GTA Residents Value More Diverse Leadership, Study Finds
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GTA Residents Value More Diverse Leadership, Study Finds

A new poll indicates that Torontonians think diverse leadership will boost prosperity.

The Changing Face of Leadership in the GTA 797

From left: Alison Loat (Samara), Matt Galloway (CBC radio), John Tory, Mitzie Hunter (CivicAction), and Alan Broadbent (Maytree) at a launch event for DiverseCity’s report. Photo by Mike Hagarty, courtesy of The Canadian Club of Toronto.

A new study commissioned by DiverseCity, a group devoted to diversifying leadership in the Greater Toronto Area, shows that the region’s residents value ethnic and cultural diversity in business, education, and politics.

According to a survey [PDF] conducted on DiverseCity’s behalf by Nanos Research, 43 per cent of 1,000 respondents said more ethnically and culturally diverse leadership is important. When respondents learned that only 14 per cent of leadership roles in the GTA are held by visible minority groups and underrepresented immigrant groups (even though these groups make up about half of the GTA’s population) they were more likely to say the status quo isn’t good enough.

Respondents were particularly concerned with the lack of diverse representation among the GTA’s political leadership—only one in 10 said elected officials adequately reflect the population. When asked where they saw the most diverse leadership, residents were most likely to mention the media and the civil service.

Nanos Research president and CEO Nik Nanos told us by email that he was intrigued by the way survey respondents seemed to associate diversity in leadership with the GTA’s ability to attract foreign investment. “People believe that a greater diversity in leadership can lead to a stronger economy and will help to advance Toronto as a world-class place to not only live, but to invest and work,” he wrote.

Nanos also addressed findings that some residents fear a trade-off between quality, competent leadership on one hand, and diverse, representative leadership on the other. “This is the potential trap in the dialogue on diversity of leadership—that it is code for quotas or a non-merit system of advancement,” Nanos wrote. “The reality is that most people see diversity in leadership as something that can elevate the GTA as a place to do business and a place to live.”

The DiverseCity initiative is a partnership between two non-profit organizations that promote social inclusion, the Maytree Foundation and CivicAction. Maytree project leader Cathy Winter told us by email that while the survey is encouraging, it also shows that more work is needed to promote the importance of diverse leadership. “Many survey respondents did not know about the diversity gap in leadership, but they thought it was a problem when they found out,” Winter wrote. “We need to continue to raise awareness of the issue.”

Over the past five years, DiverseCity has been attempting to do just that, through programs like DiverseCity onBoard, which facilitates the placement of diverse leaders on public and non-profit boards in the GTA, and the School4Civics, which tries to equip people from underrepresented groups to participate in the political process as candidates and campaign organizers.

School4Civics leader Alejandra Bravo has been keeping statistics on the impact of campaign training on participants, and believes the initiative is working. “Ninety per cent said the DiverseCity project helped in their political journey,” Bravo told us by email. “Sixty per cent have already opened the door or supported someone else in his or her political aspirations; another 30 per cent have plans to do so.”

At a luncheon at the Canadian Club of Toronto, where the DiverseCity report was released, CivicAction chair John Tory emphasized the importance of building personal relationships with people from underrepresented groups. “It’s the matter of a comfort zone that people have to get themselves into,” Tory said. “Once you get the first people on corporate boards that are more representative of the population, people will see for themselves that it just adds to the robustness and richness of those boards, and they’ll want to do it more.”