Bringing together employers and racialized leaders

Matching program looks to empower leaders from diverse groups

Bringing together employers and racialized leaders

In these challenging times, diversity in the leadership ranks of public employers is of great importance.

And while the percentage of racialized people in Toronto is over 50 per cent, only about 15 per cent of board positions are held by Indigenous, Black or racialized individuals, according to Leslie Woo, CivicAction CEO, in talking with Canadian HR Reporter.

And Black leaders hold just one per cent of senior executive boards.

Why? Recruitment for board positions often doesn’t go past the established corporate circle, she says.

“Seventy-five per cent of board recruitment comes from existing director referrals. So directors reach into their own networks, which oftentimes don't extend into communities; there’s just a barrier.”

Giving aspiring racialized leaders an avenue to reach out to these posts may help, she says.

To that end, CivicAction has launched BoardShift, which prepares and matches racialized rising talent with nonprofit, charitable and public board opportunities. Launched in October 2022, BoardShift also provides tools and resources to support boards in adopting inclusive governance practices to equip them with the knowledge they need to welcome, amplify and empower leaders from diverse groups.

“Oftentimes, those rising leaders, they don't even know how to have the conversation. And the reason is they have grown up or [they] are in an environment where they don't have neighbours who are executives. Or their parents don't have exposure,” says Woo.

“The thirst to be connected to the leadership in the city, in this region, is quite large. But the barrier is often that they don't know where to go,” she says.  “No one will say, ‘Let me organize a meeting for you to meet the CEO of McCain Foods.’ If you have parents who are already well-networked, it's not an issue.”

When it comes to the top challenge for DEI initiatives, business leaders who “fail to take ownership for driving DEI outcomes” comes out on top, according to a previous report.

Pipeline of candidates

Under Boardshift, people who identify as a rising leader have access to training modules that will introduce them to the basics of governance, the fundamentals of the financial responsibilities of a board and the board dynamics.

The program is also open to those who are in their mid-career, says Woo.

“It's always beneficial to have experience of this kind in terms of being able to take on greater and greater responsibilities and leadership when you can demonstrate that you have experience in this space.”

Once rising leaders complete the training, they will be put in the pipeline of potential candidates. Then, employers who are recruiting for committees and boards can tap into this wealth of talent through matching.

When HR is looking at succession planning, career developments and promotions, they can push the business to make sure that they're considering a diverse slate of people, says another expert.

Transferable skills

BoardShift can help organizations thrive through changing times, says Woo.

“What it builds within an organization at the decision-making table is, in many respects, the ability to be more resilient and adaptable. [It helps] when you have voices that may be blind spots for an organization, points of view in your decision-making that you didn't think through because you didn't take a full 360-degree view of it. And it's more and more important every day to be anticipating in these uncertain times.”

Employers also have access to leaders who have been prepared for executive roles.

“For individuals, [there are] new skills to be learned. There's the opportunity for those skills to be directly transferable to their portfolio of leadership skills when they are being considered for career advancement or recruitments for any job opportunities,” says Woo.

“They also then join a community of like-minded folks from different sectors in different industries. And because we connect folks, we connect them so they can share experiences.”

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