Board Representation & Under-Represented Groups

In 2020, Ryerson’s Diversity Institute conducted a study analyzing the board representation of Black people, other racialized minorities, and women in different sectors. Not surprisingly, this study found that across Canada and in various cities, Black leaders are disproportionately underrepresented. Other racialized groups also surpass Black representation on boards. At the intersection of race and gender, the numbers for Black individuals who must contend with multiple forms of discrimination are even lower.

For example, in the Greater Toronto Area, the Black community comprises 7.5 percent of the population yet Black individuals hold only 3.6 percent of all board positions in Toronto. In terms of corporate representation, the figures are even more stark. Black representation on boards comprises only 0.3 percent. Statistics in other major cities in Canada, such as Montreal, Vancouver, and London, Ontario, follow similar patterns. 

During the study, researchers identified several obstacles that impede the progress of Black individuals into the highest levels of leadership. These obstacles include the following:

  • corporate and organizational culture
  • inability to access social networks
  • multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination
  • requests to avoid self-identification
  • lack of mentorship and support circles


To increase the advancement of Black individuals into leadership positions and make inclusion a reality so that boards reflect communities at large, researchers noted the importance of incorporating comprehensive strategies developed towards the aim of addressing all levels of society. Collectively, organizations and individuals alike can break down barriers at the macro (society), the meso (organizational), and micro (individual) levels. 

At the macro level, the study suggested that legislation can best address the needs of society in its entirety. Cultural conditioning, values and belief systems impact the experiences of underrepresented groups and affect the trajectory of how lived experiences take shape. Legislation can help to enlighten, inform, and educate in these areas of concern, and just as significant, combat stereotypes. Research and analysis at the legislative level can also assist in creating policy that advances inclusion and make transparent the positive impact diversity makes. 

The meso level is where organizations can show due diligence and take accountability for the role organizations play in both advancing or impeding the progress of the Black community, Indigenous groups, and other under-represented communities. Thus, organizations can signal their intention to make diversity and inclusion a priority by leading the initiative for change through governance. Organizations can take actionable steps by setting targets and using strategies linked to measurable and quantifiable outcomes. When organizations discuss skills required for positions, diversity and inclusion can be woven into the matrices. The progressive objectives of human resource practices can be tracked through performance goals. Organizations can be held to account at every phase of the process, including procurement, marketing, and in philanthropic endeavors. Additionally, organizations can strive to confront and remedy exclusionary practices and behaviors that limit the acceptance and advancement of underrepresented groups. Organizations can also recruit from a broader base of candidates by supporting, sponsoring and mentoring individuals from these groups. Individuals too can act as mentors to expand diversity instead of simply relying on an already known and limited network of candidates.

At the micro or individual level of society, each person can support the advancement of underrepresented groups by working towards eliminating bias, both conscious and unconscious, from their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. Individuals in organizations can become allies and provide mentorship, advice, and guidance to candidates that may not be able to access networks as easily as others. Members of underrepresented groups who have achieved success in senior positions can also share their professional journeys to help others understand that diverse representation at higher levels of management and leadership is possible. 

By working in a thorough and holistic manner at all levels of society, organizations can effect change. Highly accomplished diverse candidates are out there to provide effective leadership; organizations need to work to find them.

This article is part of the campaign Systemic Participation. Funded by Heritage Canada :

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EcoAmbassadeurs is a non-profit organization providing bilingual services in the fields of health, education, entreprenuership and ecology. Our goal is to support the members of our community for their social, economic and civic development.

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