COVID has amplified existing disparities — but can it also play a role in addressing them?


In the nearly-six months since COVID has been declared a pandemic, one thing has been made clear: we are not all in this together.

Since June, we’ve been interviewing advocates, community leaders, and experts to shine a spotlight on how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting marginalized groups, from Indigenous communities and Black communities, to people living with disabilities. Even with as broad a lens as gender, the disparities are apparent and unsurprising; on every measure, women are faring worse than men.

The common thread in these conversations? The disparities existed already, COVID has just made them worse. 

It has also made them impossible to ignore — and that in itself could provide an opportunity for positive change. 

As Sané Dube pointed out in our conversation on the two health crises facing Black people in Canada — COVID and Racism — the devastating and unequal effect of the pandemic helped build the case for race-based data collection in health, which advocates had long been lobbying for. 

We’ve asked nine experts to share their thoughts on how the pandemic might be used to move us forward towards equality, rather than push us back. It’s not meant to be an exercise in chasing silver linings, but instead a starting point for change.

Highlighting the systems failing people  and where we need investment.

Maya Roy

CEO, YWCA Canada

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on what was broken in our society. It showed us what parts of the social safety net are fraying, what systems are failing the people we serve, and how the social contract isn’t working for our most essential workers. This work is often done by Black, Indigenous, racialized and migrant women. 

This moment has politicized many and pushed them to think about what we need to prioritize as a country. It has highlighted exactly what we need to invest in as a society: the social determinants of health. Public health measures advise us to wash our hands, and stay at home, especially if we’re sick. If that’s the case, we need bold investments and systemic change to ensure everyone has access to clean water, a safe and affordable place to live and paid sick leave. There is no turning back now. We’ve seen what the lack of investment in these public goods means for all of us. Now is the time to act. 

We are also seeing a diverse range of employers finally embrace flexible work options. Gender equity and disability justice movements have been advocating for more just work arrangements for decades. Work shouldn’t make you sick and it should cater to your diverse needs, including flexibility to address the multiple roles you play in your life. That may mean accommodating your care responsibilities such as child care and elder care. It also means being an active member of your community. The increased civic engagement and interest in how our government works and for whom has been one of the most humbling aspects of this crisis. 

Exposing systemic racism in the corporate world  and the need to move from diversity to human equity.

Karlyn Percil

CEO, KDPM Consulting

I believe that COVID showed us or exposed three things:

Leadership Complacency: The various ways leaders in all industries have been complacent and complicit in anti-Black racism. Inaction, reading off carefully crafted messages, and lack of accountability exposed the multiple ways organizations and leaders uphold systems of racism (many still believe that having an ERG or doing unconscious bias training is the answer). The lack of accountability on what it means to be an equitable and inclusive leader is evident through ‘one workshop’ requests or a rush to do something.

Dehumanization of Black lives at work: The lack of empathy extended to Black lives (several organizations I’ve spoken to have not created or prioritized psychological safety for Black employees or Indigenous or POC ). The dehumanization of Black lives in the workplace continues silently because many leaders have not registered or thought of the impact of racial trauma on the lives of Black employees. What will it take to humanize Black lives?

Emotional Fragility: Many organizations and leaders are on the lower spectrum of the Emotional Fragility – Resilience Continuum. White fragility shows explicitly up as fear of not saying something wrong has taken priority over doing the right thing (i.e. taking action) 

We need organizations and leaders to shift to understanding that to create a workplace culture where Black and other racialized lives really matter — we need to move from diversity to human equity.

Human equity is a term coined by my friend and mentor, equity strategist Trevor Wilson. In his book, The Human Equity Advantage, Trevor defines Human Equity as: ‘talent differentiation and maximizing on the unique talents of every employee’s innate strength, unique abilities, personality, attitude, life experiences and virtues.’

Unfortunately, many organizations for decades have been creating policies and procedures rooted in inequitable systems that generally benefit or favour whiteness.

If we are to do the moral and ethical thing, leaders must upgrade not only the behavioural economics of their leadership competencies,; they must also do the work through action to understand what it means to be an equitable and inclusive leader. 

Systems don’t dismantle themselves, people do. So to build back better, we need leaders who understand that a considerable part of building better, means that the power — be it position power, pay power or privilege power — must be shared with those who have not been seen, heard or given a decision making seat in the organization. It means that the dominant group’s culture — white culture and whiteness — must be examined, and the systems, processes, policies and procedures need to be dismantled and rebuilt through the lens of human equity.

Making space for new conversations  that don’t always get the coverage they deserve.

Photo Credit: George Joseph

Faiza Amin

Faiza Amin, Journalist with CityNews

COVID-19 has touched everyone, but this is still very much an unequal pandemic. For decades, Black health leaders and advocates had been calling for the collection of race-based data, to better understand the experiences of Black people and racialized communities who are and aren’t navigating the healthcare system. Prior to COVID, many raised the alarm over how social determinants of health were impacting these communities, but during the pandemic, there were fears that those same factors would put marginalized groups at greater risk. That fear was confirmed when Public Health Units slowly began releasing data that showed Black and racialized communities were disproportionately impacted by the virus. Not that we needed the data to tell us the obvious, but now, the numbers show the scary realities of systemic racism in a way that can’t be ignored.

