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Bharat Masrani, president and chief executive officer of Toronto-Dominion Bank, speaks in Toronto in March, 2018.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Diversity experts are urging Canada’s most prominent financial institutions to build on commitments to combat systemic racism by developing more detailed staffing targets that would help ensure the most marginalized employees don’t get left behind.

Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Manulife Financial Corp. and Sun Life Financial Inc. have all raised their targets to boost representation of employees who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour (collectively known as BIPOC) in leadership and executive roles.

Bank of Montreal has pledged to set specific five-year goals by this fall to close representation gaps. And Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is setting a new target to put Black leaders in 4 per cent of board-approved executive roles by 2023, according to a spokesperson.

Companies have responded to pressure from a growing movement to protest against systemic racism and bias, and experts endorsed the financial sector’s pledges as the right first steps. In addition to setting staffing targets, banks and insurers have also promised to provide more detailed annual reporting on their progress, to recruit more BIPOC youth into internship and mentoring programs, and to strengthen anti-bias and diversity training for staff, among other measures.

“Over all, it’s definitely a lot more progressive than anything we’ve seen in the past,” said Meryl Afrika, president of the Canadian Association of Urban Finance Professionals, in an interview. “We love to see this momentum.”

But to deliver on promises to make Canada’s financial sector more inclusive, Ms. Afrika said executives should create more specific targets to raise representation for Black and Indigenous employees, who are among the most underrepresented groups in finance, with deliberate plans to help them reach the most senior executive levels.

Last Wednesday, TD committed to increase minority executive representation across the bank by 50 per cent by 2025, having previously promised to double its share of Black executives by 2022. If TD meets its targets, visible minority staff would make up more than 25 per cent of the bank’s leaders, according to a memo from chief executive Bharat Masrani. RBC has promised to raise its hiring and promotion target for executive roles to at least 30-per-cent BIPOC employees.

Though the targets refer to all people of colour, both commitments include a particular focus on Black and Indigenous talent, according to the banks. “But what does that mean?” Ms. Afrika said. “[We need] more clarity on that – what’s that specific number? – so that you can hold yourself accountable as you’re going to be reporting this year over year.”

On Friday, Sun Life set a goal to have 25 per cent of its senior leaders come from underrepresented minorities, “with specific representation objectives for Black, Indigenous and people of colour where we are particularly lagging,” according to a press release.

Companies also need to take steps to ensure that women of colour have an equal chance to advance under the new initiatives, as men often still fare better, and benefits from programs to promote gender equality have “gone mainly to white women,” said Camilla Sutton, president and CEO of Women in Capital Markets.

Bank CEOs, including CIBC’s Victor Dodig and Bank of Nova Scotia’s Brian Porter, have joined the BlackNorth Initiative, launched by a council of business leaders to fight anti-Black systemic racism. The initiative, which is playing host to a summit on Monday, created a CEO pledge that commits companies to fill at least 3.5 per cent of executive and board roles in Canada with Black leaders by 2025.

Inconsistent data and reporting are still a barrier to setting detailed and achievable goals for some companies that do business in multiple jurisdictions with varying rules about tracking race and ethnicity. Manulife announced a commitment to increase BIPOC representation by 30 per cent in roles from the director level and above by 2025 in Canada and the United States, but the company is still gathering the data it needs to measure its minority representation.

Each bank defines its executive targets and the levels of seniority they encompass differently. Yet Ms. Afrika and Ms. Sutton both stressed the need to create clear pathways for Black and Indigenous employees to reach the most senior executive roles.

“We don’t want them to get [Black employees to vice-president and senior vice-president jobs] and then just keep them there,” Ms. Afrika said. “Because it’s always been a problem that there’s that glass ceiling.”

Ms. Sutton also cautioned corporate leaders against thinking the lack of diversity in executive ranks stems from a shortage of talent in their career development pipelines.

“There are a tremendous number of very qualified and very talented Black people in finance, and if you’re not finding them, it’s because you’re not looking in the right places, or you’re not assessing them on the same scale,” she said.

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