Bridging the Diversity Gap
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- November 9, 2022 Bridging the Diversity Gap
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November 9, 2022
The Empire Club of Canada Presents
Bridging the Diversity Gap
Chairman: Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Distinguished Guest Speakers
The Hon. Ratna Omidvar, Senator for Ontario, The Senate of Canada
Yulena Wan, Director, Finance & Operations, Hamilton Community Foundation
Leslie Woo, CEO, CivicAction
Daniele Zanotti, President & CEO, United Way Greater Toronto
Sharon Rudy, Executive & Director Search, WATSON Inc
Rob MacIsaac, President & CEO, Hamilton Health Sciences, Chair, CivicAction
Head Table Guests
Cara Henry, Senior Manager, National Marketing, Corporate Finance, Enterprise Risk, ESG & Consulting, MNP
Jehan Karsan, Executive Director, Empire Club of Canada, Staff
Linda Mundt, Engagement Manager, Massey Henry
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau; literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.
It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.
Welcome Address by Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon. Welcome to the 119th season of the Empire Club of Canada. I'm delighted to be here with you and our esteemed speakers today. Thank you for your participation and support. This incredible community of colleagues and peers is a driving force behind our mandate to engage, debate, and advance the dialogue on issues of importance to Canadians. Welcome. My name is Sal Rabbani, and I'm the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada.
To formally begin this afternoon, I want to acknowledge that we are gathering today on the traditional and treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. We encourage everyone to learn more about the traditional territory on which you work and live.
Canada is often recognized as one of the most diverse nations in the world. One in four people identify as a member of a racialized group, and we've built our reputation on being an inclusive country. However, our leadership tables do not reflect this diversity, and can be exclusive of Indigenous, Black, and racialized voices. Fifty-one point four of Toronto's population is comprised of racialized individuals, but only 16.2 percent of board positions are held by a racialized person. We know that increasing diversity at leadership tables across our region is critical to creating better, more inclusive cities. Today's discussion will help us understand why many diverse voices are missing, and how we can champion diversity and inclusion on boards.
The Empire Club of Canada is a not-for-profit organization, and I now want to take a moment to recognize our sponsors, who generously support the club and make these events possible and complimentary for our online viewers to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsor, WATSON Advisors; thank you to our supporting sponsors, Massey Henry, and MNP; and thank you to our season sponsor, Bruce Power.
If you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We invite questions from the audience by accessing the Q&A function under the video player. Now, I'd like to invite Sharon Rudy, Co-Lead and Head of Executive Director Search at WATSON, to offer some opening remarks. Over to you.
Opening Remarks by Sharon Rudy, Executive & Director Search, WATSON Inc.
Thank you so much, Sal. WATSON is absolutely delighted to be your lead sponsor today. For me—personally and professionally—it's particularly meaningful. I'm a former Board Director of the Empire Club, and I worked with the CivicAction Board to recruit Leslie Woo to the role of CEO for CivicAction. Bridging the diversity gap is at the heart of what motivates the work we do at WATSON every day. We advise boards on better governance; we help them attract board directors and CEOs, to lead their organizations into a sustainable and impactful future for their shareholders, their clients and customers, their rights holders, their employees, and for a better Canada. Increasingly, diverse board composition is now more prevalent. But the change has been slow. And there are still many opportunities ahead of us to better realize on the promise of inclusion, and to eliminating barriers embedded in our definitions of value, of leadership, and of good governance.
We'll talk about some of the barriers today, but what I'm excited to hear about from our panel are the solutions that we all should be driving at even harder and more deliberately. I've been in the business of governance succession and C-suite recruiting for over 25 years. My dream is to have these discussions behind us. We've all heard that what gets measured gets done, but not everything that is important is neatly measured. We need to be prepared to do things differently, and with intention, courage, and discomfort; to get rid of the gap, and to support fundamental inclusion in the boardroom and in the executive ranks. Bridging the diversity gap at the top also means concurrently doing the work in the heart of our organizations to ensure a pipeline of diverse talent, free from bias and unfair assumptions. Mentoring and stewarding a more diverse pool of emerging talent is perhaps the most fruitful means to bridging this gap. At WATSON, we're committed to a better Canada, and we work with organizations who are intentional about building better boards, and leadership for future generations. I hope you will enjoy today's discussion, and I look forward to working even more closely together to translate this discussion into action. Thanks, Sal.
Thank you, Sharon. And now it is my pleasure to invite our esteemed panelists to join me on screen for today's discussion on bridging the diversity gap. Welcome, the Honourable Ratna Omidvar, Senator for Ontario, the Senate of Canada; Yulena Wan, Director of Finance and Operations, Hamilton Community Foundation; Leslie Woo, CEO of CivicAction; and Daniele Zanotti, President and CEO, United Way of Greater Toronto. We'll keep the conversation going and flowing today. And I wanted to start off with you, Leslie. You and I had a conversation about the lack of diversity on leadership tables, and how BoardShift was addressing this issue, which then triggered this event and brought together today's panel of individuals, who've been involved tirelessly in this work in different capacities. Do you mind taking a few minutes to just tell us a little bit more about BoardShift?
