Non-White women missing from Toronto’s power corridors

The group with the largest numbers in Toronto still has the least power.​

God is not on the side of the big battalions — at least in Toronto.

In fact, here in the world’s most diverse city, the group with the biggest numbers has the least power.

I refer, of course, to non-white women. With visible minorities now making up the visible majority in our population, and with women making up 52 per cent of our population, you’d think these three quarters of a million of us would be climbing the ladders of power and influence.

Sadly not.

I’m not talking here about income equality. That is shocking enough, with the United Way reporting last week that Toronto has grown to be the inequality capital of Canada. I’m talking about something even more disturbing, especially for a community that basks in the glow of being hailed the world’s most diverse city.

I’m talking about power inequality.

We all know that women have less power than men. But women from visible minorities have pitifully little.

You can measure income using exact numbers. But how do you measure power? One way is through membership on the boards and the senior management levels of organizations that have power themselves. Like public companies, governments, banks, and so on.

The fight to get women on the boards of publicly traded companies has been loud, long — and not that successful. The 2013 Catalyst Census found that women hold only 15.9 per cent of the hundreds of board seats in Canada, a rise of just 1.5 per cent since 2011. Worse still, four of out 10 companies had no women directors at all.

But compared to the number of visible minority women on public company boards, white women form a mighty armada of influence.

Minority women are even more invisible in the city’s other traditional lairs of power:

City council: 45 members, 14 women, one visible minority woman (Kristyn Wong-Tam).

It’s just as bad across the GTA. Mississauga has no visible minority women at all on its 12-member council. Nor does Brampton on its 11-member council. Vaughan has one from its nine members and Markham has two of its 12 members.

Bank boards: there are 77 directors on the boards of Canada’s Big Five Banks, which are all headquartered on Bay Street. Twenty-four of these directors are women. Only one, Indira Samarasekera on the board of Scotiabank, is from a visible minority.

One out of 77.

Bay Street law firms: I then looked at 10 of the country’s largest law firms. At nine of them, the managing partner is a white man. Only one, Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, has a woman managing partner, Dale Ponder, who is white.

So, zero out of 10.

Hospital CEOs: I also looked at 10 of the GTA’s largest hospitals and got similar results. Seven of them are headed by white men and three by white women: Dr. Catherine Zahn at CAMH; Marilyn Emery at Women’s College Hospital; and Michelle DiEmanuele at Trillium Health Partners.

Again, zero out of ten.

University departmental chairs: Toronto has three large universities that have a combined 171 academic departments, from biochemistry and computer science to medicine and law. Forty-six of these departments (27 per cent) are led by women and 11 of them (6.5 per cent) are led by non-white women.

So what to make of this infinite distance between Toronto’s minority women and the corridors of power?

One response is to say that this is largely a demographic issue, that eventually minority women will rise in the ranks. Perhaps. But it hasn’t happened on corporate boards despite the fact that women are now flooding the top levels of business management. It hasn’t happened in law or medicine, either.

The trickle-up theory doesn’t seem to be working, despite the work of groups likeDiverseCity onBoard to find board openings for minorities.

What we know does work is good old-fashioned intervention. Yes, quotas and naming and shaming if those quotas aren’t met.

These tools aren’t perfect, by any means. But they sure beat the alternative: a gated community of 2.7 million, with the vast majority of its people left standing outside the gates.


Share this post

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to my Free Weekly Omnium-Gatherum Blog:

  • Every Saturday the Omnium-Gatherum blog is delivered straight to your InBox
  • Full archive
  • Posting comments and joining the community
  • First to hear about other Ramsay events and activities

Get posts directly to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sign Up for Updates!

Get news from Ramsay Inc. in your inbox.

Email Lists
Email Lists(Required)