Board Diversity

February 18, 2021

Joint statement by:
The Circle, Network For The Advancement Of Black Communities (NABC), Imagine Canada, Ontario Nonprofit Network, YMCA Canada, and Cooperation Canada

Over the course of 2020, in response to instances of police brutality and the stark inequalities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, a movement for racial justice gained momentum and created a national conversation about racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion. This conversation put a spotlight on diversity, or lack thereof, on boards of directors in the non-profit sector. Sector leaders, notably Senator Ratna Omidvar, have highlighted how far we have to go to improve diversity and inclusion on boards so that our governance is more representative of the communities we serve. Thanks to their tireless advocacy, Statistics Canada recently released the results of a crowdsourced survey that aimed, for the first time, to measure diversity on boards in the sector.

The survey was carried out by Statistics Canada between December 4, 2020 and January 18, 2021. It was done through crowdsourcing, rather than by surveying a representative sample of individuals or organizations. A total of 8,835 individuals completed the survey, 6,170 of whom were board members. The survey asked respondents about their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, immigration status, and disability.

There is a lack of diversity on non-profit boards

Because the survey did not employ a representative sample, it is impossible to make definitive statements about the representation of diverse populations on charitable and non-profit boards. However, the fact that the percentages of board members from diverse populations are consistently lower than in the Canadian population suggests board composition is less diverse than the Canadian population. Given the crowdsourcing methodology, the survey findings may even overstate the role of diverse populations on boards. Additional data collection is required to obtain a more definitive and accurate picture of the current state of diversity on non-profit and charitable boards of directors.

Organizations serve a very diverse range of populations

One clear finding was that, across the country, organizations reported serving diverse populations (72% of participants are from organizations that serve at least two groups while 64% were from organizations that serve at least three). 

Intentionality around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work matters and requires resources

Almost a third of respondents (30%) are from organizations with a policy on the diversity of their directors. These organizations are more likely to have more diverse board members, suggesting that intentionality around diversity, equity, and inclusion matters. There is some association between serving diverse populations and having a more diverse board; however, the lack of a strong correlation highlights that many organizations do not have boards that are representative of the communities they aim to serve. 

Organizations operating at a national scale are more likely to have a written policy on diversity, even though they are somewhat less likely to serve diverse populations. This suggests resources matter, as national organizations tend to be larger and better resourced. Interestingly, almost a quarter of respondents (23%) did not know if their organization had a written policy on diversity, indicating more needs to be done to raise the profile of diversity, equity, and inclusion on many boards.

What’s at stake

Boards of directors play a crucial role in governance, strategic planning, and decision-making in charities and non-profits. They influence if, when, and how organizations address systemic racism. Charities and non-profits often serve equity-seeking communities. Including the perspectives, knowledge, and experience of those communities is essential to ensure that organizations are inclusive and accountable.

Call to action to the federal government

Although this survey is an important first step in collecting data on diversity in the non-profit sector, the crowdsourcing methodology has significant limitations. We call upon the Federal Government to implement recommendation #8 of the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector’s first report: “That the Government of Canada, through the Canada Revenue Agency, include questions on both the T3010 (for registered charities) and the T1044 (for federally incorporated not-for-profit corporations) on diversity representation on boards of directors based on existing Employment Equity guidelines.” 

Call to action to the non-profit sector

The time has come to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion as necessary to achieving our missions and to creating a stronger and healthier sector. The release of this data is an important opportunity for us to look critically at who is at the table and who has decision-making power in our organizations. It provides a useful benchmark against which we can measure our progress and it is a powerful tool to hold us accountable to the communities we seek to serve. Working to increase DEI on boards opens up a rich opportunity to improve governance and create a meaningful place for members of equity-seeking groups to inform the sector’s work with their perspectives, lived experiences, and guidance. 

We invite members of the sector to ask themselves the following questions. Does our board of directors represent the communities we serve? What is our plan for shifting power and privilege? What concrete actions are we taking to do better, and how are we measuring our progress? Are we going beyond tokenistic inclusion to ensure that members of equity-seeking groups have a voice and decision-making power? Are we investing in creating a more diverse board? How are we building a culture of equity and inclusion in our organization?