Canada is more diverse than ever—except in the halls of power

Canada is no longer the Great White North—except at the boardroom table.

Consider this: the population growth of racialized or non-white groups continues to outpace that of white Canadians. This has created a shift in the demographic balance of the Canadian mosaic, with our population on its way to becoming a “minority majority.”

According to Statistics Canada, by 2031, over 70 percent of Canadians living in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver will be from a visible minority or racialized group. Already, almost half the population in the Greater Toronto Area is a visible minority. Yet we are not seeing an equivalent shift in the halls of power: in business and in government, visible minorities—particularly African-Canadians—still represent a small fraction of the decision-makers relative to their overall population.

In April, a report by the Law Society of Upper Canada looked at the legal profession relative to others and made the following observations: “In Ontario in 2006, members of a visible minority accounted for 30.7 percent of all physicians, 31.7 percent of engineers, 17.6 percent of academics and 11.8 percent of high-level managers, compared to 11.5 percent of lawyers.”

A recently released study, entitled “DiverseCity Counts: A Snapshot of Diverse Leadership in the Greater Toronto Area,” showed that while some sectors are doing better at reflecting the general makeup of the population, visible minorities are underrepresented in leadership positions. Today, visible minorities comprise 49.5 percent of the population, but only 14 percent of senior-level leaders.

The implications of this imbalance will only become more significant as the population continues to shift. Canada must demonstrate the potential of harnessing the best of all of our peoples. Diversity in the leadership of our institutions matters. Far from being a form of tokenism, a significant increase in the number and diversity of visible minorities at all levels of leadership is essential to Canada’s competitiveness.

In May, Governor General Michaëlle Jean addressed business, academic, and socialsector leaders in a speech to the Canadian Club. She told the audience that “saying yes to diversity is saying yes to modernity, to opportunity, and to the very future of our country.” There is an economic case for embracing diversity: to create a “brain gain” by recruiting, hiring, mentoring, developing, and retaining a qualified and diverse workforce. Imagine the dividends for Canada’s global competitiveness when all its citizens have an equal opportunity to lead, to innovate, and to contribute to our social, economic, cultural, and political landscape.

The DiverseCity study also found that visible minorities are underrepresented in the media, accounting for only 19 percent of appearances by broadcasters, reporters, print columnists, subject experts, and commentators. Diversity in media leadership and representation of visible minorities is improving incrementally, but larger gains are needed. Why do we not see or hear from more visible minorities in daily coverage? How long must we wait for media outlets to do the research and start assigning these stories?

One initiative to improve the coverage of racialized minorities is DiverseCity Voices, a new electronic database of experts who are also visible minorities. Journalists can turn to the website to find underrepresented leaders who are able to provide commentary and opinion on current affairs.

Since joining the website, I have appeared in a variety of local and national print and radio, television, broadcast, and social media outlets, providing my opinions on subjects ranging from the Olympic Games, the G20 summit, and Africentric Schools. I’ve received more calls from journalists looking for comment, and that’s important to me. Young people become what they see, and role models of all backgrounds need to be seen and heard.

Sociologist John Porter’s Vertical Mosaic, published in 1965, remains the touchstone for a deeper understanding of the structure of Canadian society. Porter’s findings portrayed Canada as a hierarchical racial pecking order, with attendant consequences for social mobility, access to power, and economic success. In the Canadian mosaic, whites were (and still are) the dominant culture at the top of the heap. Fifty years on, Porter’s study still rings depressingly true. But there is reason to be optimistic.

With a conscious effort to create and sustain diversity in all our institutions, it is possible that Canada’s vertical mosaic will be replaced by one that is inclusive, linear, and beneficial to us all—no matter where we come from or the colour of our skin.