Study finds Canada’s not-for-profit boards are dominated by whites

Canada’s not-for-profit boards are moving close to equal representation for women, but are still nearly 90 per cent white, according to a study by York University researchers.

The study, “A Call to Action: Diversity on Canadian Not-for-Profit Boards”, looked at the proportion of board members who are visible minorities or from ethnically diverse backgrounds. It found that whites are most likely to be on boards (average of 87.6 per cent), followed by Aboriginals (average of 8.2 per cent) and South Asians (average of 7.4 per cent). Koreans are least likely to be included, at an average of 0.2 per cent. Women comprised approximately 44 per cent of board membership.

“It’s a case of ‘glass half full’ for gender diversity, but unfortunately that glass is half empty when it comes to ethnic diversity,” says study lead author Pat Bradshaw (left), professor of organizational behaviour in York’s Schulich School of Business.

Of the 240 boards surveyed, 43.6 per cent had only one ethnic group represented.

“In almost every case where there was only one group, that meant the board was all white,” says Bradshaw. “In this day and age, with all the attention to issues of diversity, it’s quite disturbing.”

Organizations with two ethnic groups represented comprised 23.3 per cent of those surveyed; 18.1 per cent had three groups, 9.7 per cent had four groups; and only 5.2 per cent had five or more groups represented among their board members. The study notes that a small number of boards were comprised of all-Aboriginal members.

In terms of gender diversity, 62 per cent of survey respondents – primarily executive directors, CEOs, board chairs and presidents – were women.

“Our results show that more women are making it not only onto boards, but also to the upper levels of management within these organizations,” says Bradshaw.

Researchers also found that the most diverse boards were perceived by respondents as more effective. Older, established organizations ranked best, Bradshaw says.

“The more established organizations have more in the way of structure and procedure related to racial, ethnic and gender representation on their boards,” she says. “They’re more likely to have written policies and set goals related to racial, ethnic or gender representation.”

All study respondents were from member organizations of Imagine Canada, a charity that delivers research and support to the not-for-profit sector.

The study was co-authored by Schulich PhD students Christopher Fredette and Lindsay Sukornyk, and funded through support from the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations. 

To download the report, click here.