Toronto , Canada

Changing the Face of Leadership: DiverseCity onBoard

The Maytree Foundation

February 10, 2009

Promoting urban prosperity by diversifying leadership

Eduardo Castro, DiverseCity onBoard participant

Eduardo Castro, DiverseCity onBoard participant

When leadership fails to reflect the population of a city, it excludes entire groups from the chance to contribute to an inclusive vision of the future. Similarly, when organizations, agencies and boards fail to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, they miss out on important opportunities to benefit from the creativity, energy and connectedness that distinguish successful institutions.

Diversity is recognized as an essential component of organizational success from a variety of perspectives, increasing organizational performance, stimulating innovation and creativity, and enhancing stakeholder satisfaction. Yet, less than half of the publicly listed companies in Canada are led by members of a visible minority and one-third of the Greater Toronto Area municipal boards and commissions members are from this group.

In the Greater Toronto Area, where the visible minority population is currently at 49%, diversity in governance is no longer an option, it’s a necessity.

If visible minorities and immigrants make up almost half of the population, why are they still largely absent from the city’s boardrooms? Partly because board recruitment relies on personal and professional networks that may not reach into immigrant communities. Often organizations lack the recruitment and hiring expertise required to see past old prejudices to value the contribution of professional, specialist or political skills and experience the skilled immigrant possesses.

Putting Diversity to Work

DiverseCity onBoard is an award-winning initiative that seeks to change the face of city leadership by working to ensure that the governance bodies of public agencies, boards and commissions as well as voluntary organizations accurately reflect the diversity of the people who live and work in the Greater Toronto Area.

Launched in 2005, DiverseCity onBoard (formerly known as abcGTA), was created by the Maytree Foundation to bridge the growing gap between the diversity of Toronto’s population and its leaders, and to help connect public institutions to the talent they need for competitive growth and urban prosperity.

Using practical and direct initiatives, DiverseCity OnBoard works to ensure that the governance bodies of public agencies, boards and commissions as well as voluntary organizations reflect the diversity of the people who live and work in the GTA. It does this by identifying qualified pre-screened candidates from visible minorities and immigrant communities for professional appointments on boards and committees.

By professionalizing the appointment process, the program seeks to prevent board tokenism by helping organizations committed to diversity find the best candidates with the right skills – rather than simply people with the right skin color.

DiverseCity onBoard also works to promote board recruitment and appointment processes that are responsive to the needs of the GTA’s diverse population and provide governance training and workshops for members. The website allows boards to scan for potential members and candidates to shop for the best fit for their skills and interests. It has also created a series of publications and tool kits to help organizations modify their recruiting and retention practices to increase leadership diversity.

In just over five years, DiverseCity onBoard has facilitated the appointment of almost 600 individuals to a variety of public, non profit and other organisational boards. Over 540 organizations and over 1500 pre-screened candidates from visible minority and immigrant groups are registered on its searchable database.

DiverseCity onBoard candidates are highly skilled and trained professionals including lawyers, doctors, accountants, entrepreneurs, social workers, administrators, and marketers; more than 60 percent have board governance experience; more than 60 percent operate at a senior management level and 70 percent have business experience.

Seeing new immigrants and visible minorities on boards sends a broader message to the community– that they are welcome and valued– while creating a space where all residents can bring new ideas to old problems forward. Moreover, leaders are a powerful symbol of who belongs and who doesn’t. When individuals see someone who looks like them occupying a position of influence, they are more likely to aspire to it, to imagine themselves in that role, feel like they belong, and are connected.

Rewarding Success

Diversity also brings huge opportunities. The problems that we face today – environment, poverty and health – are complex. The leadership we need to address these problems requires creativity, and the skill to reach across boundaries – geographic, religious, ethnic and philosophical – to bring together broad and increasingly diverse constituencies. In recognition of these challenges the annual Maytree Foundation Diversity in Governance Award celebrates public institutions and voluntary organizations that demonstrate making diversity in governance a strategic priority of their organization.

Award recipients are selected based on best practices for recruiting, appointing and engaging board members from diverse communities to achieve their organizational goals. Successful strategies include well-established diversity policies, outreach to diverse communities, measurements and reporting on diversity goals and professional development of board members.

“These awards honor those who understand the value of diversity as a win-win for organizations and communities” — Ratna Omidvar, President, Maytree Foundation.

For related library resources on this Good Idea, see sidebar at right.

Making it Work for You:

  • Remember who your stakeholders are and ask yourself whether you are doing all you can to engage and sustain their support.
  • Is your management or governing board representative of the diversity in your community? If the board of your organization does not reflect the community you serve, ask yourself whether barriers to inclusion exist in your organization and how they may be adversely affecting your development and productivity.
  • Does your organization have a diversity policy? Find out whether your organization would be willing to establish an internal process and accompanying targets to help tackle this issue.

For this Good Idea contact:

Cathy Winter
Manager, DiverseCity onBoard
The Maytree Foundation 170 Bloor St. W, Suite 804
Toronto, Ontario, Canada,
M5S 1T9
416 944 2627

Interview with Cathy Winter, Manager, Diversity OnBoard

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