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Allison Mitchell, a corporate recruiting specialist with Dalsa, a Canadian imaging specialty company, with three recent hires - all new Canadians: Feng Hua Feng, front, Yun Lin, back right, and Sukhbir Singh Kullar, back left.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

A majority of Canadians see diversity as positive. Immigrants are part of the Canadian brand, and a vital way to strengthen the economy.

If Canadians want this approach to remain successful, they must be prepared to share the corridors of power with newly-minted citizens, many of whom hail from China, Sri Lanka, India and the Philippines. Even in Toronto, Canada's most diverse city, this has not happened.

Nearly half the population is non-white, yet only 14 per cent of leaders from the corporate, public, elected, education and non-profit sectors in the Greater Toronto Area are non-white, according to a new study by Ryerson University's Diversity Institute. Those numbers are highest at agencies, boards and commissions (22 per cent), and lowest in the corporate sector and on the boards of media organizations (4.8 per cent). Visible minorities comprise 15. 4 per cent of elected officials.

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The report, which looked at 3,348 leaders, is a black eye for Canada. If the initiative and talent of newcomers, most of whom are better educated than native-born Canadians, are not rewarded, then they are robbed - and Canada is, too. The report quantifies this lack of inclusiveness at senior levels. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that unemployment and underemployment of immigrants cost the economy between $3.4-billion and $5-billion a year. There are missed opportunities in investment, global markets and leadership.

Diversity in leadership leads to greater prosperity. It can strengthen social cohesion, innovation, creativity and productivity. A study conducted by Rutgers University and Iowa State University has found that ethnic and gender diversity on boards of directors at 112 U.S. companies tracked between 1993 and 1998 helped improve performance, as measured by return on assets and investment. Why? Diverse leaders engage in "constructive conflict," and help companies take risks.

The board appointment bias may be unintentional; white, male leaders may subconsciously favour younger versions of themselves. But if businesses are serious about embracing diversity, they must make specific efforts to recruit and promote visible minorities into positions of power and leadership.

An important first step is tracking visible minority representation. Canada's financial sector has been filing annual reports under federal Employment Equity Act legislation for nearly 25 years. This process has helped banks change dramatically, the report notes. Some financial institutions have tripled their representation of visible minorities in senior roles in less than a decade.

Those are impressive results. There is no reason to think that other sectors cannot achieve the same. But first they must make diversity a strategic goal that is viewed as integral to the success of an organization.

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