The Banking Industry and Increasing Systemic Participation

In the past year-and-a-half, the banking industry has pledged its commitment to increase diversity and inclusion in the workforce. As awareness of systemic inequalities gain traction in the public’s consciousness, employees and consumers are vocalizing their desire to associate with institutions aligned with their values. In reaction, banks leverage these issues as part of their corporate branding strategies to enhance their public profile. Are banks in Canada matching actions with words? What does diversity and inclusion look like at Canadian banks in the present moment? What gaps need to be recognized and filled?

In Canada, the four designated employment equity groups are the following: women, people with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and members of visible minorities. The Employment Equity Act requires federally regulated employees, such as banks, to collect data related to the hiring of these four groups. According to Statistics Canada, the term “visible minority” refers to “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” Black individuals fall under this umbrella term; therefore, data related to the hiring of this demographic is not clear or transparent. Similarly, statistics related to women as a designated group fail to consider the intersection between gender and race. Data surrounding the hiring of Black women is not accessible either. Because the hiring for Black individuals as a separate category is not available, we are given an incomplete picture of what diversity in the banking workforce encompasses.

Statistics from The Canadian Banking Association reveal that, as of 2019, 37.8 percent of all professional positions are held by visible minorities. At the senior management level, visible minorities hold 17.8 percent of positions. For middle management positions, banks employ 32.5 percent of visible minorities. The percentage of Black individuals hired and retained within the banking ecosystem cannot be discerned from this data. Moreover, the pace at which some ethnic and racial groups are advancing at a stronger rate, or less quickly relative to other groups, is not available to be assessed. The hiring of Indigenous people remains quite small, comprising only 2700 out of 250000 Canadian employees within banks, and with no indication of what roles they are employed in. In terms of gender, 47.2 percent of women hold professional positions at Canada’s six largest banks. Senior management positions are held by 37.9 percent of women, and 49.1 percent of women hold middle management roles. Banks strategically tout the hiring of women as an example of diversity within their organizations. But the information collected is only partial, and restricted. This data fails to account for how many Black women, overlooked in discussions about gender, hold professional positions at banks, and what improvements need to be made to facilitate their hiring at the same rate as women from other racial and ethnic groups. 

In 2020, Bloomberg conducted a study of Canada’s six big banks and two major life insurers to track the amount of diversity and representation that exists in senior leadership and board positions. In their study, Bloomberg found that visible minorities hold 10 percent of executive positions and 8 percent of non-executive positions. Bloomberg found that these eight companies currently have 188 senior executive and board positions. However, only 1 of those 188 roles is held by a Black individual who lives in the United States. This discovery highlights the importance of tracking Black individuals as a distinct category in order to find imbalances that marginalize the representation of this group in banks. At present, senior leadership does not reflect their base of employees and customers. Collecting more specific data will help to create solutions designed to remove inequities, improve retention of Black employees, and advance their progression into leadership roles.  

In the United States, all private sector employers with 100 or more employees, and federal contractors with more than 50 employees, are required to submit an EE0-1 form that gathers demographic workforce information. The data collected includes race and ethnicity broken down into several distinct racial and ethnic groupings rather than under one umbrella term. Information is also collected on gender and ten different job categories. A form such as this could serve as a useful starting point for employers in Canada. Explicit data would reveal which groups are gaining quicker entry into positions in corporate Canada, what groups face greater underrepresentation, and what groups are likely to leave employers due to systemic obstacles. Gaining a firm understanding of the advancement and retention of underrepresented groups through clear numbers will help to establish supports to make equity in the workplace a reality.  

In response to protests against systemic racism in 2020, some banks, as mentioned in The Globe and Mail  have recently asserted they will boost representation, increasing their hiring targets for all people of colour, including in leadership and executive roles. A specific focus on Black and Indigenous peoples is mentioned. However, a lack of transparency persists in these declarations. Without data collection that provides more detail, it is hard to know whether employers will actually hit their targets for these areas of focus. The ability to assess in future whether marginalized groups have broken through the glass ceiling in corporate Canada will also remain elusive. Clarity around who is being hired and for what roles, and how these roles are defined internally, is needed to hold banks accountable. Otherwise, challenges will remain in assessing which racial and ethnic groups are moving forward while other groups are left behind. If banks at all levels, including the upper echelons, are to increase the systemic participation of marginalized groups within their ecosystem, transparency is a key first step to take. 

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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