Welcoming Diverse Leadership
Town of Richmond Hill
A growing municipality takes steps to improve minority representation on civic boards
The suburban community of Richmond Hill north of Toronto attained its multicultural identity and urban status virtually overnight. Once a small town, its population not only doubled to 185,000 within twenty years, but the proportion of visible minorities increased to constitute almost 50 %per cent of the community. This rapid change created challenges both for long-time residents (some of whom resisted the change), and for newcomers (who often reported feeling unwelcome).
The response of the town’s leaders was direct and to the point. In 2007, they embarked on a new strategic plan guided by a single phrase, “We are a welcoming community.” To ensure all voices in the community were heard, the town organized a series of consultations including open houses, ethnic forums, youth contests, surveys as well as informal conversations hosted by Mayor Dave Barrow with leaders from diverse communities.
Over 2,000 residents took part in the development of the Town’s 2009 Strategic Plan. However, city leaders recognized that more work would be needed to address the city’s diversity and make the Town of Richmond Hill and its governance more inclusive.
Outreach to diverse communities became a top priority for the city’s leadership. To ensure its citizen committees reflect the area’s diverse demographic, the Town approached DiverseCity onBoard to discuss ways it could help Richmond Hill progress towards its goal.
Launched in 2005, DiverseCity onBoard (DoB) 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.
The DoB program does this by identifying qualified pre-screened candidates from visible minorities and immigrant communities for professional appointments on the governance bodies of public agencies, boards, commissions, committees and voluntary organizations. From a roster of 1,500+ candidates, DoB has matched over 600 individuals to board and committee positions to date.
Recruiting residents to the Town’s committees
Building on its highly successful community engagement process, the Town partnered with DoB early on in its citizen’s committees appointment process to reach out to local residents who had already self-identified as eager and skilled board volunteers.
They decided an open house would deepen outreach to potential committee members, while creating an opportunity to help residents learn more about how to become active in their local government. Each committee of Council with citizen representation participated in the event, hosting its own booth and providing background information on its roles and responsibilities. Local agencies also participated.
At the DoB booth, residents also learned more about the professional benefits of joining public boards and committees. Cathy Winter, manager of DoB, recalls: “In addition to meeting with our own roster members who had attended the event, we were able to reach out to a much wider audience about our board matching program.”
The new appointments process in Richmond Hill opened doors to citizens who might otherwise have never become involved in municipal governance. Visible minorities now account for 22% of the membership of all citizen committees in the Town. In 2010, DoB recognized Richmond Hill for embracing diversity in board governance and making it a priority to recruit board members from diverse backgrounds.
“Richmond Hill has grown into a dynamic, well-educated, multicultural town that is on the cusp of further change in how we, as a community, will function and look,” says Mayor Dave Barrow. By developing an open-ended engagement process, Richmond Hill is working towards meeting the needs of all its residents, today and in the future.
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.
- If your committees do not reflect the community you serve, find out what are the barriers to inclusion.
- Be proactive in developing outreach tools to gain the attention of communities who are under-represented in your committees.