CPAC Institute study reveals severe underrepresentation of Chinese Canadian leadership across all sectors

TORONTO – October 18, 2021 – A new study by the CPAC Institute highlights the underrepresentation of Chinese Canadians in senior leadership positions across eight major sectors. The study is the first to provide empirical data about Chinese Canadian representation in the most senior ranks of the largest organizations in the Greater Toronto Area and raises further concerns about the barriers that have kept this underrepresented group from accessing senior leadership positions.

The eight sectors examined include public service, judicial, corporate, core health care, education, charitable, elected office, and agencies, boards, and commissions. Data was collected from 25 municipalities in the GTA. The lack of existing data in many sectors underscores the importance of this study and addressing the underrepresentation of racialized Canadians in senior leadership positions.

Data collected shows that, while 11.1 percent of the GTA population is of Chinese descent, only 2.17 percent of Tier 1 leaders (primarily C-suite executives and board directors) are of Chinese descent. Further, there is zero representation at the senior executive level in all the big accounting and law firms, or among the Directors or Associate Directors of Education in all 10 public and Catholic school boards.

Across sectors, Chinese Canadians hold the highest percentage representation in elected office at 4.95 percent, and lowest in the judicial sector, with 0.74 percent representation.

Where Tier 2 leadership positions (often directly reporting to Tier 1) are concerned, there is only 1.90 percent representation of Chinese Canadians in the three sectors where data is available (public service, judicial, and higher education).

The study revealed three key barriers to senior leadership positions that Chinese Canadians face. The first is the existence of racial and gender biases, stereotypes, and discrimination in the workplace – sometimes as a result of unconscious bias. These implicit and explicit biases and discrimination are found to be at both the individual and systemic levels.

Another major barrier identified by the study is the masculinized and westernized leadership stereotype to which many Chinese Canadians struggle to conform. They are considered not assertive or aggressive enough, but ironically, often face a backlash for failing to meet the expected stereotype of a quiet, submissive “model minority” if they do assert themselves.

The lack of mentorship support and role models at the senior executive level is another barrier, which results in an inability of Chinese and other racialized people to see themselves in top leadership roles.

A not-so-surprising revelation of this latest study is the interplay of racial and gender biases, which has reduced Chinese Canadian women to double minorities. The qualitative data collected echoes existing literature, which found Chinese and East-Asian women were less likely to be considered leaders, as a result of centuries-long westernized portrayals of them as being submissive, passive, and obedient.

“These new findings are important and add to our data and analysis of women, Black and racialized representation within senior leadership roles that the Diversity Institute has built over the last decade,” said Wendy Cukier, Academic Director of Ryerson’s Diversity Institute. “It is clear that we need to address systemic discrimination and racism that is embedded in organizational policies and processes. The differences in representation between companies shows it’s not the pool but the corporate practices. Initiatives like the 50-30 challenge which encourage corporations to set real targets and to implement evidence-based strategies will not just advance equity but also innovation and economic development.”

The CPAC study identifies several key strategies to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace, which include raising awareness and understanding, a strong commitment from the top, a solid EDI infrastructure, intentional, effective policies and practices, and an inclusive corporate culture.

Governments are also recognized as key players in the EDI space, particularly in shaping public narratives and nudging changes through legislation, regulations, and policies, as well as enabling support for important research, education, and other supportive programs and activities.

Read the full report at


About CPAC Institute

CPAC Institute is an independent research, education and training organization that provides research-based support for the understanding and elimination of systemic barriers to equity, diversity, and inclusion in Canadian society and for addressing specific issues concerning the well-being of Chinese Canadians.

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