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New report reveals persistent lack of diversity in Ontario’s non-profit leadership

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November 27, 2023
By Talent Canada

(fizkes/Adobe Stock)

There is a persistent lack of diversity at the leadership level of many not-for-profit organizations in Ontario, according to a new report from Civic Action and the Diversity Institute.

The report, titled Ontario: Are We There Yet?, sheds light on the experiences of diverse leaders from across 803 non-profit organizations in the province, and looks at the state of equity, diversity, and inclusion in non-profit sector boards and executive teams, as well as the experiences of diverse leaders in Ontario’s non-profit sector.

“This report sets a vital baseline for diversity, equity, and inclusion in nonprofit leadership and although progress has been made, we’ve got a long way to go,” said Leslie Woo, CEO of CivicAction. “CivicAction’s BoardShift program is an essential part of this journey, addressing this challenge by training emerging leaders from equity-deserving groups, preparing organization to successfully welcome them, and connecting these two groups so that they can actively contribute to driving meaningful change.”

Among the key findings is that although there is higher representation of women, immigrant, Indigenous, Black and other racialized workers in the non-profit sector than in other industries, a lack of diversity remains present at the leadership level.


By the numbers

  • Racialized people hold only 18.2% of leadership roles in Ontario’s non-profit organizations. Indigenous Peoples hold an even smaller percentage at less than 3%, the lowest of all equity-deserving groups.
  • While women hold the majority of director and senior management positions in the not-for-profit sector in Ontario (56.6%), there is a decrease in representation of women in these roles in large organizations, and in large urban centres. A decrease in the representation of women also exists in organizations with non-government funding sources.

Beyond representation, the report offers insights on workplace experiences of diverse leaders from across 25 municipalities in Ontario and looks at the state of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in non-profit sector boards and executive teams:

  • 45.5% of Black leaders report experiencing discrimination or unfair treatment based on their ethnicity, race, skin colour, or cultural background.
  • 50% of Black leaders often find themselves as the sole person of their race or ethnicity in the boardroom.
  • 40% of Black leaders have contemplated leaving their board positions due to EDI issues they have encountered.
  • More Black women leaders than those from any other equity-deserving group reported that errors made at work were often unfairly held against them throughout their board terms.
  • When asked about barriers attributed to their advancement, Indigenous women noted that Indigenous identity, such as racism and stigma, affected their participation in non-profit boards more than their gender identity.
  • Almost one-half of survey respondents from equity-deserving groups with hidden identities, including those identifying as 2SLGBTQ+ or persons living with disabilities, reported needing to hide part of their identities to fit in with other board members (40.9% and 48.1%, respectively).

BoardShift offers tools, resources

These findings emphasize the urgent need to support equity-deserving groups in securing leadership and board roles, Civic Action said in a press release. The report builds on research started in 2009 by the Diversity Institute to measure representation of racialized people in the GTHA’s leadership (boards and senior leadership) in several sectors. CivicAction and the Ontario government were supporters of the early research, which led to the expanded series, DiversityLeads. This new report offers recommendations and links to resources and tools to help non-profits become more inclusive.

A key initiative working to address these challenges is BoardShift, a national award-winning program launched by CivicAction in 2022 to prepare and match talented Indigenous, Black, and racialized candidates with nonprofit, charitable, and public board opportunities. BoardShift also offers tools and resources to support boards in adopting inclusive governance practices, equipping them with the knowledge they need to welcome, amplify, and empower voices from equity-deserving communities.

“This is a first of its kind report for the non-profit sector in Ontario and expands on our research of over a decade on the leadership representation of equity-deserving groups and their lived experience,” said Wendy Cukier, Founder and Academic Director of the Diversity Institute and Research Lead for the Future Skills Centre.

“It is imperative, especially as Canadian organizations face increasing labour shortages, that non-profit organizations integrate an equity, diversity and inclusion lens to all aspects of their organizational strategy and at every level of their processes, such as procurement, service design, fundraising, marketing and delivery—not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is an economic imperative.”

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