual level. Consequently, a comprehensive approach is needed advance inclusion in our workplaces.

Here’s how we can do that;

  • On the macro level, we need to combat stereotypes and promote policies and legislation that advance diversity and inclusion.
  • At the organizational level, we need to address diversity and inclusion strategically, ensuring that leaders communicate its importance and prioritise this in governance by setting targets, incorporating diversity and inclusion in skills matrices, and implementing strategies with measurable outcomes.
  • Developing and retaining a high-performing workforce drawn from all segments of the Canadian landscape
    • Fostering an inclusive workplace by establishing diversity and inclusion committees and investing in training programs to build inclusive leadership
    • Promoting diversity and inclusion by organizing mentorship programs and employee resource groups aimed to support professional development for Black employees.
  • At the individual level, we can shape and improve individual knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour to advance diverse representation on boards.

We can help! 

Diversity and inclusion need to be supported with progressive human resource practices and inclusive cultures. It is crucial that we take action to diversify corporate leadership -starting with the board. At Synergy, we understand that building a diverse board requires a specialized approach. That is why we offer a diverse and inclusive recruiting service that can help you attract the right talent. Our team of experts works closely with you to develop customized recruitment strategies that prioritize diversity and inclusion. We focus on inclusive language and target diverse candidates to ensure you reach a broader pool of talent. We also provide support throughout the recruitment process to ensure you select the best candidates based on merit and fit, rather than biases or assumptions.

Partnering with Synergy gives you access to the talent you need to succeed and create a more inclusive and equitable workplace. Contact us today to learn how we can help you achieve your diversity and inclusion goals.

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