The culmination of several historic events in recent years has sparked an awakening that has spread to the business world and launched organizations on a journey of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The #MeToo movement, prompting women to publicly share their experiences of sexual assault or harassment, followed by the widespread reaction to racist brutality leading to the death of George Floyd, were admittedly eye-opening for countless people. The status quo, particularly in business, has become no longer acceptable and companies are actively seeking to make diversity and inclusion a reality.
“We thought we were doing well,” says Kent Roberts, Vice-President of Policy for the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. “We had fifty percent parity on our board of men and women, and we had thirty percent from equity deserving groups. Then we got called out for the cover of Business Voice Magazine featuring our business award winners. The cover was filled with the faces of white men and women. It was a wake-up call.”
That call came fortuitously at the same time as the start of the Government of Canada’s 50 – 30 Challenge, a voluntary initiative to enhance diversity and promote inclusion on corporate boards and senior management. It calls on organizations to aspire to achieving the goal of 50% gender parity, and 30% of under-represented groups in senior management and/or corporate boards, whether they are large corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), post-secondary institutions, not-for profits or charities. Under-represented groups include racialized persons, people living with disabilities (including invisible and episodic disabilities), members of the LGBTQ2 community and First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. The Challenge also highlights the benefits of giving all Canadians a seat at the table. The Halifax Chamber of Commerce took that challenge to heart.
“We changed our hiring and nomination practices immediately,” says Roberts. “We changed our charter and created strategic goals to increase diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion. We wrote a Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) policy and reviewed our other policies as well under that lens. And we created an action plan to measure success.”
To ensure organizations were on the same page and everyone used a common language, the government asked the Standards Council of Canada to develop key terms and definitions for measuring diversity and inclusion in the workplace, as a publicly available specification (PAS). The Chamber participated in the advisory committee for this guidance document, published in late 2021.The document was developed through a series of consultations with more than 400 experts, facilitated by the Ted Rogers School of Management’s Diversity Institute and supported by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). The PAS is intended to aid organizations in the first steps of implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion practices within their businesses through the 50-30 Challenge.
“Accepting the 50 – 30 challenge was the right call to action at the right time,” says Roberts. “It was a call out to all our staff and board members, as well as our 1800 members and the general Halifax and Nova Scotia community that we represent, that we were not going to sit on the sidelines. We were going to be leaders in this tough discussion and take people with us.”
Likewise, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce was having similar difficult conversations about how their organization should respond in the face of social change. Elizabeth Cron, VP of Programs and Marketing, says that they had never had a robust structure or strategy for DEI, and they embraced the challenge to help guide that change.
“The 50 – 30 Challenge gave our organization the necessary framework to operationalize our internal diversity, inclusion and equity strategy,” she says. “Among our membership, with over 2000 businesses, the Challenge became a united call-to-action that we as a community responded to together.”
As Winnipeg’s biggest business association, the Challenge inspired the Chamber to launch its own community movement, called CODE – which stands for Commitment to Opportunity, Diversity and Equity. CODE provides Winnipeg businesses with credible resources, learning workshops and a community where its members can come together to build more inclusive workplaces in their organizations.
Broadening efforts beyond one’s organization is essential to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, says Cathy Hogan, Executive Director of OceansAdvance Inc.
“In specific sectors, like ocean industries, the pool of women to choose from is extremely small and meeting 50 – 30 targets can be difficult,” says Hogan. “Our goal is to get more women and underrepresented people involved in the industry as a whole.”
OceansAdvance is currently working on the Canadian Women in Ocean Industries Leadership initiative (CWOIL), to attract, develop and retain a robust, diverse, and inclusive talent pipeline that includes women from every walk of life to enable and accelerate Canadian innovation, research and technology development, and market and export leadership in the marine and ocean tech sector. The initiative includes a long-term action plan and an international conference scheduled for Summer 2022.
“To make 50 – 30 a sustainable reality, we need to ensure the pool is broad,” says Hogan. “We need to provide opportunities to encourage women and underrepresented people to join that pool, and to stay in it.”
Research shows that more diverse organizations reap many benefits for their effort. They tend to outperform their peers in terms of financial and business outcomes; they develop more creative, fresh approaches and solutions. In addition, they attract the best and brightest employees; they are able to gain access to more diverse markets; and they are more innovative.
For those organizations who are ready to take the leap to becoming more diverse, equitable and inclusive, the 50 – 30 Challenge is a good way to start, as it provides guidance and resources for a better understanding of DEI.
“This is a journey of reflection,” says Roberts. “It is not an easy journey, or a straight line, and we will make mistakes…but the small steps we are making now, provincially and nationally, will have huge positive impacts in the months and years to come.”