This is what health leaders and advocates spent months fighting for during the pandemic. But what if we listened to these voices right away? And we collected the data at the start of the pandemic? These questions are important, and they shed light on the need to make space for these conversations, that don’t always get the coverage they deserve.

It is my hope that this will change how we speak about systemic racism. It’s a reminder for all of us to take a step back, and continue to reassess the conversations we’re having surrounding issues and communities. Who has a seat at the table? Who aren’t we giving a voice to? Does this represent the community we serve? Whose stories are we not telling?

And what gives me hope, is the relentless work of leaders and advocates in our communities, who continue to push for what’s right and despite being told ‘no’ time and time again. They help to fuel much needed conversations in a way that creates the changes our communities need.

Showing men the importance of flexible work  and the value of equity and inclusion.

Ludo Gabriele

Senior Director, MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) Branding, Catalyst and Founder, Woke Daddy

I think a positive change is that the superficial line that exists between professional lives and personal lives is going to disappear — because right now, everything lives together. I think the pandemic is blurring this imaginary line, and when you personalize each second of your work, this is where inclusion and psychological safety are very critical. We won’t be able to completely go back, because I think so many people have made very meaningful connections with one another. 

I also think that men are witnessing the importance of flexible work and flexible workplaces. Men who are living with a woman at home, they’re seeing how much they’re handling during the pandemic, especially if they’re working at the same time. I think many men, especially those who go out to work, may not have the awareness of what is involved in running a household when they’re away. The fact that many of us have had an immersion in what it takes, this is something that won’t necessarily go back to normal, because we cannot unsee what we have been witnessing for the past few months.

We’re also being shown the importance of embedding flexibility, equity and inclusion as a culture, because what we see is that the more robust and sustainable organizations that have equity, inclusion, and flexibility are the ones that are navigating the pandemic the best. They’re embedding those values along with psychological safety, instead of just checking a box. Having this cultural shift, this new cultural mindset, is something that will hopefully live on. 

Creating new opportunities with remote work  especially for those living with disabilities.

Darby Young

Founder and Principal Accessibility Strategist, Level Playing Field

The biggest lesson we’ve all learned is that people can work remotely — and that does give people with disabilities the ability to work. It overcomes what always seems to be the biggest issue, which is that the majority of workplaces aren’t accessible. It can also help with prejudice. A lot of the time, when people see persons with disabilities, they don’t give us a chance. 

That’s not to say it’s without issues. In stakeholder discussions we’ve conducted, we’ve seen how remote work presents challenges for individuals with hearing loss or vision loss. Organizations still need to figure out how to manage remote work well, to address these and other issues.

But they will have to find a way to adapt. With COVID, companies are learning how to shift — because they’ve been forced to do it. 

Making innovation necessary,  which could lead to greater inclusion.

Sarah Kaplan

Founder and Director, Institute for Gender and the Economy

A few things give me hope, including this broader conversation about care work. We’ve known for 30 years that childcare is the secret to women’s advancement in their jobs, and now we’re talking about how the secret to economic recovery is going to be childcare — it gives me some hope that we might actually get a universal child care solution. That would be great. 

The second thing that gives me hope is that we all got thrown into a period of experimentation. We had been talking for years and years at the Rotman School about doing some online education, and there was resistance to that change — and then from March 13 to March 16, we transferred the entire in-person experience to online. We’re seeing similar things in all sorts of companies; between experiments with collaborative work, and different tools, we may come up with a better way of working. 

We’re also able to include so many more people at work than we were ever able to include before. For example, people in smaller communities — for example in the Canadian north — can now get a remote job at a big corporate in Toronto, get the advantage of that salary, and the advantage of staying in their communities. And many of the things that we have ended up doing because of the pandemic have been things that people with disabilities have been requesting for years. We can still do a better job of including people with disabilities — virtual meetings can be harder for people who have a vision impairment, or people who have a hearing impairment if they can’t read people’s lips — so it’s not perfect, but I see all kinds of experimentation leading us to think about ways of work that could actually be much more inclusive, and that gives me hope.

Opening up the lines of communication  and including more voices.

Candies Kotchapaw

Founder & Executive Director, Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow, Today (DYLOTT)

Even in all this horribleness, all the terrible, tragic impact that COVID has brought with it, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that COVID has brought many opportunities for people who are Black and for people to collaborate. I think the biggest positive that I can take from COVID is that it has opened up the lines of communication, where I think they were locked or non-existent before. Even through social media, there’s access to people that I think before as a Black person I would have never had the opportunity to engage with.

