As a visible minority female who didn’t have English or French as my mother tongue, I faced many hurdles and challenges after immigrating to Canada. Even though I’ve since accomplished a lot during my thirty-year career in public relations and diversity marketing, I’m still not immune to systemic racism and inequity. There were occasions when our agency was perceived as inferior by some big-name agencies and clients, despite our international awards and proven client success. Other ethnic agencies have had similar experiences.

The death of George Floyd in the United States has ignited anti-racism movements around the world. This has led many public and private organizations to begin discussing how to better understand and embrace I.D.E.A. (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility) as an ideology to guide company strategies, culture, and bottom line. Even companies that already have a diversity policy in place are wondering how they can do better.

Canada is known for embracing multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion; however, many employers and employees lack the education and resources to fully appreciate and genuinely embrace an I.D.E.A. ideology that brings social and financial benefits. Canadian C-suite offices, corporation and industry association executive boards are still very behind on diversity mix.

Immigration is crucial to Canada’s economic growth.

With the ageing population, immigration will be the major factor for net growth in Canada’s population and skilled workforce in the coming 20 years (Stats Canada 2017). This highly productive and skilled workforce is crucial to the economic growth of Canada as well as making our health care and other social services sustainable.

The business benefits of diversity and inclusion

Increased diversity and inclusion lead to a greater ability to attract high-quality talent, serve customers’ needs, and develop more innovative products. According to Upwardly Global, a not-for-profit based in San Francisco that helps immigrants and refugees rebuild their careers in the U.S., there are many other benefits to creating a culture of diversity that embraces international talent and experiences.

  • Increased ROI: Businesses with more culturally diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to see above-average profits.
  • A motivated workforce: Newcomers are a highly incentivized workforce eager to reclaim professional identity and succeed in the U.S.
  • Reduced employee turnover: Employers who hire refugees report a lower turnover rate.
  • Tapping into new markets: Global employees bring language skills and cultural awareness to support new and existing business in emerging economies.
  • Innovation: They also bring a new perspective and innovative ideas.
  • Adaptability: In a business world that changes constantly, adaptability is key.
  • Resilience: People who have started over in a new country have already demonstrated the ability to grow and learn from challenges.

A study by US-based management consulting firm McKinsey and Associates evaluated diversity levels at 366 organizations and found that ethnically diverse companies were 35% more likely to outperform their competitions in terms of profitability.

The relationship between ethnocultural diversity and performance was strongest in sectors that depend on creativity and innovation, communications and utilities, business services, and legal and other professional services.

If Canada is to remain an attractive destination for the world’s top talent and be internationally competitive, Canadian governments and businesses need to advance their I.D.E.A. efforts and investments.

How are we performing in Canada?

I have talked to various organizations and corporations since being invited to join the Toronto Region Immigration Employment Council and the Canadian Marketing Association as an advisor on diversity and inclusion. To my surprise, I found very little in the way of industry research, benchmarking, performance tracking, or best practices on the topic.

Merely looking at the percentage mix of diversity at a company can be misleading. A company can have an impressive diversity and inclusion ratio, but if positions are all at the entry or mid-level of an organization, the ratio does not paint a meaningful picture. The trouble is creating a process to collect and analyze “apples-to-apples” performance metrics can be challenging.

According to a report in 2014 by Deloitte Development LLC, one-half of Canadian organizations had just started to implement diversity and inclusion practices that went beyond compliance. They hadn’t yet introduced incentives for behaviour change or created a culture in which those incentives were sensible, valid, and equitable.

At the corporate level, lack of expertise, staffing, funding, and commitment are some common challenges. Many companies are not structured to manage, attract, and retain diverse talent. And I.D.E.A. should no longer be classified as merely a human resources mandate. We need to change the infrastructure and environment we are operating in.

Commitment has to be driven from the top

Some leaders in organizations with advanced diversity practices believe that the CEO and other relevant corporate leaders should be held accountable for the D&I performance of a company, and the CEO should be closely involved in the D&I dialogue and road map building. Diversity and inclusion should not become a “check-the-box” activity. Leaders at the D&I team must have interaction with C-suite executives.

Let’s face the reality. When our workplace, our workforce, our marketplace become much more diverse than before, we require a different management approach. The goal should be to build an inclusive environment where all Canadians can participate, contribute and realize their potential. But inclusion requires leadership. This means breaking down barriers, addressing myths and fears, and countering racist and discriminatory practices.