Diversity is a competitive advantage in the global economy. Canada, with more than 200 ethnic groups speaking more than 100 different languages every day, is considered an inspiration for the rest of the world. But we cannot rest on our laurels.

Just two weeks ago, former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry and former MPP Alvin Curling released a report on the roots of violence concluding that racism is alive and well. Systemic barriers and the absence of role models can crush the hopes and aspirations of young people. Their use of the “r” word was deliberate. It makes us bristle, but gets our attention.

Systemic barriers facing visible minorities are not just a problem in “those” neighbourhoods. They affect our governments, our universities, and our corporate boardrooms.

The business case for diversity is compelling. In spite of the economic downturn, our aging population and declining birthrate mean that by 2011 all work force growth in Canada will come throu­gh immigration. Attracting and retaining immigrants is essential to corporate success. And research shows diversity is good for business — matching the workforce to the communities served helps win the hearts and wallets of consumers.

In 2006, visible minorities were more than 40 per cent of the residents of Toronto and Vancouver; 22.2 per cent of Calgarians and over 16 per cent of residents in Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton. But visible minorities, and women, are vastly under-represented in leadership roles. Legislatu­res, city halls, universities and images of wealth and power dominating the media are dominated by white males.

Many of the barriers to advancement stem from thoughtlessness rather than intention. Most jobs, for example, are never advertised. Employers rely on word of mouth and personal networks. Exclusion from these “informal networks,” is a huge barrier.

Dr. Margaret Yap, from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, co-authored a survey of middle managers in large Canadian corporations and found that visible minorities (and wom­en) are more likely to belie­ve they are held to hig­her standards of perfor­ma­nce and have less mentoring than their white colleagues.

Images of leaders offer role models. They shape goals, expectations and performance. We must watch the gap between our aspirations for a just society and the reality. But clearly the glass is half full. In a short time, Barack Obama has offered a transformative image of leadership, success and power. And we can only hope that more will follow.

Latest From ...