The other major thing that gives me hope is that people are recognizing the value of contribution from Black communities. They are recognizing that there is capacity for agency within Black communities. And they are recognizing that there are a plethora of experiences that are valuable. 

Now, the spotlight is being shone on our communities, and we’re saying, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity for self-governance. There’s an opportunity for economic independence. There’s an opportunity for collaboration on a level that there has never been.’ I’m certainly very happy for that.

Connecting more authentically  and growing empathy for others.

Mayaan Ziv

Founder and CEO, AccessNow

I honestly think that it boils down to empathy. I think when there is a sense of empathy we react differently, and we’re kinder to each other, and we are more thoughtful about our actions. I think we’ve been given the opportunity to empathize with another person’s fear, another person’s reality. People start meetings with a meaningful ‘how are you?’ — it is not necessarily something we would have seen in the past, but is a chance to connect with another person, authentically.

Having that kind of human element, we have a unique opportunity to now grow from this experience, and I hope that we do. Human tendency is to get these new paths and then eventually forget about them and go back to the old ways. I hope that that’s not going to be the case. I think we have an opportunity to learn from this, and to invest in a future that is welcoming and inclusive.

Showing Canadians Indigenous strength, resilience, and leadership and an added call to support sovereignty

Pam Palmater

Mi'kmaq Lawyer, Professor, and Activist

The hope that I see is the ways in which specifically First Nations and Indigenous women have addressed murdered and missing women and girls, land-based protests and land-based defense, and even this pandemic — by asserting their own sovereignty. And we may be doing so in an underfunded capacity, in a marginalized, oppressed capacity, in a context of ongoing genocide and pandemic risk — but we continue to show our strength, and our resilience, and our leadership, and our commitment to our sovereignty as nations, to continue to do this for our people. 

There are literally a thousand stories of Indigenous women and girls serving their communities. They’re the most underserved, but they’re out there volunteering for elders, they’re cleaning, they’re bringing supplies, they’re advocating. They’re literally on the front line. And there are still women out there on the front lines of land defense and that’s where I find my hope. In the assertion and defense of our sovereignty and our territory, despite the overwhelming and monumental barriers, and the risk to our lives.

It’s really important that we get these stories out, and show Canadians that this is where hope is, supporting Native people in asserting and defending their sovereignty and territory, and the right to make decisions for themselves, that’s what will get us out of this. Canadians are starting to see that the things that we were advocating for and protesting against were the very same things that were going to benefit Canadians. So when we’re trying to defend clean water for First Nations, that’s actually a benefit to all Canadians, because we’re not going to live very long without clean water or farmable land. And similarly, when we’re defending human rights and civil liberties, that’s for everybody. And it’s a very slippery slope to say it’s okay to breach those rights for Native people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for Black people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for immigrants, now it’s okay to breach those rights for poor people — it never ends, and so we have to have an absolute stop against the breach of human rights, and that benefits all Canadians.

What do all these opportunities have in common? That they are no more than opportunities, which can be wasted without determined action. Unless we are willing to address systemic inequality, and innovate and rebuild with inclusion in mind, our ‘new normal’ won’t be any better — and possibly far worse — than where we started six months ago.  

What will it take? A commitment that goes beyond public statements or check-the-box inclusion practices. Working with marginalized communities to address systemic issues, rather than prescribing band aid solutions to mitigate the effects of inequality. There needs to be listening and learning, and we must overcome the fear — and eradicate the backlash — of uncomfortable conversations. We must approach this with all the effort, resources, thought, and care that building a new system demands.   

It will be hard to do it right, and easy to get discouraged. So we cannot forget this: we’ve never before had so many opportunities presented that can help us on the road ahead. Let’s not waste our chance for change.

A conversation with Sané Dube on the two health crises facing Black people in Canada: COVID and Racism

By early April, just a few weeks after COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic, the headlines started appearing: Black people were experiencing an increased risk of infection, hospitalization, and death from the virus. 

The stats were coming from the US and the UK, because we weren’t collecting race-based COVID data in Canada — despite awareness of the risks for Black communities, community members sounding the alarm, and supporting evidence by way of overlapping COVID and census data. 

As Black Lives Matter protests erupted globally at the end of May in response to the killing of George Floyd, accelerating calls from Black community health leaders in Canada to have anti-Black racism declared a health crisis — mainstream discussions were still asking, “Is Canada racist?” 

Sané Dube has been advocating for greater visibility and action with respect to the connection between race and health. Currently the Policy and Government Relations Lead, with a focus on Black health, at the Alliance for Healthier Communities, she has worked in community development, health promotion, research, and strategic policy development. 

I spoke with Sané about the link between anti-Blackness and the severity of COVID among Black people in Canada, the distinctly Canadian blind spot that serves to halt progress on the issue, and what we could be doing differently to dismantle systemic racism in healthcare. 

This interview has been edited for length. 


