Paulette Senior, the president and CEO of the Canadian Women’ s Foundation, poses for a photograph in Toronto on Monday, April 29, 2019. Black and racialized people are underrepresented and often almost non-existent on boards in eight major cities across Canada. A new study from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute has found both groups lacking on the boards of large companies, agencies and commissions, hospitals, educational institutions and in the voluntary sector in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton, London and Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

‘The data is bad’: Black and racialized Canadians lacking on boards, study finds

Black Canadians represent 5.6%of the population but occupy 2% of positions across the types of boards analyzed

Black and racialized people are under-represented and often sometimes non-existent on boards in eight major cities across Canada.

A new study from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute has found both groups lacking on the boards of large companies, agencies and commissions, hospitals, educational institutions and in the voluntary sector in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton, London and Ottawa.

The study of 9,843 individuals revealed Black Canadians represent 5.6 per cent of the population across the eight cities studied, but occupy only 2 per cent of positions across the types of boards analyzed.

Racialized people, meanwhile, represent 28.4 per cent of the population across the eight cities studied, but occupy just 10.4 per cent of board positions.

“The data is bad, but some of the stories are even worse,” said Wendy Cukier, the founder and academic director at the Diversity Institute.

“We interviewed one person who told a story of a guy who worked on Bay Street, and he’d go out with his colleagues and tell them he was a recovering alcoholic, so he did not have to divulge that he was Muslim and that’s why he didn’t drink.”

Despite decades of efforts to move the needle, the report says, there are multiple factors holding back significant progress. These include corporate culture, lack of social networks, discrimination, pressures to refrain from self-identification and a need for mentorship or support.

The institute believes it is important to reverse these trends because studies have suggested companies with diverse boards have increased financial performance and show higher employee satisfaction.

Their study, conducted in 2019 and 2020 by analyzing photographs of boards and interviewing underrepresented communities, found Black representation on boards in particular is ”extremely bleak.”

Black people hold as many as 3.6 per cent of the board seats in Toronto, but as few as 1 per cent in Calgary and 0.7 per cent in Vancouver.

That dwindles further in the corporate sector. In Toronto, just 0.3 per cent of corporate board members are Black. That’s 25 times lower than the proportion of Black residents of the Greater Toronto Area.

In Greater Montreal, which has a 6.8 per cent Black population, the study found no Black board members in the area’s corporate, voluntary, hospital or education sectors.

Paulette Senior, the president and chief executive of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, wasn’t surprised by the findings, but said “it broke my heart” because it highlighted how little progress has been made.

“Unfortunately, it is somewhat typical of who we are as a Canadian society,” she said.

“We haven’t done much to see the change. We talk about it on various platforms, but the action is missing and the tracking and monitoring is missing.”

Also missing from boards are racialized Canadians — defined in the study as all non-Caucasian persons.

Racialized people hold as many as 15.5 per cent of the board seats in Toronto, again lower than the population at large. Montreal lagged again at 6.2 per cent.

The study found boards in the education sector have the highest level of representation of racialized people at 14.6 per cent, while the corporate sector has the lowest level of representation with 4.5 per cent.

In several of the cities surveyed, racialized women hold fewer board seats than non-racialized women despite outnumbering them in the population at large.

In Toronto, for example, there are more racialized women than non-racialized women, but non-racialized women outnumber racialized women in corporate leadership roles by 12 to 1.

“Because of my role and because I’m invited into many different places, I’m usually the only one that looks like me,” said Senior.

“It is heartbreaking to think there are people who have lived and worked and existed, who continue to devalue people like me and devalue my contributions.”

READ MORE: B.C. Black-based group starts COVID-19 fund, urges officials to collect race-based data

The study found women are faring better than their Black and racialized counterparts.

Overall, 40.8 per cent of board positions are held by women in the five sectors examined. Education and agency and commission boards have the highest level of representation, while hospital and corporate boards have the lowest.

Women have landed the most — 46.6 per cent — board seats in Halifax, but the least in Calgary, where they comprise 33.7 per cent of board positions.

The Diversity Institute also says Indigenous peoples, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and persons with disabilities are rarely members of boards.

The institute was not able to calculate how much they lagged other groups because it could not determine Indigenous heritage, sexual orientation or disabilities through its analysis of board photos.

Instead, they interviewed members of each population and heard stories from people such as one man who said most of his queer mentors told him early in his career to “hide who you are until you get promoted so high that they can’t get rid of you without people noticing.”

Aside from interviews, the only way to uncover information around representation of those with Indigenous heritage, disabilities or LGBTQ2S+ sexual orientation on boards is through surveys, which often involve voluntary participation, Cukier said.

“The surveys that have been done on those populations indicate that they are so underrepresented, they don’t even show up,” said Cukier.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Diversityracism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UPDATED: Red Deer has nine active COVID-19 cases

Number of cases increased by 107 Friday

“My world exploded,” says Bentley-area farmer who’s swather was struck by a motorist

Dennis Duncan was a mile from home when his swather was struck by another travelling at high speeds

Man sentenced to 7 years for gas-and-dash death of Alberta gas station owner

Ki Yun Jo was killed after Mitchell Sydlowski sped off in a stolen cube van without paying for $198 of fuel

New owners of Sylvan Lake Canadian Tire looking to be big part of the community

Randy and Alison Patton are the new owners of Sylvan Lake Canadian Tire

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

Six injured, man in custody following BB gun incident in Alberta, RCMP say

Airdrie’s downtown core was told to shelter-in-place, while others nearby were asked to stay inside

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Wetaskiwin RCMP make arrests for Hit and Run to residence

Damage estimates are expected to be in excess of $20,000.

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

UPDATE: Last kidnapping suspect arrested

Amber Knickle has been arrested and remains in police custody

B.C., Alberta sending nearly 300 fire personnel by Friday to help battle wildfires in Oregon

Some 230 firefighters, most from British Columbia but including a number from Alberta, will be deployed Friday

Most Read