By Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange (GDX) at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University
Ratna responds to an opinion piece in the Guardian: Old white guy for mayor: has Toronto’s great multicultural project failed?
There’s a photo I like to show when I talk about diversity in Toronto. It’s taken underground on the subway during rush hour. A sea of faces looking like they have roots in every continent: A face like mine. Then I show a second photo, of a typical Toronto boardroom with eight or so faces that look like our newly elected mayor, John Tory.
A few years ago, we had a hunch that our diversity was not reflected in the elite structures of our city. So we counted. We found there were 3,257 positions which had extraordinary influence over our city, its life and its people. Positions like police chiefs, ministers, and the heads of hospitals and museums. And this is what we found: In a city region of roughly 4 million people, where nearly 50% of the population are visible minorities, only 13% of leaders are also visible minorities.
We had the evidence to conclude that Toronto is diverse, its leadership is not.
This is a problem. But it’s not a failure of multiculturalism until everyone stops trying to do anything about it. What sets Toronto apart from other world cities is its remarkable leadership across sectors to put diversity and inclusion into practice.
Gord Nixon, former CEO of Canada’s largest company, the Royal Bank of Canada, has said “To serve the market, you need to hire the market.” The bank has a robust diversity and inclusion policy, and has also (as a result) developed new products and services that meet the needs of Toronto’s newcomers, like borrowing without a credit history.
From the non-profit sector come initiatives to advance diversity in governance, like the project DiverseCity onBoard, a very simple idea. They find candidates who are visible minorities who are ready, willing and able to serve the public good, and then match them with governance positions on the boards, agencies and commissions in our city.
Governments do their bit too. It is now considered discriminatory in the province of Ontario to ask for “Canadian experience” because of the barrier to employment this represents for newcomers with relevant, international experience.
A visible minority in Toronto’s top job is just one of many indicators of an inclusive city. We’ll get there in time. I know this because Toronto’s challenge is not the “why” – the case for inclusion is in our DNA. Our challenge is “how.”