Statistics are showing that Black people are more likely to die from COVID — but while the numbers are making the headlines, not everyone is gaining an understanding of
why this is happening. Can we start there? 

Health is about a lot more than being able to walk into a doctor’s office or being able to walk into a healthcare facility. Health is really influenced by a range of factors and the environments we live in. Social determinants of health can be understood as the conditions that you live, work, and play in — it’s really a combination of the social and economic factors that impact your health.

Housing, for example, impacts health in very significant ways in terms of stability. We know that people who are unhoused or are experiencing homelessness tend to have worse health outcomes than people who have stability and don’t have to worry about housing. These social determinants of health are really looking at health with a much broader view than just through the ability to see a doctor, nurse or healthcare provider. They’re looking at the everyday things in someone’s life that can either help their health or lead to deterioration of their health.

 

Early on in the pandemic, when first called upon to collect race-based data with respect to COVID, Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario, responded that statistics based on race aren’t collected in Canada unless certain groups are found to have risk factors — which seems to completely ignore the existence of social determinants of health. 

That moment was really shocking. At the same time that Ontario was saying we won’t collect the data, we were seeing really striking statistics coming out of the United States and also the United Kingdom. We now know that in the US, Black people are five times more likely to be hospitalized and more than twice as likely to face fatal outcomes from COVID, compared to white Americans. 

We know that in Ontario it’s the same story. At the time when Dr.Williams made this comment, we were already seeing the impact of COVID on some communities. It was really disappointing to hear.

There was a lot of rallying, there was a lot of mobilization — I think people were pushing back against this thing that often happens in Canada, where we try and make invisible the way that systemic racism and structural inequality impact the most marginalized and vulnerable in our communities. We often get, ‘We’re not the same as the US,’ which invisibilizes the harm that Black, racialized and Indigenous people experience in this country. 


The efforts made by advocacy groups eventually led to the Ontario government changing course on the collection of race-based data for COVID, which is certainly a win. But to put that in perspective — this can’t be the first time this conversation was happening, right? 

You’re right. This is not new. People have been calling for this for literally decades. I was looking at something today — someone showed me a committee that had been put together in 1998, asking for the collection of this data. I think that this happened to be a window of opportunity because of the devastation that we have seen with COVID.

Data is collected in Ontario for other sectors. Education collects data by race. Justice also does. And there was a discussion, around 2017, to collect the data for health, but at the time the ministry said that there are lots of privacy concerns. I don’t think in calling for more data collection now, people are saying we should not be mindful of privacy. It’s also important to say that the collection of the data is not the end goal — but having the data means we have better tools to dismantle what causes harm.

 

This call was partly pushback saying, no, things are really awful, and this is not an issue just in the US. Even in Canada, Black people are dying, Indigenous people are dying, because of what happens with policing, because there isn’t a recognition of the ways that racism leads to death, or racism leads to us getting less services than other people, or getting care that just isn’t good enough.

 

You were a signatory on the joint statement calling for anti-Black racism to be declared a public health crisis. Can you share what led to its release on June 1, and what were the main goals of this joint effort?

You’ll remember that in the same week in the US, we had just seen the killing of George Floyd and Tony McDade, and we were talking about the killing of Breonna Taylor. Then in Canada, that same week, we had seen Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an Afro-Indigenous woman, fall to her death in police presence. There have been two other deaths in Ontario under similar circumstances. In New Brunswick, we had just seen Rodney Levi, an Indigenous man, killed by an RCMP officer, and Chantel Moore, who was also Indigenous, killed by police who were called in to respond to a mental health and wellness check.

All these things were happening in Canada, and our Premier was asked about systemic racism, and his response at that time was that ‘we’re not as bad as the US’ — the premier did later reverse this, but in that moment it had the effect of minimizing the violence Black and Indigenous communities were facing.  

This call was partly pushback saying, no, things are really awful, and this is not an issue just in the US. Even in Canada, Black people are dying, Indigenous people are dying, because of what happens with policing, because there isn’t a recognition of the ways that racism leads to death, or racism leads to us getting less services than other people, or getting care that just isn’t good enough. Racism leads to our communities being underfunded, so that in the social sector, the health sector, our communities receive less. That ends up influencing our health.

With the declaration of anti-Black racism as a public health crisis, we were calling for it to be seen that racism was impacting people’s lives. It was a push to make things visible, and to then have the system be accountable for the ways that people are harmed. Declaring something a public health crisis shows urgency, that this is a critical issue that demands a response. It ensures health resources are designated, and there’s planning for the appropriate resources to be put in place, as well as accountability, infrastructure, and mechanisms for the system. 


A lot of the mainstream media stories have focused on the mortality rate of COVID being higher for Black people. What’s not making the headlines that should be, with respect to Black communities and health? What about mental health? 