Leslie Woo, CEO, CivicAction
Thanks, Sal. And thank you so much to the Empire Club for this event. Yes, I mean, Sal, you know, I entered this responsibility at CivicAction with a huge love for cities. And I now, more than ever, believe that the future of our cities depends on those who currently lead and who will lead. And the data demonstrates, as you outlined earlier on, the lack of representation, diversity. And that's what really triggered CivicAction to leverage our networks—which are very diverse already—our strengths as a convener, and sharpening our focus to empower, particularly, Indigenous, Black, and racialized rising leaders. Which is why we reignited what we now call BoardShift—and I know the Senator will talk a bit about the early days of getting this up and running. But we see that, today, given all—in addition to what we've been had, the data has been showing this gap for a long time. George Floyd, the pandemic, has exposed even in more raw terms why this lack of diversity and institutional lack of commitment to it is taking us further and further down a really negative path.
And so, BoardShift is now an opportunity to, one, first of all, a practical way for candidates who normally would not have access to board opportunities to be trained. It's very accessible, it's asynchronous; 10 or 15 hours online. And the content is now updated to 2023, and relevant for that audience.
The second key thing—and the other side of the coin—it calls on the organizations who commit to being part of BoardShift to sign on to an inclusion Charter. Which is, it's one thing to have many different faces around a table; it's another thing to truly commit to how you're going to act in that space, to hear, and listen, and include. And so, that's the two sides of the coin that BoardShift brings to the table.
The third part about BoardShift that I think cannot be ignored is the fact that the teams, the organizations, the collaboration that has brought us to this place, over and beyond all that had been built before. We have seen—and Rob McIsaac is here, the Chair of our board—we'll talk about the private, public, and not-for-profit, and multi-industry leaders, who have supported us in delivering on this amazing initiative. And we hope, in the way this BoardShift platform, we encourage everybody, individuals and organizations here today, to look into it. That it will begin to really catalyze a wave, a further wave of change, that is so needed. And Sal, I think that's what's going to be, I call it a solution, root solution to root cause problems. Which is at the foundation of how decisions are being made on all the very important issues in the city.
Thanks. Thank you so much, Leslie. And seemingly a turnkey solution, as I was doing my homework for this session. Very excited about BoardShift and all that it has to offer. We're gonna keep the conversation flowing today. And really, I've got a couple of questions that I have for the audience, and we'll have a bit of a discussion. And this is really a question for the greater group, you know, in the backdrop of the context that was just set. Why now, more than ever, do we need to double down on greater diversity at our board tables; and in particular, you know, public, not-for-profit, and charitable sectors? And I might just start with you Daniele with that question, to kick it off with the greater group.
Daniele Zanotti, President & CEO, United Way Greater Toronto
Thank you, Sal. Because it's been 13 years since Ratna-not-yet-Senator-Omidvar, and David-the-legendary-city-builder-Pecaut, stepped to another prestigious national podium with an urgent appeal entitled, "Turning the Diversity Deficit into a Diversity Dividend." Because as we continue to sit at national podiums talking about the deficit in all its intersectionality, our United Way Greater Toronto research highlights: that income inequality chasm is widening. In neighbourhoods across the GTA—dare I say it neighbourhoods across Canada—poverty in all of its forms and indignities, is disproportionately impacting Indigenous, racialized women, 2SLGBTQ friends and folks. And now, as Leslie said, after decades of crisis, layered on top with the COVID pandemic, we're seeing what some economists are calling this "K recovery," with a few getting to the tip of the K, but more and more of our friends falling to the bottom of that recovery; losing the connective tissue of community. And this is, I think, Sal, the point that we need to focus in on.
Our most recent United Way Greater Toronto research on social capital shows and tells that connection to community, trust in institutions, visibility, and voice in decision-making at those tables, are all directly related to their lived the experience with poverty, race, and colonialism. And today, far too many of our neighbours feel further and further from our tables. From being seen and heard, because of their postal code, race, immigration status, sexuality. So, I would say we've proven the case for diversity as a business driver, from that initial podium on January 26, 2009. And it feels like déja vu all over again. Now, what I would contend is that bridging the diversity gap goes to the very core of our mission and our humanity. This is about social justice, and solidarity, period.
Thank you, Daniele. And this notion of engagement, indeed, very relevant, very important. I'd now go to Yulena, maybe, to offer your thoughts on the question.
