According to Rohini Mukherji, “Inclusion is the foundation of diversity.”

The vice-president of Narrative PR, and co-founder and host of ABCDEI, a podcast she says, “aims to dismantle bias, one alphabet at a time,” maintains that implementing initiatives that focus on developing inclusive workplaces is key to effecting long-term change. “The problem with obsessing about diversity,” she explains in an interview with Canadian SME Magazine, “is that it can quickly translate into a tactic and result in short-term change. On the other hand, if you as a business leader committed to taking on the hard work around inclusion, then diversity will follow.”

Mukherji knows what she’s talking about. In addition to her role at Narrative PR, Mukherji is the chair of the marketing committee at the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) Foundation, a registered charity that advances the profession and practice of public relations by, among other things, granting scholarships, awards and bursaries. In 2020, the Foundation launched a scholarship for Indigenous people studying to become public relations professionals and is partnering with Indspire, a national Indigenous charity, to administer the program.

“This scholarship represents a long overdue, significant step to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, inclusion and engagement across our profession,” Mukherji says.

Expanding diversity efforts

The CPRS Foundation isn’t alone in making the drive to diversity more meaningful. Corporations, agencies and associations in all corners of the media and communications sector are taking a closer look at their culture, their policies and the reality of their workplace to get a better sense of what they’re doing right and where they need to do better. This sector has been at the forefront when it comes to gender diversity; over the years, it has regularly stood near the top of the list for percentage of women in leadership positions at TSX-listed companies in Osler’s diversity disclosure reports – though it should be noted that the number of women employed at the top of companies is just a fraction of the number in entry-level positions. That said, it appears that the sector has decided that the time has come to look at diversity beyond gender. This is especially relevant in light of the recent expansion of disclosure requirements – in addition to gender, companies incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act are obligated to disclose regarding visible minorities, Aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities.

Best practices and sector leaders

Take, for instance, Corus Entertainment – a corporation featured in Osler’s 2021 Diversity Disclosure Report [PDF]. Corus is seen by many as a trailblazer in the area of diversity, leading the way in best practices such as establishing a Diversity and Inclusion Council comprised of employees from across the business, sponsoring initiatives like the Corus Media Management Accelerator program for up-and-coming screen-based professionals and funding bursaries for Indigenous students pursuing their post-secondary education in Canada. But in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the company took the bold step of hiring an external, third-party reviewer to conduct an in-depth examination of their diversity and inclusion efforts, with a particular emphasis on the experiences of Corus employees. In November 2020, the company shared the key findings of the review with employees and the public – as well as the plan for the path forward, including inclusion training for all leaders and employees as well as proactive recruiting of persons from underrepresented groups. Corus continues to provide quarterly reports on its progress implementing the multi-year plan.

Statistics about diversity beyond gender in this sector are hard to come by, though that too may be beginning to change with the calls for disclosure and transparency becoming louder and more insistent. For instance, in 2021, The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) launched the inaugural Canadian Newsroom Diversity Survey, touted as the first representative survey of diversity in media. In order to address representation in the industry, the CAJ argues, the level of diversity in newsrooms across the country first needs to be measured. Though past efforts to survey the sector were largely unsuccessful – for instance, in 1994, when the Canadian Daily Newspaper Association sent surveys to 82 managing editors across the country, only half responded – there is more cause for optimism this time around. In total, 202 newsrooms across Canada completed the survey. The results will be available in October 2021.

Latest diversity data

According to Osler’s 2021 Diversity Disclosure Report [PDF], the percentage of women directors at TSX-listed media and communications companies, as of mid-year 2021, was 29% (same as 2020). This is a close second to the clean technology industry which came in at 30%. While the percentage representation of women at the board level in media and communications is significantly higher than the 22% average for TSX-listed companies as a whole (based on the 614 companies that disclosed), it is still slightly below the 33% average for S&P/TSX 60 company boards. On a per board basis, media and communications had 2.87 women per board as of mid-year 2021, down from 3.0 in 2020.

Breakdown of number and percentages of women directors in 2021

As of mid-year 2021, the percentage of women executive officers in the media and communications sector was 25%, a jump up from 22% in 2020. This level of representation is higher than both the TSX-listed average of 18% (based on 614 companies that disclosed) and the 22% average for S&P/TSX 60 companies. On a per board basis, the number of women executive officers in the industry was 2.43 at mid-year 2021.

Breakdown of number and percentages of women executive officers in 2021

Trends since 2015

A review of Osler’s survey results from 2015 through to 2021 reveals a steady increase in women’s representation on media and communications company boards, from 18% to 29% – an improvement of more than 50% over six years.

Though the increase hasn’t been quite as linear, the percentage of women holding executive officer positions in media and communications companies has improved significantly from 13.2% in 2015 to 25% in 2021.