When that question comes up, my first thought is always, how do you talk about this in a way that doesn’t pathologize Black people? Anti-Black racism, anti-Indigeneity has done so much harm and continues to do so much harm. White supremacy does so much harm to our people, and yet we often talk about mental health in a way that somehow again places the harms of these huge, unrelenting systems at the feet of Black people, without holding the system accountable for the distress that it causes to our people. What I would really like us to ask is, ‘What does this system do to Black people and in what way is it not accountable?’ 

I’ll give the example of healthcare workers who are dying in Ontario. Most have been personal support workers, many of them Black and racialized. It’s caused tremendous distress to their families, especially the circumstances under which they have died. I think that even the system has not held itself accountable for the way that it’s contributed to those deaths.

Earlier on in the pandemic, Chief Medical Officer of Health, David Williams, was asked about personal protective equipment for personal support workers. He initially did not name them as essential workers, or prioritize access to equipment for them. Then personal support workers started dying, and there’s no apology for the way that they have been treated, there is no acknowledgement of the way that the system has failed them. Instead, when you read about their death, it’s almost framed like they are responsible for what systemic and structural issues have done to them.

 

Is there a way we can tell these stories differently, so that they are contributing to positive change?

We need to be able to tell these stories in a way that also holds the system and these structures accountable for the harm that they do to people.

With Regis Korchinski-Paquet, for example, I think we have to ask, as a 29-year-old young woman, what other support had she received to that point? Had she been able to find care that was culturally appropriate and that understood her very specific cultural issues that she was bringing? If she hadn’t, then why isn’t there more of an effort, even as we discuss her case, to talk about funding for mental health programs that are designed by and for marginalized communities, so that people can get the care that they need?

Even with Chantel Moore, I think that there just hasn’t been as much useful conversation talking about the way that policing continues to be part of the colonial project in Canada. It again goes back to that accountability. So much of the media coverage in Canada has been focused on the question, is there systemic racism? — which is just a distraction, and it takes away from what people are going through. 

And while we’re wasting time asking if there’s systemic racism, people’s lives are still being negatively impacted. People are still not getting the care that they need in Toronto’s  North West to deal with a deadly pandemic. While we’re asking, ‘Is there systemic racism in prisons?’, people who are Black and Indigenous — who are also overrepresented in prison populations — are not getting all the supplies that they need to deal with COVID, even though they are at some of the highest risk because of the condition that people in prisons live under.


Has the conversation around racism and health evolved at all, as a result of the pandemic?

I think that we are having conversations right now in 2020 under COVID that we weren’t having in 2018, which is great. But it would be naive not to look at the ways that already white supremacy is mutating and working to keep the status quo in place. I think there’s a lot of words that are being put out, but I don’t know that most of them are turning into actual work.

 

You have written about how anti-Blackness is a health crisis that deserves more than lip-service. Is there anything that gives you hope for change in what’s happening now? 

This is a question that we also see a lot in Canadian media. I think that hope is a critical part of resistance; hope is a critical part of being able to remake a world where we can live better. I think that often what happens when people are asked to be hopeful, is minimization of the very real pain that people are in and the difficulty of this moment. So I don’t usually answer that question, ‘what gives you hope?’ But what I do say is that I recognize hope is a critical part of resistance.

 

A conversation with Sarah Kaplan on COVID’s greater impact on women — and how we can rebuild equitably

At this point in the pandemic, we should no longer be asking if COVID is affecting women to a greater degree than men.  

The evidence shows it is, and in many ways; a primer on the gendered impacts of COVID-19 released in April by the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) pointed to higher participation in risky front-line work, greater susceptibility to economic uncertainty, increased domestic and caregiving responsibilities, increased vulnerability to domestic violence, and barriers to sexual and reproductive healthcare — with Indigenous, racialized, low-income, LGBTQ+ and other vulnerable groups worse affected.

Even as social distancing rules are relaxing, the situation has not improved. The latest statistics show women suffered a greater loss of jobs and are experiencing a slower recovery, have higher reported mental health issues, and a higher COVID mortality rate in Canada — and relatively speaking, this is still just the immediate impact. We don’t have a clear view of the long-term effects of the pandemic for women. 

I spoke with Sarah Kaplan, Founder and Director of GATE, to get her take on why it’s important to look at COVID with an intersectional gendered lens, where we are headed with respect to gender equality, and what we can be doing to build a more inclusive future. 

The interview has been edited for length. 

 

From the very beginning, you’ve been looking at the pandemic with an intersectional gender lens. Why is this so important? 

When we first put out our primer on the gendered impacts of COVID, I had a colleague reach out to me irate that at a time when people were getting sick and dying, and the economy is in the tank, that I would dare be talking about gender issues — as if gender were something on the side, a nice-to-have, but it has nothing to do with the core economic or health impacts. 

And of course, when you actually do look with a gender lens, you see how much it does have to do with gender, and you see the very unequal economic and health impacts. Gender, or women’s issues, or issues of masculinity, are not just something you focus on when times are stable — this moment of crisis is when we should be spending the most time looking at these kinds of issues. 

