By Maham Shakeel
For a city that prides itself on the motto “Diversity is our Strength,” Toronto has a lot of weaknesses.
Issues, including the underrepresentation of minorities in multiple sectors and their lack of valuable social networking opportunities or social capital, were brought to the table by Ryerson’s Diversity Institute in a panel discussion on the night of Jan. 21 at City Hall.
Wendy Cukier, vice president of research and innovation at Ryerson University, presented the 2014 DiversityLeads study which looks at six sectors (elected; public; corporate; voluntary; education and government agencies, boards and committes) and the representation of women and visible minorities within each.
Joining her were panelists Michael Adams, president of Environics Institute for Survey Research, and Nation Cheong, director of Youth Initiatives for United Way of Toronto.
The research conducted by the Diversity Institute initiated a six-city roundtable series focusing on issues in race relations and multiculturalism across Canada.
Key reforms suggested by the panelists include the need to embed critical thinking skills that allow young people to understand cultural biases and analyze cultural bias at a very early age.
The panel also suggested policy that would encourage baby boomers to volunteer their time and support to students who lack social capital while also holding institutions accountable by focusing on how marginalized groups are represented.
The study found that in Toronto, where approximately half of the population is made up of racialized minorities and approximately half are women, marginalized groups are underrepresented in every single sector. Racialized minorities are the most underrepresented.
Both groups were least of all represented within the corporate sector. Cukier said that while some organizations have almost 40 per cent of their board slots devoted to women, over 30 per cent of them have zero.
Intersecting categories like race, gender and social-economic class are crucial in understanding the most vulnerable, Cheong explained.
“If you intersect gender and racialization what you will see is that, even though in this city, for every white woman there is a racialized woman, white women outnumber racialized women in leadership roles almost six to one,” said Cukier.
Cukier noted on the Toronto Star’s top scholar list from the Toronto District School Board almost every student was a racialized minority or immigrant.
‘Yet, I can’t seem to see the same diversity in our offices,” she observed.
The city’s diversity in leadership is lagging, said Adams, who noted the recent Toronto mayoral elections and racism targeted towards candidate Olivia Chow.
“We have half visible minority but city council looks more like the legion hall up in my hometown than it does on the subway or in a classroom at Ryerson,” Adams said.
While Canada has one of the highest rates of social mobility in the world, the panel agreed that being compared to everyone else is not the standard they have in mind.
The Organization of Economic and Cooperation Development (OECD) publishes the Program of International Student Assessment every three years and studies how students perform. It found that first and second generation Canadian students outperform those who have been here three generations, said Adams.
However, immigrant parents are not doing as well.
“We’re bringing in people now who are better educated than previous waves of immigrants but these better educated individuals are not getting jobs at the level their qualifications suggest they should get.”
This affects social mobility directly. Cukier compared a student growing up with a parent who’s a taxi driver and new to Canada as having less of a chance of understanding how to get into law school than her children who she says can easily have access to letters of recommendation from former justices.
Despite all the issues within diversity, opportunity for minority communities and hindrances in social capital, Toronto still substantially outperforms the rest of the world when it comes to social civic engagement. Canada leads the world in the proportion of immigrants who become citizens with about 80 to 90 per cent. That’s double the next country, Australia, which is 35 per cent.
“We’re doing okay comparatively,” said Cukier, “but that doesn’t mean we’re not capable of doing better.”