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Catalyst and Ryerson University release new study of more than 17,000 seasoned professionals

Research Reveals Visible Minorities Experience Lower Levels of Career Satisfaction and Workplace Barriers to Advancement, Corporate Canada urged to take action using study's recommendations

Findings from the largest national survey ever conducted about career satisfaction and advancement of visible minorities in corporate Canada show that while visible minorities experience lower levels of career satisfaction than their white/Caucasian colleagues, the opportunity for more inclusive work environments and advancement of visible minority professionals is within the reach of corporate Canada. Given existing links between career satisfaction and productivity, the results are particularly significant, as Canadian businesses cannot afford to under utilize any segment of the talent in today’s globally competitive marketplace.

Career Advancement in Corporate Canada: A Focus on Visible Minorities was undertaken by Catalyst Canada and the Diversity Institute in Management and Technology at Ryerson University and is based on the responses of 17,908 seasoned managers, professionals, and executives from across Canada. With an average tenure of 20 years in the Canadian labour force, responses came from employees at 43 large publicly traded and privately held companies and professional service firms, as well as representatives from 38 Canadian organizations.

While the labour market experiences of unemployed and under-employed immigrants have been well documented, much less is known about the career experiences of longer tenured visible minority professionals, managers, and executives. This is especially true when it comes to those employed in large Canadian businesses – the place where skills and opportunity come together most directly.

By 2017, visible minorities are expected to represent one in five people in Canada’s available workforce. In major cities across the country, the visible minority representation in the labour force will be closer to half. This growth comes in the face of an aging Canadian workforce, the retirement of the boomer generation and a lower birth rate – all pointing to an impending labour shortage.

Report Highlights:

Visible minority managers, professionals, and executives were less satisfied with their careers and were more likely to perceive workplace barriers to advancement than their white/Caucasian colleagues. These barriers included: perceived lack of fairness in career advancement processes, an absence of role models, inequality in performance standards, and fewer high-visibility assignments.

  • Just over half (54 percent) of visible minority respondents reported feeling satisfied with their progress toward meeting career advancement goals compared to more than two thirds (67 percent) of white/Caucasian respondents.
  • Only 38 percent of all visible minority respondents believed their organizations’ talent identification practices were fair as compared to 46 percent of their white/Caucasian colleagues.
  • Forty-seven percent of visible minority managers, professionals and executives reported feeling they were held to a higher standard of performance than their peers within organizations compared to 34 percent of white/Caucasians who felt the same way.
  • More visible minority respondents (69 percent) reported believing that “who you know” is more important than “what you know” as compared to 57 percent of white/Caucasian respondents.

Catalyst’s Executive Director Deborah Gillis said: “While the Canadian workforce is diverse, our workplaces are far from inclusive. Given that a growing proportion of Canada’s labour force will soon consist of visible minorities, creating inclusive work environments will be critical to the competitiveness of Canadian businesses for decades to come.”

There is a gap between what respondents think their companies do and what companies report has been achieved in terms of diversity for their employees.

  • Less than half (48 percent) of visible minority professionals, managers, and executives surveyed felt that senior management demonstrates a commitment to diversity. The majority of employers, on the other hand, report having a stated commitment to diversity and 58 percent of employers report having a diversity council. The CEO chaired more than half of these diversity councils.
  • While 82 percent of employers reported they had formal procedures for communicating advancement opportunities to their employees, significantly more white/Caucasian respondents (75 percent) than visible minority respondents (64 percent) felt they had the same chance of finding out about career advancement opportunities as their colleagues.
  • Levels of career satisfaction were 23 percent higher among visible minority respondents who believed their senior management was committed to the development and advancement of all employees, compared to visible minority respondents who did not.

This research identifies real opportunity for action and change for forward thinking companies: aspects of the workplace that detract from visible minorities’ career satisfaction and advancement are within corporate Canada’s reach.

"Canadian companies face a global war for talent and shortages have reached crisis proportions in some sectors. This one-of-a-kind survey is a call to action and provides concrete recommendations for improvement. Failure to improve the advancement opportunities for our talented and diverse labour force not only threatens corporate performance but Canada’s global competitiveness,” said Wendy Cukier, Associate Dean, Ted Rogers School of Management, and founder of the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University.