 

Some people might argue we should take a ‘neutral’ approach to these issues, rather than a gendered approach. Is that even possible? What do you think could be the impact of that kind of thinking? 

There is evidence from previous economic downturns and previous corporate layoffs that often diversity suffers, because if you approach it with rules like ‘we’ll furlough all the part-time workers’ or ‘we’ll furlough the people with the lowest evaluations’ or ‘we’ll furlough the people who are most recently hired’ — all of those are gendered. Women are more likely to be part-time, we know that performance evaluations are often gender-biased, and because companies have historically been bad at diversity, women are less likely to have seniority. 

These supposedly gender-neutral rules have really gendered outcomes. We need to have an explicit diversity lens on these decisions, or you’re going to kill off whatever diversity we’ve been fighting to get in the last decade or so, including in corporate Canada. 

 

That’s a very bleak thought — but not unsurprising, considering how many ways women are being affected from an economic standpoint. Are there any repercussions that you are particularly concerned about? What’s the worst case scenario here? 

I think we could end up quite far back. Take a situation like yours, with young kids at home — if there has historically been a gender division of labor in the household, then it’s much more likely that the woman is going to drop out of the labour force, because it’s too hard for her to manage small children and perform in her job. 

Among heterosexual couples, we know that we don’t have equal sharing of responsibilities in Canadian households — there is an incredibly gendered division of labour. The likelihood that we are going to see a whole generation of women with pre-teen children dropping out of the workforce is extremely high. It’s just not manageable. And until we get a vaccine, I think we’re going to see a whole slew of people leaving the workforce, and that will undo a lot of the progress. 

 

“We’ve known for 30 years that childcare is the secret to women’s advancement in their jobs, and now we’re talking about how the secret to economic recovery is going to be childcare — it gives me some hope that we might actually get a universal child care solution.”

 

What about the argument that men are now seeing how much work is involved in care responsibilities?

Yes, on the positive side, and again talking about heterosexual couples, there are situations where the male partner is seeing exactly how much care work is required at home, and actually participating more and becoming more committed to getting corporate policies adjusted to adapt. 

This may be a wake up call for many male leaders about what exactly has been happening behind the curtains. Some people predict that maybe we’ll get a wave of more equal households going forward, but I’m not sure about that. I think it remains to be seen exactly what social changes are going to be wrought from this. 

I think one thing is true: we are never going to go back to everyone always working in their offices, now that people are set up to work from home. The future of work is going to change because of this, or accelerate at least, and I don’t think we have a good way to predict which way it’s going to pull — whether it’s going towards more gender equality because men have gotten more involved in care work, or it’s going to uphold inequality because women will have to give up their work in order to deal with the additional care work. 

 

In the face of losing ground in the push for gender equality, what gives you the most hope? 

A few things give me hope, including this broader conversation about care work. We’ve known for 30 years that childcare is the secret to women’s advancement in their jobs, and now we’re talking about how the secret to economic recovery is going to be childcare — it gives me some hope that we might actually get a universal child care solution. That would be great. 

The second thing that gives me hope is that we all got thrown into a period of experimentation. We had been talking for years and years at the Rotman School about doing some online education, and there was resistance to that change — and then from March 13 to March 16, the entire in-person experience got transferred to online. We’re seeing similar things in all sorts of companies; between experiments with collaborative work, and different tools, we may come up with a better way of working. 

We’re also able to include so many more people at work than we were ever able to include before. For example, people in smaller communities can now get a remote job at a big corporate in Toronto, get the advantage of that salary, and the advantage of staying in their communities. And many of the things that we have ended up doing because of the pandemic have been things that people with disabilities have been asking for for years. We can still do a better job of including people with disabilities — virtual meetings can be harder for people who have a vision impairment, or people who have a hearing impairment if they can’t read people’s lips — so it’s not perfect, but I see all kinds of experimentation leading us to think about ways of work that could actually be much more inclusive, and that gives me hope.  

 

These are all examples of positive side effects of the pandemic, which are great, but what do you think we could be doing to intentionally rebuild in an equitable way

GATE has actually partnered with the YWCA to develop a feminist recovery plan — because we definitely need to be intentional about what is included. From a more narrow focus, corporate recovery plan, to a broader focus, like where governments should invest in infrastructure. These kinds of big projects have major feminist dimensions to them. 

As an example, investing in caregiving pays huge dividends — it basically pays for itself in a very short period of time — but it seems really expensive and so people don’t want to do it because it’s just caregiving, it’s not a highway. Investing in social infrastructure as opposed to physical infrastructure is a way of reconceptualizing the major government spending that will happen to help recover the economy.  

It would be very different from how countries typically spend to recover the economy, and without some more very serious conversations, it’s unclear we’re going to get the feminist solution that we need.

A conversation with Maayan Ziv on COVID and people living with disabilities

Maayan Ziv is an award-winning tech entrepreneur and disability advocate. Frustrated by the barriers she was experiencing living with muscular dystrophy, nearly five years ago she founded AccessNow — an app that uses crowdsourcing to pin-point the accessibility status of locations on an interactive map. 

