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Christopher Dewdney, principal and certified financial planner at Dewdney & Co. in Toronto, says that Black advisors interested in joining boards should use their professional and personal interests as a way to connect with like-minded people.

Adriano Valentini/The Globe and Mail

While women have made strides in increasing their representation on company boards of directors in Canada in recent years, it’s a different story for people of colour, notably Blacks.

According to a report the Diversity Insitute at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management published in August, 2020, Black executives are “deeply underrepresented” on boards and vastly outnumbered by other racialized groups.

Although there are no statistics on the number of financial advisors who serve on boards, the representation among Black advisors is minimal, says Michael Collymore, a certified financial planner (CFP) at IPC Investment Corp. in Ajax, Ont.

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“The world is changing. The more diversification you have, the better, if companies want to evolve and market beyond one segment of the population,” he says, adding that he is not currently on a board, but has served on one for a celebrity golf tournament as well as for a local community college.

The lack of diversity doesn’t surprise Jackie Porter, a CFP at Carte Wealth Management Inc. in Mississauga.

“These opportunities have always been about who you know, what you know, and who is willing to expose you to their networks,” she says. “How else would you find out about these positions?”

For Christopher Dewdney, principal and CFP at Dewdney & Co. in Toronto, lack of Black representation on boards comes down to a combination of factors related to systemic racism – from not knowing about the available opportunities to not bothering to apply “due to a fear of not being accepted or fitting in because no one looks like you.”

He believes the number of Blacks on boards should be reflective of the area’s population. For example, in the Greater Toronto Area, Blacks hold 3.6 per cent of all board positions but make up 7.5 per cent of the population, according to data from the Diversity Institute’s report.

“The argument that there aren’t enough qualified [Blacks] to be there doesn’t jibe with me,” Mr. Dewdney says. “As a society, we need to be better. We need representation at the table to see a fundamental and lasting change.”

Ms. Porter would like to see companies find ways to expand beyond their usual networks and make a more sincere effort to reach different groups of people. She points to the Black Opportunity Fund, a national coalition of Black executives and leaders of which she is a founding supporter, as a place to start.

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For Black advisors interested in joining boards, Mr. Dewdney recommends they use their professional and personal interests as a way to connect with like-minded people. Soon after becoming an advisor, he became involved with the Toronto chapter of Advocis, the Financial Advisors Association of Canada.

A few years later, he also applied, interviewed, and was accepted to be part of a young leadership council board at the Toronto Symphony, eventually becoming the junior treasurer. A lover of the arts and classical music, Mr. Dewdney believed it was a natural extension.

And about a decade ago, he learned about another board opportunity at a local hospital board through a centre of influence. They happened to be working on a client case together and, over lunch, after sharing more details of their work backgrounds and community involvement, the board vacancy came up. The centre of influence helped to set a formal interview and Mr. Dewdney landed the position and is still on the board.

“My mother is a nurse and I just thought it was a great opportunity to give more back to the community,” he says.

Mr. Collymore recommends speaking to colleagues to find out about their own community involvement and if there’s an opportunity to join.

“A lot of people are willing to help, but may not even know that you are interested in joining boards because it was never discussed,” he says. (Mr. Collymore was able to leverage more alliances thanks to his years spent playing football in the Canadian Football League.)

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Ms. Porter is currently an executive board member of Trust 15, a non-profit organization. She says people of colour need to become more comfortable advocating for themselves and taking credit when they do great work. She notes that advisors bring a lot of great skills to boards, including risk management planning and helping to identify cash-flow challenges an organization may face in the future.

“Volunteering on a board is a good way to get some experience and make new connections,” she says. “You never know how those connections are going to flourish into your next great career opportunity. Advisors bring a fresh perspective to the table.”

And board experience stays valuable even when you leave. Mr. Collymore has kept all his notes from various boards in a big binder. He says remembering the processes will come in handy when he starts his own initiative one day.

“I was able to see the inner workings of how people operate, how to delegate, what people specialize in certain areas, and what they could bring to the table,” he says.

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