Catalyst Canada and the Diversity Institute offer six evidence-based recommendations for organizational change:

  1. Assess the corporate environment. Visible minority respondents confirmed that organization leaders need to better understand their challenges and aspirations.
  2. Make diversity a strategic priority. The importance of visible minorities to the future economic success of Canada cannot be over-emphasized. By elevating diversity to a strategic priority, companies can begin to shift the culture of their organizations.
  3. Encourage top management commitment to diversity. Commitment from the top is essential to any business initiative, including diversity.
  4. Implement career development systems that are formal and transparent. Policies and practices that foster an equitable environment and support employee development are needed to reduce the perceived influence of informal mechanisms on career advancement opportunities.
  5. Develop a robust accountability framework around diversity. Metrics and accountability were the least frequently reported diversity and inclusion practice. Accountability systems require clear and relevant metrics to measure change.
  6. Provide support mechanisms. Support measures include providing mentors and role models, networking opportunities, high profile assignments, and actions that balance sensitivity to other cultures.

"Corporate Canada must step up to the plate to help advance and develop visible minorities in the workplace," said Gordon M. Nixon, President and CEO, RBC, and Chair, RBC Diversity Leadership Council. “The report’s recommendations will help businesses walk the talk and prove that we are not just paying lip service to diversity, but taking tangible, credible steps to make a real difference.”

RBC is the study’s lead sponsor. Deloitte & Touche LLP and IBM Canada are participating sponsors, and the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration is a supporting sponsor.

Alan MacGibbon, Managing Partner and Chief Executive, Deloitte & Touche LLP said: “Fostering an inclusive work environment in which talent and accomplishments determine success is a business imperative. As business leaders we must find a way to ensure that every person is able to succeed and reach their full potential.”

“This research will help frame our strategic initiatives and identify focus areas to advance our visible minority community. We will ensure that we capitalize on the evidence-based recommendations that the study identified," said Anne Berend, VP, Human Resources at IBM Canada.

"Diversity is one of Ontario’s greatest strengths,” said Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Mike Colle. "The Ontario government is working with employers, the professions, and community agencies to help maximize this competitive advantage.”

This report is part of an ongoing study. The second phase, which Catalyst began in May 2007, involves a series of focus groups and interviews with both visible minority and white/Caucasian managers, professionals and executives in order to better understand subtle differences among and between all groups as well as men and women. These findings will be released beginning in late fall 2007.

In February 2007, the Catalyst/Ryerson research team released early findings noting that visible minority managers, professionals, and executives experienced lower rates of career satisfaction than white/Caucasian respondents and that a perceived lack of recognition of foreign educational credentials may have implications for employees’ career satisfaction and their interest in exploring opportunities outside Canada. For a copy of these preliminary findings, please visit or

Visible minorities are individuals who self-identify as being non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour and exclude Aboriginal persons. As visible minority employees are not a homogeneous group, the Catalyst/Ryerson research team gathered data on the following Census Canada classifications: White/Caucasian; Chinese; South Asian; Black; Arab; West Indian; Filipino; Southeast Asian; Latin American; Middle Eastern; Japanese; Korean; multiple visible minority; and other.

Visit or for full findings.
About Catalyst
Catalyst is the leading research and advisory organization working to advance women in business, with offices in New York, San Jose, Zug, Switzerland and Toronto. As an independent, nonprofit membership organization, Catalyst conducts research on all aspects of women's career advancement and provides strategic and web-based consulting services on a global basis to help companies and firms advance women and build inclusive work environments. In addition, we honor exemplary business initiatives that promote women's leadership with the annual Catalyst Award.

About the Diversity Institute in Management and Technology at Ryerson University
The Diversity Institute in Management and Technology is located in the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. The Diversity Institute undertakes diversity research with respect to gender, race/ethnicity, disabilities, and sexual orientation in the workplace. The goal of the Institute is to generate new, interdisciplinary knowledge about diversity in organizations to contribute to the awareness and the promotion of equity in the workplace.