Yulena Wan, Director, Finance & Operations, Hamilton Community Foundation
Great, thanks, Sal. I think, very simply, it's time. That appeals to the emotional side, and because we know diverse boards make better decisions, that appeals to the rational side. You know, for a long time, there's been a lack of these EDI—equity, diversity and inclusion—policies, or perhaps weak commitments to EDI, that can lead to performative actions. And either way, they've led to equity-deserving groups being overlooked and under-resourced for too long. I've sat around board tables where I was the youngest and only racialized person with a seat at the table. And over that last kind of dozen years or so, I've seen two really main systemic barriers time and time again that tend to be reinforced by recruiting processes.
The first one would be equitable access. And in my observations of boards and their nominating committees, it's often shoulder-tapping and finding people in our already existing networks to fill or vacancies. You know, people tend to be charitable with people that are similar to themselves. So, you know, say leadership and boards that are predominantly led by white men, with this heavy reliance on, you know, tapping into those networks, it will really perpetuates that same historical racial inequity. You know, I think sometimes this is unconscious bias; sometimes we're in a time crunch. For sure, it's always the easiest solution. But I think, you know, that heavy reliance on that internal prospect pipeline, we really need to expand the pool of candidates. It's not a bad thing to ask your friends, for sure; you definitely want people who are values-aligned. It just can't be the only way that you find people.
And I think, just quickly, the second piece that I've seen is this misconception of lack of supply. I've heard, time and time again, that diverse candidates don't exist. I've heard that from executive search firms hired to assist with recruitment. And, you know, it's simply not true. I think we should all know that in our core now. What I think is true is that it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You know, young—if I may say so, about myself, at one point—racialized people are looking at the opportunity, not seeing anyone like them in these roles, and getting the clear message, whether intentionally or not, that this isn't the place for them. So, you know, we are looking at your website for pictures of your leaders, your staff, your board. And, consciously or not, deciding not to put our name forward. And this is, you know, it's really hard to constantly already be trying to survive or thrive in a white-dominated world. So, you know, frankly, why would we do it for a volunteer unpaid position? So, when I think about these, I like to think about it, you know, when you don't see yourself represented, you can't be what you can't see. And like a lot of equity work, it takes some intentionality and effort. But it's absolutely doable, and worth it.
Thanks, Yulena. You know, I mean, it's the obvious question. Have we made some directional positive movement? You talked about generational diversity and your experience having been on, or, you know, being a representative on a board, among other things. Are you hopeful?
That's for me, right?
Yes, absolutely. I'm very, very hopeful. There has been so much, so much change in the last few years. It's—but it's a process. You know, this is not a destination. This is something that is not a checkbox exercise. It is something that we have to constantly work on and will constantly evolve.
Thanks, Yulena. And the Honourable Senator Omidvar, a tireless advocate, among other things. You know, love to hear your thoughts on where we are today, and why now, more than ever?
The Hon. Ratna Omidvar
Thank you, Sal. I want to thank CivicAction for launching this really important initiative. And Daniele, you were so right. And in looking back through history, it has been 13 years since we started this movement. And it stuns me that we're still talking about the why. And, you know, the why is important, but we need to move on to the how. Demography's sort of always been our destiny in this country, I believe. And demography tells us that the public as we know it is very different from the public of yesterday. I remember, when I arrived in Canada in the early 1980s, I was always the only Brown person in the room if you if you did not count the coffee servers. How different that is today. And yet, the people around the board table appear to have remained static.
There's a second really important reason when we're talking about not-for-profits and charities, because they are created to serve the public good. They touch the lives of the public, you know, health, education, environment, legal social services, and much more. The directors of these organizations are the top tier of leadership. They set the pace, they spend charitable and government dollars, they have the power to affect change, to set the agenda, to influence policy, to hire and fire, and, most importantly, as Yulena pointed out, they have a pretty closed and rich network of social capital. But, you know, what I'm also surprised that is that, even though evidence appears to move us in one way, emotion moves us in another. There is resistance in this sector. I know that the not-for-profit and charitable sectors are the better angels of our nature; but all the research has concluded that, even if their spirit is willing, even if the aspiration of charities and not-for-profits is to be inclusive, it appears that their flesh is weak. And I have evidence to back this up from Stats Canada. In fact, the only equity-seeking group that is represented in charities and non-profits is women. And that's terrific. But when you disaggregate the data, you find that a rising tide that has lifted women to corporate boards, or to not-for-profit boards, has not lifted the tide of Indigenous women, of immigrant women, of disabled women, and minority women.
And I think someone noted earlier, why is this? So, I'm drawing on my knowledge from years ago, when we did some research. And organizations said to us, 'we would love to have a diverse board, but we don't know the right people.' And when we ask the right people, they would say, 'we would love to be on the boards, but no one has asked us.' So, I think it's time to manufacture the glue that sticks, both for equity-seeking groups, and for governance leadership. There are people with competencies and attributes who are ready, willing, and able to serve. And this diversity deficit can really be turned into a dividend, with the kind of attention that CivicAction is hoping to achieve through this effort.
Sal, can I just jump in?
