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

John Redekop, with wife Doris, was the 2019 recipient of the Betty Urquhart Community Service Award from UFV. (Photo courtesy of UFV)
Nominations open until Oct. 30 for UFV’s Betty Urquhart Awards

Award recognizes ‘significant impact’ of volunteer work by an individual or group

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the Fraser South region has doubled in the last two weeks. The number of cases in the Fraser East region has tripled.
Chart: Tyler Olsen
COVID-19 surge in B.C. fuelled by spikes in new cases in Fraser Valley & Surrey area

Number of newly confirmed cases has tripled in Fraser Valley and doubled in the Surrey/Langley area

Jennifer Greggain has accepted a new role with Golf Canada, coaching the country’s top junior athletes. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack’s Jennifer Greggain gets new role with Golf Canada

Greggain is now one of two people guiding the country’s top junior golfers

Snow is possible in the higher elevations of the Fraser Valley and beyond today. (Black Press Media files)
Early wet snow possible in the higher elevations of the Fraser Valley

Onset of precipitation with falling temps will bring a risk of wet snow in areas above 300 m

File image
EDITORIAL: Whose side are you on?

Editor Adam Louis says there’s no change without making your voice known

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

The family of Anika Janz, who died after collapsing at school, has launched a GoFundMe to assist with funeral proceedings. (GoFundMe photo)
Family of student who died launches GoFundMe

Rick Hansen Secondary School student Anika Janz, 14, died after collapsing in PE class

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Most Read