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Black leaders are nearly non-existent on Canadian boards according to Ryerson’s Diversity Institute’s new study of Canadian board diversity

Analysis of eight Canadian cities and five sectors shows women, Black people and other racialized persons under-represented as board of directors.
August 06, 2020

Toronto, ON, August 6, 2020: While progress is being made for some groups, Black leaders are mostly absent from Canadian boards of directors, according PDF fileto a new report by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute which was released today and discussed during an Ontario Chamber of Commerce webinar event. The study, which builds on similar research by the Diversity Institute over more than a decade, shows 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.

PDF fileDiversityLeads 2020, supported byTD Bank Group  via the TD Ready Commitment, external link, is a first-of-its kind comprehensive Canadian 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. The study examined data from large companies; agencies, boards, and commissions (ABCs); hospitals; the voluntary sector; and educational institutions.  When comparing the representation of women, Black people and racialized persons on boards, local demographics are considered.

While racialized people represent 28.4 percent of the population across the eight cities studied, they occupy only 10.4 percent of board positions in the sectors analysed. 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%).

Among 1639 corporate board members, the study found only 13 who were Black (0.8%).  In Toronto, where 7.5 percent of the city’s population is Black, there were almost no members on corporate boards (0.3%). In Calgary, where 3.9% of the population is Black, 1.9% of members on corporate boards were Black. 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.

Black people represent 5.6 percent of the population across the eight cities studied, however they occupy only 2 percent of the board positions overall in the five sectors analyzed. Municipal ABCs (2.9%) and University and Colleges leaders (2.7%) have the highest representation of Black people on boards. The hospital sector (1.9%), voluntary sector (1.9%) and provincial ABCs (1.6%) have medium representation of Black people on boards. The corporate sector (0.8%) and school board directors (1.0%) have the least representation of Black people on boards.

“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. We need action to address systemic discrimination and racism, particularly anti-Black racism, that is often embedded in board policies and processes presenting unfair barriers to diversity and inclusion on boards. The research also reinforces how important implementation of Canada’s new Bill C-25, An Act to Amend the Canadian Corporations Act is.”  The legislation, unlike provincial regulations, requires federally incorporated companies to report not just on the composition of board and leadership in terms of gender, but also on race, Indigenous people and persons with disabilities. The Diversity Institute’s research and advocacy played an important role in shaping the new law.

Overall (all regions and sectors), 40.8 percent of board of director positions are held by women in the five sectors examined. School board directors in the education sector tend to have the highest proportion of women (47.3%) and while making progress, women are still only 25.3 percent of corporate board members.  The differences between organizations within the corporate sector shows that that some companies find plenty of well qualified candidates while others do not. Across Canada 13.4 percent of corporate boards have over 40 percent women but 11.0 percent have none. For example, in Toronto’s corporate sector, 18.9 percent of corporate boards now have at least 40 percent women, yet 5.4 percent still have none.

Racialized people are the majority in Toronto (51.4%) and represent 15.5 percent of board positions. While the gap is narrowing, white women still out-number racialized women in corporate board roles in Toronto by 12:1 (compared to 16:1 in 2017 and 17:1 in 2014). In Vancouver where almost half of the population is racialized (48.9%), only and 12.3 percent of board positions are held by racialized people.  In Montreal, where racialized people represent 22.6 percent of the population, they occupy only 6.2 percent of board positions. This is less than the proportion of racialized people in board positions in Halifax (6.7%), a city where racialized people represent only 11.4 percent of the population.

“Research is key to understanding the need to address inclusion and diversity in business and the broader community,” said Andrea Barrack, Global Head, Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship, TD Bank Group. “Through the TD Ready Commitment, our corporate citizenship platform, we are pleased to have a future where everyone has equal opportunity to thrive. These efforts, among others, are fundamental to helping to promote a fair and just society, and it is our responsibility, as one of Canada’s largest corporations, to help open new opportunities and level an uneven playing field.”

Paulette Senior, CEO and President of the Canadian Women’s Foundation added: “the study shows that some things are changing for the better, but barriers to advancement persist. Women are still under-represented in leadership roles. Racialized people are excluded all the more, and Black people in particular are almost entirely absent in corporate sector leadership. Equity and inclusion in governance are critical to Canada’s economic recovery, growth and innovation. The smartest corporations are the ones that apply an equity lens to all they do, starting at the top. And they’re transparent about and accountable for the progress they’re making.”

Research has shown that Indigenous peoples, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and persons with disabilities are rarely members of boards.[1] This study could not produce reliable data on the representation of these groups, but used interviews to explore the perceptions and experiences with boards of people who identify as Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and two-spirit), and persons with disabilities.  Among the 36 respondents, 90 percent had non-profit sector board experience and 30 percent had public sector board experience, but only 8 percent had experience on corporate boards. Some of the barriers that were identified include: corporate culture, lack of social networks, discrimination (which is compounded for people with intersecting identities), pressures to refrain from self-identification, and a lack of mentorship or support. The majority (80%) of participants in the qualitative study were positioned at the intersection of more than one underrepresented identity (e.g., as a woman and an Indigenous person).  Many were reluctant to discuss or reveal their identity at all for fear of discrimination.

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 legislation positions Canada as a global leader by addressing four dimensions of diversity. However, its effectiveness will depend on implementation and enforcement.[2] Moreover, while there is increased accountability on corporations to track  and report on representation on boards and in leadership roles, this is not true of charities or provincially regulated institutions such as universities and hospitals.

“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. They also need to be reinforced with performance goals and accountability and embedded in every step of the value chain from procurement to marketing, as well as in philanthropic activities.” The Diversity Institute is 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.

To download the report which was made possible through the generous support of TD via the TD Ready Commitment, external link, visit


Founded in 1999, the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management conducts and coordinates multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder research to address the needs of diverse Canadian, the changing nature of skills and competencies, and the knowledge of the complex barriers faced by underrepresented groups, leading practices to effect change, and producing concrete results. It leads the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub and a stream of research for the Future Skills Centre. It has been collecting and reporting on Diversity on Boards for more than a decade and collaborates on a wide range of skills development, leadership and entrepreneurship programs.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Kathleen Powderley, Responsible Communications, 416-803-5597,

[1] Nourafshan, A. M. (2018). From the closet to the boardroom: Regulating LGBT diversity on corporate boards. Albany Law Review, 81(2), 439–487; Zochodne, G. (2020). Visible minorities vastly underrepresented in the boardroom, new disclosures suggest. Financial Post.; Everly, B.A. & Schwarz, J. L. (2015). Predictors of the adoption of LGBT‐friendly HR policies. Human Resource Management, 54: 367–384. doi:10.1002/hrm.21622

2 Cukier, W., Gagnon, S., & Latif, R. (Forthcoming). Shaping legislation to advance diversity on boards in Canada: Bill C-25. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Journal