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A Potential Brain Gain for Canadian Business

New Catalyst study finds visible minorities key, but lack of critical relationships limits advancement, especially for visible minority women

Visible minorities in some of Canada’s biggest organizations feel excluded from relationships that are critical for career advancement, according to the latest Catalyst study, “Career Advancement in Corporate Canada: A Focus on Visible Minorities ~ Critical Relationships.”

“Our study confirms that corporate Canada is not maximizing the potential “brain gain” offered by skilled immigrants, most of whom are visible minorities,” says Deborah Gillis, Vice President, Canada, Catalyst. “We know that having a network, mentor and champion are critical for career advancement. Unfortunately, visible minorities, especially women, feel excluded from the kind of relationships that help individuals – and ultimately the businesses they work for – succeed.

Catalyst, the leading research organization advancing women and business, and the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University recently released Career Advancement in Corporate Canada: A Focus on Visible Minorities ~ Survey Findings, their landmark study which presented findings from over 17,000 managers, professionals and executives working in many of Canada’s largest businesses. In this second study in its visible minority series, Catalyst looks specifically at understanding career advancement challenges faced by visible minorities and offers recommendations to businesses who want to capitalize on potentially unrecognized talent from visible minority employees.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Visible minorities, especially women, feel excluded from informal networking opportunities.
  • A lack of multiple mentors who share gender, visible minority status and/or who are influential but demographically different, is a career advancement barrier for visible minorities.
  • Visible minority women and men described mentoring relationships in different terms.
  • As with other groups, visible minority men and women believe that having a champion is particularly important, yet visible minorities lack access to the critical relationships that are necessary to finding champions.
  • Self-promotion is often necessary to get a champion on one’s side, yet visible minorities, especially women, are uncomfortable with self-promotion.

“The results of the Catalyst study, particularly the responses of visible minority women, are a call to action for any business looking to achieve more with its most important resource – its people,” says Zabeen Hirji, Chief Human Resources Officer at RBC, the lead sponsor of the study. “With predictions of talent shortages, the business case can no longer be denied. At RBC as we move ahead in our diversity journey, we are creating inclusive opportunities for people to connect with the mentors and networks that will help them succeed. We believe if you want to serve the market, you have to hire the market.”

The study points strongly to the importance of informal networking, which builds trust and information sharing. As this networking often revolves around social activities such as playing and/or watching sports, visible minority women feel particularly uncomfortable in this environment and it is more difficult for them to find mentors and/or champions. Excluded from such gender-biased activities, many visible minorities believe that they are not offered the same opportunities at promotions, access to relationships with clients or social support. This feeling is acute amongst visible minority women.

According to Alan McGibbon, Managing Partner and Chief Executive, Deloitte & Touche LLP, “The findings in this report point to the clear challenge Canadian businesses have to build more inclusive environments where all employees can succeed.”

To improve the situation Catalyst recommends that organizations:

  • Think critically about where informal networking takes place and how this may exclude certain people.
  • Provide formal and targeted networking opportunities for visible minorities.
  • Formalize mentoring programs and encourage and train strategic mentoring behaviour.
  • Ensure the availability of a diverse pool of mentors and encourage diversified mentoring relationships.
  • Base career advancement decisions on formal performance evaluations that are consistent for all employees.
  • Provide employees with the necessary resources to communicate their achievements and engage champions.

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


Charmain Emerson
Building Blocks Communications
Office: 416-588-8514
Mobile: 416-857-9401
[email protected]

About Catalyst
Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit corporate membership research and advisory organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in New York, San Jose, Toronto, and Zug, and the support and confidence of more than 340 leading corporations, firms, business schools, and associations, Catalyst is connected to business and its changing needs and is the premier resource for information and data about women in the workplace. In addition, Catalyst honors exemplary business initiatives that promote women’s leadership with the annual Catalyst Award.