A few days before our conversation, the federal government announced new funding: $15 million to enable community organizations to help Canadians with disabilities adapt to the realities of COVID-19, and up to $600 for individuals who qualify for the Disability Tax Credit (DTC). 

While that measure would have reached about 1.2 million eligible Canadians, one study estimates it would only cover roughly 40% of working-aged adults with a severe disability. What’s worse, on June 11 the bill that included these benefits failed to pass, as opposition parties withheld support. Party leaders blamed one another for the impasse, and so far, no new initiatives have been announced.

Maayan Ziv spoke candidly on the challenges COVID presents for people with disabilities — and the opportunities.

 

I’d like to start by asking, how are you doing?

I’ve been okay. At first there was a lot of fear that I was experiencing — especially being someone who fits into the category of being immunocompromised. Whenever I listen to stories about how this is really, really dire for people who fit my criteria, there’s a lot of fear around that. And that is a shared experience. Pretty much everyone that is in a similar situation as me, we have had to take a lot of precautions. 

It was difficult at first. Before there was even a lockdown, I was starting to self-isolate. I used to live in Toronto and I just moved out to the country to be in a less dense population. I’m not going to the grocery store or anywhere really, and basically everyone who’s living in the same house is in the same boat. It’s pretty extreme. 

It can be frustrating or difficult, especially now when things are starting to open — it’s really not the case for me. I’ve gone through cycles, from fear, to a sense of grieving for what life was like pre-COVID. Now, I’m in a state of acceptance and really working on leveraging the silver lining that comes along with this new reality. I think that there’s a lot of change and it’s not all bad.

 

One of those silver linings, from what I’ve been reading, is that some of the ways we’ve adapted because of COVID are actually beneficial to people living with disabilities. Would you agree with that?

A lot of the things that we were seeing in the very beginning — like people writing about what it means to work from home, to access services online or remotely, and people having this panic of, how do I do life if I haven’t done this before? — that was general across the board, every person we talked to said the same thing. 

And for our community of people with disabilities, it was a very interesting experience, because the things that people started realizing that they needed are things that people with disabilities have been advocating for years. The flexibility, working from home or having different work hours, the ability to use online tools as opposed to meeting in person.

Specifically, if you just look at employment, it’s been a huge conversation that has been happening within the disability community for a very long time. Part of it has actually resulted in barriers where people don’t get the job, or they’re not given a fair chance to pursue an opportunity because people will say, ‘Well, if you can’t come into the office every day or if you can’t work in this way, you can’t work for us at all.’

Now, there’s a bigger sense of advocacy for the disability community, that’s been demanding these types of accommodations, you might call it, for years — from home delivery to telehealth. There are so many different aspects of how we’re revolutionizing the world to be post-COVID that have been part of the DNA of how people with disabilities have been wanting to live their lives, and not always been granted access to.

There’s a sense of, welcome to my world, and a real opportunity to develop a sense of empathy and work towards a greater understanding of inclusion because things that were considered accommodations, or things that are accessible specifically for people with disabilities, are now things that every person needs. That is a really unique opportunity to capitalize on and keep working towards inclusive progress.

We’re in a really important moment in time where we hope that things will continue in this direction. We hope that restaurants will continue to offer options, and that offices will continue to embrace a remote work style, and that we won’t just go back to a one-size-fits-all model without the flexibility to be there for every person. That’s something we’re advocating for within the disability community.

 

“There’s a sense of, welcome to my world, and a real opportunity to develop a sense of empathy and work towards a greater understanding of inclusion because things that were considered accommodations, or things that are accessible specifically for people with disabilities, are now things that every person needs.”

 

Is there a degree of frustration that you’ve been advocating for this for years and people have been saying, ‘We can’t do it’ — and now all of a sudden, en masse, the world has started doing it?

It’s a good question. For sure, I think that there is some frustration there, but the frustration has always been there. The fact that people with disabilities haven’t been given the same rights and opportunities, that’s a systemic issue, and it’s global. 

That’s why the largest minority group in the world has been advocating for that for so long. But rather than just leaning on that anger and that frustration, having the opportunity to then use that frustration as fuel to capitalize on this chance for change, I think is really the approach that I’m taking personally and I see a lot of people in the community doing as well. 

So knowledge-sharing, improving access with our Access From Home product, and we’ve launched a campaign that’s focused on storytelling, so that people with disabilities can share their own lived experiences about what access from home looks like, so that it becomes more personal and it becomes real for people, rather than this blob of immunocompromised people. 

 

You mention your Access From Home product — which seems to be the opposite of what you were offering with AccessNow. How did that come about?

At AccessNow we were originally focused on connecting people to the physical world, the built environment, and encouraging and empowering people to get out and do things and be independent. With COVID, we had to quickly start thinking about what our role is now, in a world where people can’t really go out. 

