Where can women of colour be women of power?

Counting the commentaries on International Women’s Day last Friday could fool us into thinking women are breaking the glass ceilings in the corridors of power.

This may be true for white women, although their advance is slow and halting. But it is absolutely false for women of colour.

Knowing just how far women of colour are from being women of power is the first step in changing their powerless state in a city that not only brags about its diversity, but claims it as a competitive advantage.

Putting numbers to a bad situation is especially urgent now because the largest group of people in Toronto in what used to be called the visible minority tipped last year into being the visible majority. Yes, more racialized people now live in the Greater Toronto Area than white people. It’s also true that more women than men live in the GTA, and we can assume that the largest group of people in terms of gender and race in the GTA is women of colour.

So how often do they turn up in positions of power and leadership at the big banks, pension funds, law and consulting firms, governments and universities?

Hardly ever.

The numbers below are not gold-standard research. They’re the result of an evening with my laptop and Google. So the exact figures may be off by one or two. But the sum of the reality is plain to see, and it is irrefutable: Toronto’s largest group of people is virtually absent from where the big decisions are made around our money, our rights and our education. In other words, around power.

City Government

Toronto City Council has 25 members. 8 are women, 2 are women of colour.


In the Big 5 banks, of the 76 most senior executives (with the title of Executive Vice-President and higher), 16 are women and none of them is a woman of colour.

The ratios are almost the same on the Big 5 banks’ boards: of the 75 combined board members, 26 are women, and only one (at Scotiabank) is a woman of colour.

Pension Funds

While only one of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board’s 11 board members is a woman of colour, a large majority – seven! – of its directors are women. CPPIB’s senior management team has 5 women among its 14 members. Three of them are women of colour.

Of OMERS’ 11 directors, 4 are women, all of them white. 19 people are on its senior management team: 10 men; 9 women, of whom 3 are women of colour.

The Teachers’ 11-member board has 5 women, all of whom are white. Its 11-member senior executive team has exactly the same numbers.

Accounting/Consulting Firms

In the Big 4 firms, among Deloitte’s 32 most senior partners, 5 are women and all of them are white. Accenture’s 11-member leadership team has six women, all of them white. PWC’s top management team has 18 men and 5 women and all of the women are white. EY has 15 top management members. Six of them are women. All of them, the men and the women, are white.


The President of U of T is a white man and the Provost is a white woman. Of the seven vice-provosts, 3 are woman and all of them are white.

At York, both the President and Provost are white women. Of the 5 associate vice presidents/vice provosts, 2 are women, both white.

At Ryerson, the President is a man of colour and the Provost is a white man. Of the 5 Vice-Provosts, 2 are men and 3 are white women. Of the 8 Deans, 3 are men, 3 are white women and 2 are women of colour.

Law Firms

Here are the numbers for the senior management members in the Toronto offices of the 5 largest law firms in Canada.: BLG Canada has 31 men and 29 women on its boards of directors. Two of these are women of colour. Among its Toronto Managing Partners are 16 men and 13 women. Two of these are women of colour.

Gowling WLC has 3 men, 2 woman, all white on its management board.  Norton Rose Fulbright has 16 men and 8 women, all of whom are white. Fasken has 5 men and 2 women, all white. Blakes has 2 men and 2 women, all white.

What do all these figures reveal?

Clearly, that Canada’s most powerful institutions are woefully under-represented when it comes to women of colour.

I’m certainly not saying that board and senior management teams have to directly reflect the gender and racial make-up of their communities. But these numbers are so pitifully low that they make a mockery of our chest-beating around diversity.

·      No women of colour anywhere at the top of one of Canada’s biggest pension funds?

·       Not one woman of colour at the top of all the Big 4 consulting firms?

·       Only one woman of colour on the boards of all of Canada’s Top 5 banks?

So sure, it was nice to see all that cheerleading last week about how fast women are moving up the ladder, except that the biggest group of them all…isn’t.

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