DiverseCity Counts, a three-year research project, is tracking the diversity in leadership across the corporate, public, not-for-profit and education sectors in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The resulting report, DiverseCity Counts: A Snapshot of Diversity in the Greater Toronto Area, is the first research effort offering a benchmark of the representation of the GTA’s visible minorities in senior leadership roles across sectors.
Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute prepared the report, under the guidance of Dr. Wendy Cukier and Dr. Margaret Yap. Both researchers have strong expertise in visible minorities in the workforce and corporate sector diversity issues. The Diversity Institute’s research specialty is diversity in the workplace and developing and evaluating policies and programs to improve practices in organizations.
DiverseCity Counts is part of DiverseCity: The Greater Toronto Leadership Project, an initiative of the Maytree Foundation and the Toronto City Summit Alliance, with funding from the Government of Ontario and the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration in particular. The project includes eight initiatives led by a steering committee of prominent leaders, who recognize the value and potential of diversity in leadership for social and economic prosperity. The ultimate goal is to “diversify the leadership landscape” across the GTA.
Why consider collecting data?
Factors leading the Maytree Foundation and the Toronto City Summit Alliance to consider collecting data included:
- Scans of existing research suggested that some groups were underrepresented in leadership roles, and this was confirmed through national research
- Data would complement the report The Conference Board of Canada was hired to do on why diverse leadership was important
- The desire to know how well the diversity of leaders in the GTA reflected the population in the most diverse region in Canada
- The wish to understand, as a region, where the GTA was and where it should be
- The need to create a starting point for tracking progress in key sectors across the GTA.
What were Maytree’s and the TCSA’s goals of collecting data?
This project focused on:
- Fostering prosperity and inclusion in the GTA
- Making a “business case” for diversity, and showing how inclusive leadership advances organizational goals, such as a voice in government, private sector profit, return for shareholders or improved services to citizens
- Reinforcing the value of representative leadership in terms of attracting and retaining a skilled workforce, improving customer service, enhancing creativity and innovation, developing role models and shaping the hopes and aspirations of young people.
Research goals were to:
- Create a more comprehensive understanding of how well leaders across sectors in the GTA reflect the diverse population
- Take a sector by sector approach, to establish comparisons within sectors and across sectors
- Be a catalyst for discussion on how to overcome gaps in diversity in leadership and to promote good practices (for example, the City of Toronto’s review of its appointment process enhanced opportunities for engaging people and organizations, and led to goal-setting to advance diversity).
Facing the challenges
Ryerson faced many challenges when planning to collect the data, including:
- Balancing the many options for collecting data, such as employee surveys, asking organizations to share information from existing surveys, and relying on public information
- Getting high enough response rates with surveys, especially when looking at senior leaders and sectors with varying self-identification rates
- The broad scope of a project that included many sectors and many visible minority groups
These challenges led to the following planning decisions:
- The focus would be on visible minorities to have a manageable research project, while understanding that other groups also face disadvantages
- Existing surveys would be used wherever possible (for example, surveys of the principals in the Toronto Board of Education and City of Toronto agencies, boards and commissions for the City of Toronto)
- For other sectors, publicly available sources were used to identify leaders (politicians, senior executives and boards of directors) and to categorize them according to gender and visible minority status
- A number of prominent persons who had publicly self-identified as belonging to groups classified by Statistics Canada as visible minorities were included as leadership exemplars
- Chose samples to consider for each sector
- for example, the sample included the largest corporations headquartered in GTA, on the basis of revenue as reported in 2008
- where publicly available information was available for more than 50% of board members, the organization and data were included
- the focus was on the largest organizations in the GTA, as they account for the majority of employees, and the highest profile leaders as they are often the most influential. These organizations are more likely to be publicly traded or federally regulated and to publish relevant data
- Used “visible minority” rather than “racialized” to be consistent with the terms being used by Statistics Canada
- The Diversity Institute’s experience in dealing with individuals is that some prefer to identify as visible minorities rather than racialized persons
- Even though studies of racism in Canada show the experiences of different groups of racialized persons are different, Ryerson’s previous research suggested that the overall perceptions of workplace fairness and satisfaction are different enough to be significant between people who identify as visual minority and White.
