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The lack of diversity in the ranks of Canadian companies extends far beyond specific industries, and remains a problem in the country’s most powerful and influential firms.

The Canadian Press asked all firms included in the TSX 60 index as of Jan 1, 2019, to share data on how many women and employees who identify as visible minorities, as defined in the Employment Equity Act, worked at their companies in 2017.

Among the companies who responded, some said women comprise as little as 8 per cent of the work force, while many others refused to disclose.

What’s more, many of the firms on the TSX 60 won’t say – or aren’t even tracking – how many of their employees identify as visible minorities.

These publicly listed companies are not required by law to disclose such information, but advocates have long called for transparency and for companies to – at minimum – track data and to measure progress, in a bid to facilitate change.

One-quarter, or 15 firms, did not provide or otherwise publicly disclose figures for gender representation.

Nearly 60 per cent, or 35 companies, did not provide or publicly release the representation of visible minorities in their ranks, and more than 23 per cent, or 14 companies, said they were not tracking the metric at all.

Among the 42 companies included on the index that did share specific or percentage data on gender diversity in their work force, 34 indicated that less than 50 per cent of their work force was female – less than the national average.

In two cases, the percentage of women employees was in the single digits.

Paulette Senior, president of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, called the number of companies unwilling to share or track the level of diversity “surprising and disappointing”, because she believes the lack of disclosure suggests many of the companies are not interested in ensuring their work force is reflective of society.

“Transparency is a very brave thing to do … and it takes courage to actually want to know the truth because once you know it, it means that something probably needs to be done about it,” Ms. Senior said.

The Canadian Press analysis showed that banks – which mostly provided Canada-specific data and were at the higher end of the representation spectrum – seem to have made the most concerted efforts toward equality, while mining, engineering and rail companies continued to struggle to attract and retain women.

Susan Lomas, a geologist and founder of the Me Too Mining advocacy group, said she believes the lack of progress in her industry is attributable to its inflexible nature, which requires workers to spend weeks at a time at remote sites and little time at home, making parenting difficult.

“Some women are walking away from those sites and some men too,” Ms. Lomas said.

Women accounted for 50.9 per cent of the Canadian population, but comprised 48 per cent of the country’s work force in the 2016 census. That’s an increase from 45 per cent in 1991, but the gulf between industries is wide.

Among the companies that provided information to The Canadian Press, the firm with the lowest female representation was Canadian National Railway Co., at 8.6 per cent. In the broader transportation and warehousing industry in Canada, roughly 24.5 per cent of all workers are female, according to 2018 Statistics Canada data.

A CN rail spokesman said that in 2018, 17 per cent of its work force in Canada were visible minorities, persons with disabilities or Indigenous. The Montreal-headquartered transportation company says that five out of 12 of its board members are women, and it is a signatory to the Catalyst Accord and a member of the 30% Club, both of which have a mandate to increase female board representation.

Linda Hasenfratz, chief executive of Canadian auto-parts maker Linamar, said some industries and roles are less attractive because of the physical nature of the job, and reaching parity in the ranks would be difficult.

Ms. Hasenfratz, one of the few female CEOs of a TSX-listed company, said women make up roughly 20 per cent of the Guelph-based company’s work force, but the proportion among management and the upper ranks is larger.

However, she expects the work-force representation of women to grow as companies incorporate automation and roles become less physically demanding.

“Businesses will evolve and this will naturally change, as there is more automation taking on some of these more physical roles … I think you’ll find 10 years from now, it will be dramatically different,” she said in an interview.

Among the companies who disclosed their diversity data, National Bank of Canada had the highest proportion of women at 60.7 per cent of their Canadian work force.

In the upper executive ranks of Canada’s companies, however, the imbalance remains stark.

An analysis by The Canadian Press last year revealed that none of the country’s TSX 60 companies were headed by a woman and two-thirds did not include a single female among their top earners during that fiscal year.

The needle is moving even slower for other under-represented groups, such as visible minorities.

Canada’s Employment Equity Act defines visible minorities as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.”

More than one-fifth of Canadians are visible minorities, at roughly 7.7 million people or 22.3 per cent of the country’s population in the 2016 census. That’s almost a five-fold increase from 1981, when visible minorities made up 4.7 per cent of the population.

However, the labour-force participation rate among visible minorities is 66.5 per cent. Visible-minority women had a participation rate of 61.9 per cent, while the rate for men was 71.5 per cent.

Measuring diversity is crucial for making progress, said Mona Malone, the Bank of Montreal’s chief human resources officer.

“I believe very much what gets measured gets done, but also what gets measured gets focused on and you can build understanding, towards either progress or barrier,” she said.

The bank, whose work force in Canada consists of 56 per cent women, tracks various representation metrics that are reviewed against their goals on a quarterly basis.

“The actual business leaders are held accountable for progress around diversity representation, the same way they are held accountable for their P and L [profit and loss] business results,” Ms. Malone said.

The sluggish progress on diversity metrics suggests a stronger government approach may be necessary, independent Ontario senator Ratna Omidvar said.

She was one of six members that backed a proposed bill amendment that would force public companies in Canada to set internal company diversity targets for the board and senior management.

The Senate voted against the amendment last March.

Ms. Omidvar said the amendment’s failure stemmed from a broader feeling in the business community that firms, if left to flourish without regulation but given guidance, will improve on these metrics and “a tide will lift all boats.”

“Well, it hasn’t exactly happened has it? … So I would say, that does not work.”

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