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visible minorities

Ratna Omidvar at her home in Toronto, September 23, 2010. Ratna Omidvar is President of Maytree, a private foundation that promotes equity and prosperity through its policy insights, grants and programs.Erin Elder/The Globe and Mail

The number of visible minorities in leadership positions across the Greater Toronto Area has grown by only 1 percentage point over the past year, according to a study of ethnic diversity.

Only 14 per cent of the top jobs in the GTA are held by visible minorities, who make up almost 50 per cent of the region's overall population.

And a sector by sector analysis compiled by DiverseCity: The Greater Toronto Leadership Project, shows that some professions are lagging far behind.

Just 4.1 per cent of 963 corporate-sector leaders counted by the study come from visible minority groups, along with just 15.4 per cent of elected officials.

Within the Toronto media, only 4.8 per cent of editors, senior management and board members are visible minorities.

The education sector fared slightly better, with 20 per cent of its leadership roles filled by visible minorities, including Chris Spence, the Toronto District School Board's director of education.

But it's the City of Toronto itself that leads the way when it comes to diversity, with 33 per cent of its appointments to agencies, boards and commissions being visible minority leaders."

Ratna Omidvar, co-chair of DiverseCity, said the city bureaucracy's success in increasing its diversity was the result of a concerted effort to reach out to different populations.

"I think that most organizations and institutions recognize that this is the right way to go," she said. "But they need to be shown the way forward."

The DiverseCity project was formed in 2008 to help public and private organizations find a new generation of leaders that "looks and feels and thinks like the city of Toronto."

A partnership between the charitable organization Maytree and the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, the group has been working to add diversity to the board of directors of many non-profit, government and volunteer agencies, as well as training visible minorities to get involved in politics and communicate their point of view through the media.

Ms. Omidvar said her group has helped place more than 500 people on the boards of non-profit and government agencies.

Its next goal is to tackle corporate boards.

Ms. Omidvar's co-chair, former mayoral candidate John Tory, said that companies should see diversity as a "huge asset" to the city.

"We're not taking full advantage of what we have here," he said. "If you were in the business I used to be in, cable television, would you ever think of wiring up only half the city? I think we're denying ourselves part of the opportunity in this region by not more fully and completely integrating people from diverse backgrounds."

The group's review was released Tuesday, and is based on research compiled by Ryerson University's Diversity Institute.

Their next report will be released in June and will focus on ethnic diversity within the city's legal profession.

Wednesday, the group is co-hosting, along with the Canadian Club, a lunchtime address by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first Muslim mayor of a major Canadian city.