Toronto Star
Nov 26, 2008

Noor Javed
Staff Reporter

Toronto may be the most diverse city in the world, but boardrooms across the city are not following suit. Instead, there is a “striking” lack of inclusiveness at the top of public, private and non-profit organizations across the city, according to a report to be released today.

“The Value of Diverse Leadership” was commissioned by the Toronto City Summit Alliance and the Maytree Foundation to make a business case for the importance of making diversity a priority at the board level.

The findings of the report, many of which have been known for years, serve as the impetus for the DiverseCity initiative, a plan for increasing diversity in leadership roles.

“There is a diversity deficit in the leadership landscape of the GTA,” said Ratna Omidvar, president of the Maytree Foundation. “Whether you look at Bay St., or public service, who sits at board tables, or who is elected to run the city, there is a deficit in each one of these places.”

One glaring example she cites is city council. In a city where almost 50 per cent of the population is a visible minority, only 4 of 44 city councillors are members of a visible minority.

“That’s unbelievable,” she said. But it’s not unchangeable. Over time, the demographics at the top will naturally change to reflect the community, says Omidvar. But the DiverseCity project is hoping to accelerate the change by creating networks, and offering mentoring and training opportunities.

“We know that a lot of a lot of leadership opportunities come through networking and connections,” said David Pecaut, chair of the Toronto City Summit Alliance. “When we have asked people why they don’t have more diversity on their boards, they have said we are happy to and interested, but I don’t know where to find qualified people.

“We have the networks to bring these people together,” he said.

One of the initiatives called DiverseCity OnBoard was launched by the Maytree Foundation four years ago, with the goal of matching highly qualified ethnic and minority candidates with boards of public and voluntary institutions.

Since 2005, the foundation has recruited 500 candidates, and 200 diverse members have been appointed to boards across the city. Their goal is to increase the number of appointments to 500 in the next three years.

Jehad Aliweiwi, the executive director of the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office – an agency for new immigrants and refugees – joined the board of the Ontario Science Centre through the project.

“I never thought about joining on my own, or knew that I could,” said Aliweiwi. “I just had to volunteer, Maytree did the difficult job of making the connection for me.”

In addition to launching a number of initiatives, the DiverseCity project will track its own success.

“In the next three years, we want to significantly improve the diversity and leadership of this city, and region,” said Pecaut, which will include monitoring the number of minority hires across institutions, companies, in government and media organizations.

The success of programs already in progress is proof enough that this project is about more than just filling certain “quotas,” Pecaut said.

“There is a risk that people will say this is a token thing. We have to get past that,” Pecaut said. “This is a proven model … and what we’re trying to do is to open people’s minds to the idea that this can be an incredible driver of economic growth.”

Slow to get on board

16.2% – Visible minorities in Canada
5.2% – Visible minorities in senior management positions in large companies
1.6% – Visible minorities in executive management positions in public sector
8% – Visible minorities in House of Commons in 2006 (24 of 308)
46% – Visible minorities in Toronto
9% – Visible minorities on city council (4 of 44)

Reference: Toronto Star