Just to follow on the Senator's point. And I just want to—I hadn't thought about this until we just sat here, and Daniele pointed out 13 years; that's 2009. That was my first ever appointment to a board...
The Hon. Ratna Omidvar
...on the YMCA GTA. I was one of the early folks. I had never been on a board. I had, you know, my own professional skills. But I will say, if I was to trace that one act of sitting at that table, to the individuals—so that door that opened for me. The individuals that I met that led to other things, whether professional, personal, or further board positions—because now I sit on three or four boards, a public board, not-for-profit boards—it's taken awhile to learn, as someone who had no experience, what it is, what is involved, and to continue to be a better and better contributor. I think that's the other—so, that's one side of the coin, and which is to say there is a degree of time that's required for someone to really become more and more effective. So, if we're looking for the perfect racialized person on a board, we have to invest time, not just—so open the door and invest.
The second piece—which is my other observation—has less to do with, to the Senator's point about the desire, as much as it has to do with the general state of charities and not-for-profits, and the situation they find themselves in from a funding standpoint. And so, part of what many not-for-profits are looking for is folks to help not only advocate and govern but help raise money. And this is not often spoken about, necessarily. But guess where all the deepest wallets and biggest pocketbooks sit? They don't necessarily always sit—at least in the GTHA—they sit in, they still sit in a fairly much less racialized cohort of society. And so, there's this dilemma that is, when you say, what are you looking for in a board? And so, my view is that initiatives like BoardShift widen the pipeline, create greater opportunity for more success, to be built into those who can step into the board roles that address all the needs of the public sector and the not-for-profit sector. So, I think it's complex. But it doesn't necessarily say why can't—it doesn't actually answer the question, why is it taking so long? Why are we so slow to move the bar? But those are two, kind of, points of view on the same topic.
Sal, can I just do a hot pursuit on that, if I might?
Because I think Leslie's talking about something that we've got to acknowledge. And this is not abdicating responsibility from the leaders or the charitable sector. But I think we have to acknowledge that, for decades, as a result of a legacy of policies and practices, of the business model that those policies and practices have created, and then the metrics and the messaging that we've created as a charitable—and I want to just put that in bold, flashing—charitable sector, we have been so focused on meeting basic needs, surviving, trying to address pressures that are so complex in a simple, basic means strategy, that we have not had the time to fund, and to find the voices that get our hands, I think on what Yulena was talking about, which are the main root causes of this issue, which are some of the structural systemic sources of that.
And so, I think we also have to acknowledge that the sector and the space we're existing in has some risks and limitations. I would say, and share some of the hope, that over the last while I have seen this, I want to call it like an Eduardo Galliano shift—he was like that famous Uruguayan writer; he was also a lover of soccer, the beautiful sport, by the way—and his quote was, "I don't believe in charity, I believe in solidarity." Because charity is so vertical. It goes from top to bottom power. Who's got money? How do we give or help others? Whereas solidarity is horizontal, and it respects the other people, and it actually brings people together in a way that is different. I think that's the shift that we're starting to see. And it's fueled—let's not fool ourselves—it's fueled by civic muscle, voices that are emerging and pressuring the sector to make the change.
The Hon. Ratna Omidvar
So, this is a fascinating conversation that sort of pitches us right into the discussion on what must change. I believe that if a charitable organization, or not-for-profit organization, is forward-looking, they will diversify their board. Because the money, the new money, is no longer in the old white pockets. It's in new pockets. There are new industries, there are new leaders, and it is too late to go to the to someone when they've been recruited by another organization 10 years ago. So, those connections need to be nurtured. Now, I sit on a board where—a very well-connected board—where the largest donation has come from someone who came from Sri Lanka as a refugee 20 years ago. So, you don't know what you don't know. And simply ascribing wealth and privilege to a certain race is completely offside with what the world is telling us, especially in a city which is more than 50 percent minority. I believe that if not-for-profits and charities are forward-looking, and they're working with the right sources of advice, you know, headhunting companies, and if their own policies are porous—you know, let me give you an example. How many charities do not have regular turnover in their boards? Okay, so you have to have board renewal policies, you have to have structured policies and benchmarks on inclusion. Without measuring these indicators, you're actually not going to make progress. You're going to take comfort in saying the right thing, and aspiring to the right thing, and mouthing platitudes. Because it seems to me that's what we all really do well. But the proof is in the pudding. Where's the evidence? And I will always say, show me the evidence.
Right. And that bridges to a question that I have for the greater group. You know, what are some of the actions that organizations need to take, to address this longstanding gap? We heard about taking those ready, willing, and able folks, and connecting them to the stream of opportunity. As a question for you all to kind of maybe comment on, some concrete things that we can do to be part of the solution, and some calls to action, if you will.