Preparing for the data collection initiative
Steps to prepare for collecting data included:
- Selecting recognized experts who would address accuracy issues give the research and findings credibility
- Consulting with experts who have done research in the specific sectors – politicians, government officials, non-profit sectors and education
- Set up a steering committee to provide advice
- Scanning what had already been done to avoid duplicating existing research
- Submitting a research proposal for supplementary interviews to the Ryerson Ethics Board.
Administering the data collection initiative
Preparations for the project began more than a year before the results were published in May 2009. The researchers began by scanning existing research, and then the Diversity Institute did its own planning to finalize the project parameters. These steps took three to four months to complete.
The project’s research and writing stages were done from October 2008 to March 2009
The data in the DiverseCity Counts report reflects a moment in time, up to March 2009. Some organizations originally being considered were not included because key information was not publicly available until after March 2009. Researchers analyzed 3,257 leaders in the GTA including elected officials, public sector executives, members of agencies, boards and commissions, and the largest voluntary and business organizations as determined by revenue.
The research offered a wealth of both quantitative and qualitative information about the diversity of leadership in key sectors across the GTA. Highlights include:
- As of March 2009, visible minorities are under-represented in the senior-most leadership positions in the GTA – just 13% of leaders were visible minorities
- The education sector was the most diverse, and the corporate sector was the least diverse
- In all sectors except the corporate sector, boards are more diverse than executives
- The report raised the profile of the importance of diversity in leadership, leading to more organizations and people wanting to take part in DiverseCity programs
- for example, people and groups were interested in sharing their demographic information with the Counts project, and in working with the Onboard initiative, which matches people from underrepresented groups with boards. Many of the leaders profiled were extremely pleased with the results
- newspaper coverage of the study was very positive and stressed the need to make more progress
Acting on the results
The results will be used to enhance other DiverseCity programs, and other organizations will use the report to explain gaps and benefits to diverse leadership. As well, the results are helping the Diversity Institute to refine its training programs for individuals and organizations, and the Institute is working on projects aimed at looking specifically at representation in the media.
The Counts report also included a strong call to action:
To ensure that the potential of the region can be fully maximized, individuals, governments, organizations and the community should:
- Count: What gets measured gets done
- Lead: Make diversity a strategic priority
- Develop the pipeline: Inspire children, workers and future leaders to maximize their potential
- Communicate: Mainstream diversity in all aspects of the organization’s activities
- Develop and sustain excellent human resources practices.
- Executive Summary, DiverseCity Counts
The snapshot will be repeated in 2010 and 2011, to compare sectors over time to monitor change. The data collection methods are being enhanced to include data from organizations as well as individuals, and more comprehensive interviews will be done with individuals. The research will also be expanded to include more sectors.
- It is important to have a strong communications strategy that emphasizes benefits to all
- The Conference Board Report (why diverse leadership matters) was a significant step leading up to the project – it started the discussion about what diverse leadership looks like and why it matters; this report stated the value of diverse leadership, and the Counts report then showed the need and the missed opportunity
- Linking the data collected to other related issues – the Diversity Institute also prepared a paper on the academic research linking diverse leadership to organizational performance
- Going to experts – the project was too big to do in-house, and the strong, rigorous data collection methods gave the work more credibility
- While not shying away from the real problems of overt and systemic racism and discrimination, framing the work in terms of the business case for diverse leadership helped to build support.
- It is important to explain benefits of collecting data/doing this research for everyone, not just members of representative groups
- Measurement is difficult but what gets measured gets done. The very process of benchmarking and tracking can mobilize change
- High performing organizations tend to make diversity a strategic priority and make a point of tracking and reporting on their results
- There is power in numbers – before we could assume and only explain anecdotally what was going on; now we know and now we can track our progress
- Other research by the Diversity Institute shows that organizations that do diversity training have higher levels of career satisfaction among White/Caucasian as well as visible minority employees – even when the diversity training is not perceived to have been effective. This suggests that the intervention itself sends a signal, just as laws, regardless of their enforcement, signal values
- It is always important to consider unintended consequences – doing work in this area is fraught with potential pitfalls but that is not a reason for not trying
- We were pleasantly surprised by the level of enthusiasm for the study and the broad support among the sectors considered.