• Work is needed to make Canada’s leadership diverse, inclusive

    Opinion: Board diversity shown to improve decision-making

    By Barj S. Dhahan, Special to The Vancouver Sun, originally published February 5, 2013

    Last month, Kathleen Wynne became Ontario’s premier after winning that province’s Liberal leadership race. There are now six women premiers in Canada. While it is a great sign of our progress on the path to gender parity in Canadian politics, there continues to be a general lack of diversity in that arena. Today, only 25 per cent of our provincially and federally elected officials are women, and less than seven per cent are from ethnic minorities.

    A similar critique can be made about government appointments to Canada’s agencies, boards, and commissions. Each year, governments across Canada appoint thousands of people to serve on the boards of agencies such as Crown corporations, health authorities and post-secondary institutions. These boards make important decisions that affect all Canadians. It is therefore crucial that they represent the perspectives of the diverse citizens that they serve. Yet, an analysis of Canada’s board appointments indicates a surprising lack of diversity.

    There are many benefits to recruiting diverse board members. Board diversity has been shown to improve decision-making, help legitimize the organization’s mandate, and build social cohesion. In the corporate world, businesses benefit from the inclusion of varied perspectives and a commitment to social responsibility. Returns on equity are a third higher in companies with more females in upper-level management.

    Similarly, there are benefits to political leaders who demonstrate a commitment to diversity. Note that Mitt Romney’s loss in the U.S. presidential election was attributed in part to his inability to garner support from women and non-white communities.

    In British Columbia, the guidelines for public appointments refer to the importance of diversity. However, most appointments are still white males. While half of B.C.’s population is female and 28 per cent are ethnic minorities, the 68 appointments in December 2012 and January 2013 included only 23 (34 per cent) women and seven (10 per cent) people from ethnic minorities. A review of the boards of BC Hydro, BC Ferries, BC Assessments, the major universities, and the various health authorities (a total of 14 boards), further demonstrate this lack of diversity. Only three were made up of 50 per cent women, and most were less than 30 per cent. While most have at least one member from an ethnic minority, none had more than two.

    Similar numbers can be found in Ontario, Alberta, and at the federal level. In Ontario, just over half the population is female and 23 per cent are from ethnic minorities. Yet, of Ontario’s 40 recent board appointments, only 15 (37 per cent) were women, and five (12 per cent) were from ethnic minorities.

    An analysis of eight boards in Alberta including the universities, Alberta Health Services, and the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal, revealed even less diversity, with the majority comprising less than 25 per cent women and many with either zero or one minority representative.

    At the federal level, nine major boards, including the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, the Immigration and Refugee Board, and the Bank of Canada, revealed none with more than 35 per cent women, and some lower than 20 per cent. The Bank of Canada board of 14 includes only two women (14 per cent). Most of these boards contain two minority representatives or fewer.

    The recent departure of Justice Marie Deschamps leaves three women on the nine-seat Supreme Court of Canada. She has lamented that, “Numbers do count. … I was sad that I was not replaced by a woman.”

    Not enough is being done to ensure that government-appointed boards reflect the diversity of the country. While the policy is there, it is not being met. Governments at all levels should increase the amount of resources dedicated to identifying candidates with the necessary expertise who are also demographically representative. This process should be open and transparent.

    There is always a risk of simply appointing “token” females and members from minority groups in order to meet policy requirements. We must make sure that appointments are still merit-based, and that the required expertise is sought from throughout Canada’s diverse population. Recruiting for diversity will ensure that our institutions bring together the perspectives of all Canadians.

    Inclusive leadership is essential to an inclusive society. If we believe in the importance of representative democracy, and if we want our children to grow up in an open and caring society, we need to lead by example.

    If our government and institutions demonstrate a commitment to equality, we can hope to see this reflected throughout all aspects of our society.

    Barj S. Dhahan is national chair of the Canada India Foundation.

    This op-ed article by Barj S. Dhahan was originally published in The Vancouver Sun on February 5, 2013.