Maybe I can start, and others I'm sure will add in. But I think, Sal, public accountability to what you're saying, and demonstrating what you're doing. So, I've been using this term, "the say do gap." And you know, from the commitments that are set at a high level, to concrete measures that demonstrate what you've done, what our organization has done to move the bar. And that is not just, I'm not just talking about numbers of, you know, the checkbox—I've got someone from this intersectionality, and this piece, and this piece—but how are you measuring their inclusion in the discussion? How are they part of the decision, truly part of the decision making? And that's not something that an organization outwardly can determine. The individuals themselves have to lay testimony to that. And then, and if it's not happening, accounting for it, and sort of articulating what it is more you're going to do. Because I think it's the public accountability, it sort of slips under the carpet if we say, you know, in our little report, we said, 'we're going to x, y, and z,' and then everything goes silent and there's no accountability. So, I think, holding ourselves more accountable. I think that's why the work the Diversity Institute at Toronto Metropolitan U has been doing to try and gather up the data is a place, the work that Toronto Community Foundation is doing, and the United Way is doing. All those are kind of macro ways to hold us all to account. But individually, organizations need to be also pushing to do the same. In some way, shape or form, it's not dissimilar to how corporations are in this sort of struggle to address ESGs, and reporting on it, and the transparency about that. The not-for-profit industry, the public sector, needs to also hold its own self to account in these dimensions.
Thanks, Leslie. And through your lens, Daniele, what do you see is some critical calls to action that organizations need to take?
Well, I think, as leaders and as organizations, acknowledging the privilege and the power that we have within our roles. And then reflecting that on, mirroring that, to create opportunities for engagement with staff, volunteers, stakeholders, on their own, and a collective learning journey. I think we've all been immersed in that. And I think it's a starting point to look back and see where I am at personally, where are we at as an organization. Number two, I think committing publicly to a plan. We talk about this, what gets stated and measured will, we'll be able to gauge how that moves. So, we at United Way have put out a reconciliation and equity plan, with taking on the federal challenge of board that is the 50/30 representation. We are well beyond that at a board and committee level, at a staff level as well. But we've also, Sal, embedded that now into our partnership agreements with all of our agencies that we work with, so that they, too, can work towards that. Interestingly, many of them are well beyond that number as well. Which I think is indicative that—unlike the data that Ratna has put forward—there are a number of agencies who are doing well, on both representation at the board and staff for women, and equity-deserving groups.
I think having an annual pulse check with your board, and staff, and stakeholders, on how you are doing on these metrics with a reporting. And then, I think there's things that we've done at United Way that are unique and may not seem connected to the conversation we're having today at the Empire Club but are critical for the charitable sector. We're providing multi-year, flexible funding for all of the partners we fund, so that they can focus on the groundwork and get meeting basic needs, while they engage and connect with new and emerging leaders. So, trying to give them some stability and sustainability, that they can continue to do the connective tissue work of bringing on emerging leaders and bringing them into the pathway from the small, grassroots organization, to maybe CivicAction, to another board as well.
Thanks, Daniele. You talked about a unique opportunity that an organization like yours has. That is, to, in your agreements, kind of direct, you know, some of the, I'll call it best practices, if you will, to influence to engage and influence among other things. And Yulena, an organization like yours, you know, can you kind of speak to that, and the relevance of that type of, I'll call it influence, from a governance perspective, but also just provide your perspective on some actions that you think we need to take to address this gap.
Yeah, I think what Daniele is talking about is so, so vital. We need to be, you know, also as a funder, we need to be trusting our partner organizations, and change that relationship that we have to kind of this trust-based philanthropy. I think from an individual perspective, because we've heard kind of from the organization's, you know, considering the barriers to full participation of these historically underrepresented groups is something that can make a world of difference. So, for sure, I am living proof governance is intimidating. You know, I found myself on a board. I'm a CPA by trade, so every board wants an accountant. And, you know, I had no idea what I was doing very early in my career. And I was very, fortunately, the beneficiary of some governance training that was actually a partnership between our local United Way and the McMaster Directors College here in Hamilton. And it was one of the most valuable experiences I've ever had. You know, there is where I first heard of good governance and strategic leadership, financial literacy, risk management. Those really set you up for success.
And I think, also, you know, while I'm on that topic, we have to recognize that was an investment by the organization that I was with. And the CivicAction staff that I worked with when we were developing this program will tell you, you know, I was like a broken record when I talked about not letting the cost of this type of training being a barrier to individuals. So, there is a really great kind of different entry points for individuals. I think some other barriers to accessibility that I've seen, thinking—they're little things to organizations, but things like childcare, transportation, hours and days of meeting, format of the materials provided, expenses incurred, having mentoring. You know, I've had and been a board buddy, and that can be a really great game changer for integrating and retaining new members. I think somebody mentioned using committees, too. Starting people out on committees before joining boards can also really help kind of infer for both sides that there's a values alignment.
