News | Too few women and minorities in leadership roles, report says

Corporate sector least diverse

Women and visible minorities are underrepresented in senior leadership positions across Montreal, according to a report published by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute and the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill.

The report – part of DiversityLeads, a five-year, $2.5-million project funded by the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) – aims to “benchmark and assess the progress of diversity in leadership” to develop specific solutions to advance diversity across Canada. It examined six sectors: elected, public, private, education, voluntary, and appointments to Agencies, Boards and Commissions.

The study found that women accounted for 31.2 per cent of senior leadership positions, despite comprising 51.7 per cent of the population of surveyed areas in greater Montreal.

The figure for visible minorities was even lower, standing at only 5.9 per cent, despite visible minorities comprising 22.5 per cent of the population. The problem compounds itself for women that are visible minorities, who represent 11.5 per cent of the population, but only hold 1.9 per cent of leadership positions.

The corporate sector was found to be the least diverse, with women at 15.1 per cent and minorities at 2.6 per cent. By comparison, the government and education sectors both had over 40 per cent women, with 9.6 and 6.4 per cent visible minorities, respectively.

Wendy Cukier, founder and director of the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University and a lead researcher on the project, highlighted the significance of the sector-based approach to this research in an email to The Daily.

In a phone interview with The Daily, Suzanne Gagnon, another researcher on the project and a professor of organizational behaviour at Desautels, warned that sector averages should not necessarily be taken at face value, and that there is often a wide range of representation within sectors. She suggested that certain organizations could act as models for others within the same sector.

She explained that phase two of the research would include a cross-sectoral survey and case studies to discover specific reasons for, and solutions to, the problem.

Gagnon emphasized the benefits of addressing this underrepresentation. “Diversity at the top of an organization has been linked to a company or organization’s ability to retain top talent, and also as a separate issue – although they are linked to an extent – to innovate, to make innovative and creative decisions drawing on multiple perspectives.”

She also explained that, “it matters for young people and for [their] aspirations and for social inclusion more generally to have leaders who broadly represent the population.”

Elizabeth Groeneveld, a faculty lecturer and chair of the Women’s Studies program at McGill, explained that underrepresentation in leadership in Montreal is likely linked to broader systemic racism and sexism.

“There can be impediments in terms of access to education and the kind of mentoring that is often given to men or people who are racialized as white [that] is not always extended in the same way to women and visible minorities,” said Groeneveld.

Gagnon, in reference to both the corporate sector and as a general trend, described how organizations are “self-reproducing entities” that tend to operate as they always have, which becomes a systemic obstacle to introducing women and visible minorities.

Groeneveld echoed this idea: “The language of being ‘the right fit’ for a company can sometimes become code for people who look like us, think like us, and talk like us.”

Cukier noted that several other projects are in progress as part of DiversityLeads, including studies on the representation of Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities, and members of LGBT communities, as well as analysis on the impact of representations of leadership in media. Gagnon mentioned that similar studies were also conducted in other major Canadian cities, including Vancouver and Toronto.


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