StatsCan board diversity survey reveals long road ahead

The latest figures from a recent crowdsourcing survey done by Statistics Canada indicate that Canadian non-profits have a long way to go to ensure diversity on their boards – including even having a written policy on board diversity.

StatsCan underlines that crowdsourcing data is not the same as probability-based sampling, and that “no inferences about the overall makeup of charitable and non-profit boards” should be based on the results from its recent survey, which solicited 8,856 responses.

That said, the results are an eye-opening reminder of either one of two things: that the sector needs to get much more serious about this issue; or that a StatsCan call to respond to a survey on board diversity is most likely to be answered by white, heterosexual, non-disabled second-generation Canadians.

Stats Canada looked at six populations to gauge level of diversity among survey respondents: Female; people with disabilities; Indigenous; visible minority; immigrant; and LGBTQ2+.

Canadian boards appear to have diversified well in terms of the first category, with females making up 60 per cent of the survey participants who were also board directors. Females comprised the largest share of responding board members across most charities and NPOs, regardless of populations served. Social service organizations ranked at the top in this category, at 67 per cent female.

Numbers were far lower in all other categories. Just three per cent of respondents were Indigenous. Six per cent reported having a disability, and nine per cent were LGBTQ2+. Twelve per cent were from visible minorities, and 14 per cent were immigrants.

Organizations with a written policy on diversity were more likely to have respondents who identified as being members of one of these six population groups. However, almost a quarter of respondents didn’t even know if their organization had such a policy, and just 30 per cent reported having a policy in place.

Respondents from international organizations were much more likely to identify as immigrants, at 27 per cent. Respondents who were LGBTQ2+ or Indigenous were more likely to be with organizations whose missions involved law, advocacy or politics (14 per cent).

Not surprisingly, organizations that were specifically in aid of a cause relevant to one of the six populations were most likely to have a board member who shared that background – for instance, an organization that serves people with disabilities was more likely to have board members responding who had a disability themselves. But even then, the difference was only an extra percentage point or two.

Seventy per cent of those responding to the survey – conducted December 2020 through January 2021 – were themselves board directors. Three-quarters of respondents were involved with non-profits that operated at a local or regional level, with the remaining 25 per cent working at the provincial, national or international level.

Among those who were board directors, 23 per cent were on boards of social service organizations.