And I think the last thing I'll say is, with sharing power, you know, once you have people at your tables, you have to be mindful of those power dynamics. The power structures and hierarchies that exist out there in the world will also continue to play out around the boardroom table if you let them. So, understanding your own social location, what intersectional lens you—everybody, you plural—bring to the table, where you have some unconscious biases. Think, you know, think about how your board shares that power, holds space for people. For me, you know, I'm a deep introvert, and it's helpful to make space for those quieter voices. So, anyone that knows me knows I'm never going to be the first to speak up. I'm very much someone that processes information inwardly and then, you know, it will take me longer to articulate my thoughts. To the extent possible sending prep materials for generative discussions ahead of time, and chairs being really conscious of that facilitation role, and inviting people into conversations, I think, can also be really helpful.
Thanks, Yulena. As I think about, you know, your story here, I just think of the incredible opportunity that it does exist to take those folks that are ready, willing, and able, and, almost like a farm team, to proactively put them into the stream of opportunity, build those capabilities, as you support building your own organizational capabilities. To create that readiness, and further readiness, and the exposure, and the confidence, among other things. And I think there's a great opportunity there for all organizations to consider that type of, I'll call it investment in human capital and succession planning, among other things. Now, I'd like to now move to the Honourable Senator and ask just, you know, what are some of the actions as a parliamentarian. Having heard this discourse, you know, having been informing it, and really, you know, a champion, do you mind taking some time to share with us the action as a parliamentarian you've taken to address this longstanding diversity gap?
The Hon. Ratna Omidvar
Thank you so much, Sal, for that question. Having worked on this particular governance deficit for more than 20 years in Toronto, and I want to tip my hat to onBoard Canada, which is which is the precursor to BoardShift. I took this passion with me to Ottawa and almost immediately was confronted with a piece of legislation that was on corporate boards, and the legislation stipulated that the federally regulated corporations needed to annually disclose demographic data on their boards, and table a diversity plan for their shareholders. There was no mention of the diversity plan being actioned, but there was the requirement to provide basic data. So, I thought about it, and I proposed an amendment to include targets for diversity. And you know, this was 2016, colleagues. The amendment was roundly defeated, because nobody on Parliament Hill, obviously, wanted to take the trouble to understand the difference between a target and a quota. And so that amendment was defeated. I'm betting that if that amendment was tabled today, it would get the support needed to become law.
But, you know, one defeat doesn't set me back. I continued to work on it. And the Senate tabled a first ever report on the charitable sector in Canada, with 42 recommendations. And recommendation 41, I believe, was to require the CRA to collect diversity demographics on board leadership by every charity and not-for-profit in their annualized return. Every charity must file a return to the CRA, and it would have required adding another question. Following that, Stats Canada took me up on my call and undertook a first ever crowd-sourced survey to look at the national picture of governance and diversity. It was crowd-sourced, so it's not statistically significant, but it did display a picture of a board context that is out of sync with the context of the public and Canada.
So, as my next step—and please understand, things in Ottawa do not happen at the same pace as they happen in Toronto; in fact, we sort of sometimes live in a time warp—as a next step, I am working towards tabling legislation which would ensure that charities file this data on an annualized basis. My proposal, if I get there—because there's many a slip between the cup and the lip in legislation—will not require targets. But the whole intention is that, with national data that is gathered on an annualized basis, you can plot the trends, you can plot progress, you can distill it down and disaggregate it down into specific sectors. And we may well find that, you know, charities in the social services field are more diverse than charities on the health field. And that is the kind of information we need to take the next step. So, that's on my agenda. And I am very committed to this diversity evidence being collected as part of my legacy. I know it may sound terribly dull to many people—it does to my grandchildren—but trust me, what gets measured, gets noted.
QUESTION & ANSWER
Thanks for sharing, Senator. We're now at the point where we're gonna go through some audience questions. And in case you're wondering why I'm looking down, my phone is exploding with questions, which is fantastic. And I appreciate the engagement from the audience. And maybe I might just start with the group, just in terms of this question. What is your response when institutions and companies think they're already doing enough as it relates to visibility, and voice, and decision-making. I think this kind of substance versus form question, and I'm curious to hear some of your thoughts and opinions, and open it up for any of you to take this question.
The Hon. Ratna Omidvar
I would say I don't trust think. I trust the evidence. Show me the proof. Do your work, set the benchmark, set the indicators, disclose them on an annual basis publicly. Then, I will believe you.
I think, Sal, at the at the event I mentioned, where I sat and watched Ratna and David speak—and I had way more hair back then—there was a similar question; we think we're doing enough. Fast forward 13 years, constant evolution, constant change. There's never enough. It's—and I think as soon as you get to that moment, you as an organization, you as a leader, have to start thinking, is my time up? Like, there's got to be consistent evolution.
Thanks, Daniele. We'll move on to the next question. What actions can we take to ensure our boards are welcoming to marginalized groups? And we talked about this a little bit, Yulena, just about some of the committees and other things, of kind of fostering that onboarding. And what do these groups need from us to feel welcomed and motivated to be on our boards, is the question.
