Diversity and Inclusion: Going Beyond the ‘To Do’ List

By: Piragal Thiru

One of the greatest pleasures of living in Toronto is the global character that comes with it. One can experience the world right here in Toronto and its surrounding municipalities without paying the expensive air fares. While the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is the most ethnically and racially diverse Region in Canada where visible minorities make up 40% of the population, such statistics are not reflected in the work and labour force. The underutilization of skills and expertise of new and visible minorities coming to Canada has and will continue to result in lost opportunities for this region and nation wide.

A recent study put forth by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute found that visible minorities continue to be under represented in leadership roles in almost all sectors including public, corporate, and educational. Moreover, boards, commissions and political offices continue to be under represented across the GTA, though the current constituents are representing a very diverse community.

In the political arena, representation in the halls of decision making is still not representative of the makeup of the visible minority population. A recent report titled “The Diversity Gap: Electoral under-representation of visible minorities” points out some facts as it relates to under-representation in municipal government, for example 49 per cent of Mississauga’s residents are visible minorities, yet of the 12 council members that represent the various wards within Mississauga, none are visible minorities. Its neighbour Brampton is not far off - 57 per cent of Brampton’s population is composed of visible minorities (largely from South Asia), yet only one of the councillor is a visible minority. Numbers from other GTA municipalities including Toronto are equally as disconcerting.

At the federal level only 17 per cent of the 47 GTA Members of Parliament are visible minorities, while at the provincial level; only 26 per cent of the 47 GTA Members of Provincial Parliament are visible minorities. The Diversity Gap report finds that while the participation level of visible minorities at federal and provincial levels are better in comparison to the municipal government, they are still under-represented given their make up in the total population.

The cause and solution to this dilemma is complex and requires a broader vision and firm commitment from institutions to recognize the fundamental benefits of inclusion of this demographic. Diversity and inclusion needs to be more than a concept, but a practice embedded in the systemic and sustainable practices of organizations and government. Political parties must revisit their policies and procedures to allow more people from under-represented groups to participate. At a local level, municipalities need to do more to reach out to the diverse communities to promote civic engagement. Overall, diversity and inclusion needs to be more than just an item on a check list.

The responsibility of ‘changing the tide’ cannot solely be left to the broader public, but must also be shouldered by potential leaders from the many under-represented groups.

Community engagement and awareness about the possibility and need for change need to also be brought forward by interested leaders within these groups. The Maytree Foundation and Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance have been at the forefront of creating a change in the face of leadership and helping sectors realize the economic and social value that diverse leadership brings.

In support of this growing change, organizations like Canadian Tamil Congress and Canadian Tamil Youth Development Organization continue to do their part in recognizing and nurturing young leaders, not solely for political representation, but to encourage leadership in all sectors. While its a step in the right direction to address the shortcomings identified in the The Diversity Gap report, increased collaboration and partnerships with likeminded groups is critical in order to create a strong and vibrant GTA where all residents can benefit from the richness of our diversity.

Piragal Thiru is a 2011 DiverseCity Fellow, an initiative of DiverseCity: The Greater Toronto Leadership Project, and a Board of Director with the Canadian Tamil Congress.

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