Investigation of Women & Diversity in Executive and Community Leadership

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This 2017 report is the second installment of the Women & Diversity EXCLerator Project, the first comprehensive investigation into diverse leadership representation in Hamilton and Halton. The report analyzes findings against an initial 2014 benchmark data, allowing the evaluation of progress and the ability to identify setbacks in women’s leadership trajectories across nine employment sectors.

The 2017 EXCLerator project expands the scope in two key ways. First, this edition quantifies the racial diversity of Hamilton and Halton’s top leadership. Second, it adds a ‘youth sector’ to gain insight into the diversity of the regions’ youngest leaders. These additions are critical to understanding the differing experiences of ‘diverse’ leaders beyond the gender facet, and as well as assessing the state of the leadership pipeline and activism in the struggle for gender and racial equity.

Why focus on diversity in local leadership?

Diversity in leadership is an issue of intrinsic fairness, with benefits that are widespread. First, there is symbolic significance when leaders reflect the complex diversity of their communities, which can help to erode stereotypes, open minds, and energize those who have been historically marginalized. Second, diversity in leadership fosters community trust in local institutions and organizations, while also enhancing service delivery. Institutions and organizations with diversity in leadership, especially those working for the community’s wellbeing, are more responsive and better equipped to serve their communities’ diverse needs. Third, diversity in leadership remains instrumental in enhancing democratic decision making by expanding the range of voices included in debate and decision-making positions, ultimately leading to more creative and innovative solutions.

Three reasons why we need diversity in local leadership:

  1. Drive innovation and equitable growth: ‘Diverse’ leaders are Hamilton and Halton’s top talent. Women represent more than 50% of the population and as of 2016 racialized people represent 19.0% and 25.3%, respectively; their education, skill, and experiences are needed to move our region forward
  2. Build community trust in local institutions, and better engage those institutions to serve diverse needs
  3. Produce better democratic outcomes and better business and decision-making results for firms and institutions.

What we have learned from the investigation

  • Women and racial minorities are slightly better represented in leadership positions in Halton, compared to Hamilton
  • Despite some progress, women remain underrepresented in leadership across virtually all employment sectors in our two municipalities
  • Women are best represented in the Voluntary sector, and the least represented in the Corporate sector
  • Local leadership is severely lacking in racial diversity
  • Visible minorities fare particularly poorly in the Legal, Public, and Health sectors, and perform best in the Voluntary and Education sectors
  • Important sub-sector differences in representation are worth noting; for example, while overall representation of visible minorities in the elected sector is low at 5.3%, visible minorities make up 11.1% of federal and provincial elected positions
  • Many organizations, firms, and employers do not collect and release information on the racial diversity of their employees and leaders. This signals a lack of commitment to addressing structural barriers and obscures the ability of researchers to capture the state of whiteness in local leadership.

How should we move forward?

  • Acknowledge that seen and unseen racial bias and gender-based discrimination exist in Hamilton and Halton, and that these forces impact who has the opportunity to lead across sectors
  • Measure and track transparently: Organizations must set targets and analyze their progress openly in order to achieve change: at the least, a photographic snapshot of who holds top positions within the organization is needed to ensure accountability
  • Learn from top performers: Several sectors including Voluntary, Public, and Youth are achieving excellent representation with regards to gender. Replicating their recruitment and retention practices can help other sectors meet their targets
  • Diversify to attract top youth talent: Parity in gender and racial representation sets the tone for what this generation expects from their employers, local businesses, and service providers. Organizations must make diversity and inclusion a clear part of their organizational recruitment strategy to signal their commitment and attract this generation’s top leadership talent
  • Understand and communicate the business case for diversity: Top performers know that diverse leadership drives better decision making and business outcomes. Senior leaders must communicate this proven research throughout the value chain to start the conversation around diversity and inclusion
  • Ally with Hamilton and Halton’s “Community Assets” to diversify and make inclusion a long-term strategy: Our region is packed with community organizations that are making waves, sharing best practices, and providing resources to help top organizations connect to top talent.

Key Findings

Investigation of Women & Diversity in Executive and Community Leadership


Read the full report.


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