Sal, can I start? Only to think of, I think the first thing is to dispel the assumption that individuals represent groups. And so that, when anyone sitting at the table, they wear many hats. That's about their lived experience, that is about their profession, their background, whatever, all aspects of it. And that means that appreciation of the individual around the table, and really, an understanding that they bring—this is not an act of charity—they bring great resource to the table. And for me, I would say, for me, the first time on a board, you always—regardless of what background—you always feel like an impostor, because you're entering a culture that is not familiar to you. And so, any board, or any group who is wanting to welcome in a different voice, a different perspective, needs to recognize that difference is a strength, and that people will not understand the acronyms, the lingo. And you know, Yulena talked about the buddy system; it's a great idea. And that also, it will take people a while to digest where their true value can be positioned in the discourse on any board table. And so, it's an iterative get to know you. Getting to know each other is important. And if you don't expend the energy in that—I've been on a board table where every board member would want to come and meet you and have coffee with you. And I've been on other boards where nobody ever said anything, only when I showed up at the meeting. Very different environment, in terms of really understanding what it means to include someone with a different view, a different perspective to the table.
Thanks for those insights, Leslie. Yulena, I see you.
Thanks, Sal. The only thing I'll add to what Leslie said, I think, is that progress and collaboration will happen at speed of trust. That is not going to happen overnight. It is not just going to appear because you have racialized people on your board. That will take time, and like Leslie said, building those relationships, the foundations of you working together, it is so vital. And you know, with the pandemic, Zoom has been wonderful. It has also been really difficult to build those relationships virtually. And so, you have to be just a little bit more intentional to build those foundations to be able to work together.
The Hon. Ratna Omidvar
Just a quick footnote to Yulena's point, which is that I think it's really important that a board thinks through why this representation is important. Not because I had a spreadsheet with a checkbox that says, I'm missing this. Why? What exactly is it about your mission that will make this valuable? Think that through very carefully. Because that will also help you decide how to choose who is the right, you know, what makes sense in terms of what you're looking for. I think oftentimes, boards may have a list, and, you know, we're missing this colour, this orientation, let's go after that, without really thinking through what aspect of their business this is so important to.
And I think a quick follow up on the brilliant comments from both Yulena and Leslie—and so practical from Yulena on making space, adn ensuring the chair is engaging people differently. But I noticed the questions, Sal, coming in on the chat about like, what about paying people to join a voluntary board? And it seems so disconnected, it seems so juxtaposed to the model and the concept of volunteering. But I think we've got to think about options. Like, what are the wraparound supports for people? Like, if we're talking about a neighbourhood centre in a community, and we want people with lived experience, and that mom, or partner, or dad is working three jobs and trying to get childcare, like what needs to be true for us to get them at the table? And we've seen some partners was like FoodShare introduce what would have been radical ideas years ago around engagement and recruitment. Maybe we need to start thinking about that around board diversity as well.
Great, great thoughts there, Daniele, and appreciate you sharing. You know, there's a tonne more of questions. But I wanted to end with positive. We're nearing the end of time—and typically, as is always the case with great conversations, that we're ending pretty quickly—I wanted to ask each and every one of you. And here's the question from one of the members of the audience: what is the one no regret action that you would advise for those who are looking to actively join our or their first not-for-profit board? The piece of advice that you can offer.
The Hon. Ratna Omidvar
That is a million-dollar question. And I'm going back to my first no regret action, in my memory, when I joined a board. And it was simply, for me, a matter of deep connection, and engagement with the mission of the organization. And later on, when I became a board member, that connection, that passion for the cause was probably what helped me float, whilst I was going through Impostor Syndrome. And I really want to commend Yulena for being so open about her experiences, because she gave voice to the experience that many of us have. I used to sit around the board table and say, what am I doing here? I don't even understand. But because I had a passion and a commitment, and I had good mentors, I learned; I'm a quick learner, I learned very quickly. But I cannot help noticing this conversation about compensation for board members. And whilst I reject compensation for board members completely, I do embrace compensation for training, compensation for childcare, compensation for transportation, compensation for other costs that may occur. But a combination of sharing the vision and the mission of the organization, and making it possible for the individual could be a first no regret step.
Thanks, Senator. You know, as I was thinking about that question, that's probably the first thing that I thought about. That is, having that, you know, infectious enthusiasm, that passion, notwithstanding what comes in the way to support that cause or initiative, among other things, as one of the forces. Curious to hear from others.
