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Black people make up 0.8 per cent of corporate boards, Ryerson study finds

New research from Ryerson University paints a bleak picture about the state of systemic racism in Canada by quantifying the shortcomings in board diversity, especially among corporations.

The report looked at 9,843 people who hold positions on boards in various sectors — government agencies, non-profits, hospitals, schools and corporations — and found that 10.4 per cent of them were racialized people and 40.8 per cent were women.

But racialized people make up just 4.5 per cent among the 1,639 people on corporate boards and women only 25.3 per cent.

Diversity was much higher at universities and on hospital boards.

Wendy Cukier, a professor at Ryerson University and one of the authors of the report, said that comparing organizations within the same sector can be very revealing.

For example, women make up 40 per cent of some companies’ boards, while other companies have no women at all.

“Clearly, some corporations think it’s sufficiently important to have women on their boards that they have intentional strategies to find them,” Cukier said. “I would argue that if you’ve got zero (women), it’s because you’re not looking hard enough.”

This is what systemic racism looks like. This is what systemic sexism looks like

Wendy Cukier, Ryerson University

The study also specifically looked at the rate of representation for Black people, and found they only make up 0.8 per cent of the people on corporate boards.

In Toronto, where 7.5 per cent of residents are Black, just 0.3 per cent of corporate board positions were held by Black people.

“This is what systemic racism looks like. This is what systemic sexism looks like,” Cukier said. “The data in some cases just confirms people’s lived experience, but I think it really does smack you in the face.”

The research was undertaken by the Diversity Institute at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management and supported by TD Bank.

Cukier said one of study’s particularly interesting findings was the composition of corporate boards in Toronto, where a bit more than 50 per cent of the residents are racialized and half of the population are women.

“You have 12 white women for every racialized woman on a corporate board,” she said. “In the population, it’s one-to-one. You cannot explain that with any kind of analysis of differences of education or socioeconomic status which might account for slight differences.”

The report said that various forms of action need to be taken to make senior board positions more equitable, including society tackling systemic discrimination.

Individuals can help with their own actions, but some of the responsibility, especially in the corporate world, falls to chief executives.

“At the organizational … level, the reasons for underrepresentation lie in leadership, culture, and organizational strategies through the value chain,” the study said. “For example, evidence suggests that commitment to organizational diversity efforts by the CEO is crucial to the mobilization of key organizational actors to implement diversity management.”

jmcleod@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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