Well, I mean, I think the Senator took the words right out of my mouth, because I would agree a thousand times over that it is very, very important. So, in absence of that, I'm going to make a shameless plug to say, you can even heighten, I think, the experience can be even further heightened the more well prepared you are in understanding the organization that you're going to, where you're considering being part of, in terms of understanding the more sort of practical aspects of their business. And so, BoardShift really enables potential candidates for boards to really sort of have more, be better equipped. Whether it's the financial literacy piece, or understanding how to sit in, on, around a board table where there may be microaggressions happening, and how to address it. So, the being prepared, it complements the passion with which you bring to the table. And so, that's why that kind of matching, I think, that we're hoping; well-prepared candidates who have the desire, and articulate the passion, with organizations who are seeking. And when that happens together, that's when the magic happens.
Awesome. And Yulena and Daniele?
I'm happy to jump in. I think, to add on to those two comments, we have to remember that qualified and willing individuals are out there. We've been talking about it. And to then all those individuals, we are those qualified and willing individuals out there. We are ready to contribute to organizations. So, having that, you know, going into it fearlessly. Having the self-confidence to help prove the fact that, or the theory that, having targeted recruitment for equity-deserving groups doesn't preclude them from finding the most qualified individuals. We are out there. And so, there is them finding us, and then there's also us stepping up, preparing ourselves, being part of BoardShift, and contributing fulsomely
Thanks for that. Daniele?
I think we've heard three stories from Leslie, Yulena, and the Senator. I've got my own, of the difficulty of that first board. But then, what it's meant in the journey after. And what it's meant for people who see or hear themselves in you being on that board, and the ripple effect that it has. And so, that would be one. And the second is—and I don't want to do a plug, and please—but to steal a tagline from one of the banks: you're richer than you think. Your assets and gifts than you think. And please share them with the sector. Because as hard as it is for you, we need that skill and those assets to enhance the work and to continue to move it forward.
That's perfect. And I think that's a greater call to action for everyone, and that's agnostic to not-for-profits. You know, inclusion and representation matter. And, you know, the perspectives, diverse perspectives, really help us inform better organizations and, ultimately, a better society. That brings me to kind of the end of where we are in terms of our conversation. This has been an excellent dialogue. And I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Ratna, Yulena, Leslie, and Daniele, for your expertise, and what leaders and organizations can do to make board appointments accessible to diverse and racialized individuals. I really appreciated the dialogue today, and you taking the time to join us here at the Empire Club of Canada for a very important conversation for Canadians. I'd now like to take this opportunity to invite Rob McIsaac, President and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences, also the Chair of the Board of Directors of CivicAction, to deliver some appreciation remarks to help us conclude the event.
Rob MacIsaac, President & CEO, Hamilton Health Sciences, Chair, CivicAction
Yeah, thanks very much, Sal. As advertised, I'm Rob McIsaac, Chair of CivicAction. Well, I think it was a great discussion today. You know, CivicAction has long been in the space of bringing the right people together to discuss topics that matter to our communities, our cities, and our region. And I think today was no exception. Great cities are places where residents feel a sense of belonging. They're places where everybody feels valued and respected, where everybody has a real chance to realize on their potential. And I think diverse leadership is really integral to these principles. So, leadership in our region has to, ultimately, reflect the makeup of the constituencies that they are serving, for people to feel that sense of belonging, and for people to have the opportunities to real realize on their potential.
So, thanks, all, for joining us here today. And I hope everybody will move beyond just talking and actually begin to act, and to make change happen within your organizations and within your sectors. And it's not always easy, but it is totally necessary. My own organization, Hamilton Health Sciences, has signed on to BoardShift as part of its broader commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. I want to say thanks to everybody who worked together to co-create both this discussion and CivicAction's new program, BoardShift. Our ambition is to help create a more inclusive future and an even better city. BoardShift has been a year-long collaboration with so many CivicAction partners. We're pleased to have the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate as one of our key program funders. As Leslie mentioned earlier, many other organizations stepped up to provide their expertise to ensure that we can deliver on this program. These include, Deloitte, Edelman, Blake Cassels, Blake's, Toronto Metropolitan University, CGI Inc, and the City of Toronto. And of course, Sal, many thanks to the Empire Club for the important role it has played in helping to make today happen. So, I will turn the podium back over to Sal, to thank our sponsors and close up the event. Sal?
Concluding Remarks by Sal Rabbani
Thank you. Thank you very much, Rob. And as you know, I'm a big fan of the great work undertaken by CivicAction and the meaningful work that you do. And so, just, kudos to all of you and CivicAction for your continued contributions. Thank you, and thanks to our sponsors, WATSON, Massey Henry, MNP, and Bruce Power. Thank you again to CivicAction for your collaboration, our panellists, and everyone joining us today.
As a club of record, all Empire Club of Canada events are available to watch on our website and on demand. A recording of this event will be available shortly, and everyone registered will receive an email with the link. Our next event is tomorrow, on November 10th. Join us virtually as we host this year's "Remembrance Day Reflection: Canadian Women in War," profiling the extraordinary stories of Canadian women in war during the Great two conflicts of the 20th century, the First and Second World Wars. Thank you again for joining us today. This meeting is now adjourned.