That’s really where Access From Home became part of the solution. We’ve been hearing a lot of people in our community saying, ‘I’m having a difficult time finding access to groceries,’ or ‘What opportunities do I have for online employment? What tools can I use?’ or ‘What sources of education or entertainment do I have access to from home?’

We started building this directory of different companies and services, where people can look for the things that they need in their life, and so have that sense of accessibility and empowerment at home. So we’re contributing in the same way that we’ve always done, connecting people to an accessible world — even if our world is now digital, and accessed through devices at home.

And we continue to invest in our main platform, the AccessNow app. We know that accessibility in the built environment is still, and will always be, critical to achieving independence and equity

 

What about other supports — like group programs and at-home care? I’ve read they’ve had to change how they’re delivered, or they’ve just gone away. How is this being managed?

Many people are really struggling. I’ve heard nightmare stories from people who are without enough support, because their caregivers have had to pick only one place of employment or don’t feel safe coming to work. I’ve heard from people who have had to isolate from loved ones in order to limit the risk of exposure, or those unable to get basic needs met due to new financial constraints or gaps in care. It’s just hard, it’s hard on everyone, with or without the disability. 

But for those with disabilities, it can be really trying right now and that story is not widely known. We still have a lot of people hanging out in big groups or not practicing proper social distancing or not wearing masks. Many people I feel are not thinking about how those actions, although they might not actually hurt them personally, are hurting other people. 

 

Do you feel like, as we’re all figuring out this new normal, that your voice is being heard?

Early on Minister Qualtrough put together an advisory committee of people that were focused on disability and COVID-19, and that now there is also a new effort from Stats Canada to collect survey data on the impact of COVID on Canadians with disabilities.

But is it too little too late? I think the $15 million for programs, that’s a significant number but when we talk about funding on the personal level, there’s a lot of people who fall through the cracks. The important thing to realize, and I don’t think people do, is that people with disabilities have a lot of expenses, especially now, and many are without the support they need.

Here’s one tiny example: a caregiver that’s coming and going daily — you need PPE not just for you, but for all the people who come in and out of your life every day to support you. There are all these microtransactions that people don’t really think about, and there’s a whole body of work that talks about the cost of disability — and during this time, it’s even more significant. I’m glad that some funding is there, but I’m not sure it will be enough.

 

Is there a lesson you hope that we learn out of this? If there was one thing you wish we could hold on to that will lead us towards a better future, what would that be?

I honestly think that it boils down to empathy. I think when there is a sense of empathy we react differently, and we’re kinder to each other, and we are more thoughtful about our actions. I think we’ve been given the opportunity to empathize with another person’s fear, another person’s reality. People start meetings with a meaningful ‘how are you?’ — it is not necessarily something we would have seen in the past, but is a chance to connect with another person, authentically.

Having that kind of human element, we have a unique opportunity to now grow from this experience, and I hope that we do. Human tendency is to get these new paths and then eventually forget about them and go back to the old ways. I hope that that’s not going to be the case. I think we have an opportunity to learn from this, and to invest in a future that is welcoming and inclusive.

A conversation with Candies Kotchapaw on COVID, Inequality, and Black communities

I first met Candies Kotchapaw at the Top 25 Women of Influence celebration on March 3, where we presented her with an award for the work she’s been doing as the founder of Developing Young Leaders for Tomorrow, Today (DYLOTT), a leadership incubator focused on Black youth.

The inspiration for DYLOTT came from Candies’ own experience with systemic racism in academia — she holds Master and Bachelor degrees in Social Work, and a diploma in Child and Youth Work — and an understanding of the need to make spaces of influence more accessible for Black communities, from education to corporations to the public sector. She’s now at home with her 7-year-old and 17-month-old, figuring out how to pivot DYLOTT to best serve Black communities in need, and how to raise the funds needed to do it

Much like with Indigenous communities, a conversation about the impact of COVID on Black communities extends much further than health. While Candies sees an opportunity for positive change, it’s clearly a challenging road ahead. 

 The interview has been edited for length. 

 

Let me start by asking, how are you doing?

I was having a conversation with another BIWOC person today, about how Black community members are sharing their experiences, and people are in shock that this actually happens in Canada. And I said to her, I don’t think I’ve ever been as triggered as much as I am triggered now. And it’s because of the spotlight — all of the sudden, all these things are being put out in the open, and discussions are raw, and conversations are really hitting the core of what we’ve been experiencing for such a long time. So how I’m doing is, I’m not sure. 

There are times that I have media trauma. With social media and mainstream media, everything comes home with you. It’s in your living room, it’s in your bedroom, it’s in your kitchen — wherever we have a screen, it’s there with you. And Black community members have been put on the stage, and now we are expected to perform, in a way that we’ve never been conditioned to perform, nor have we been given the opportunity to prepare. I’ve never been invited to speak this much in all the years that I’ve been active in program development. The best term that I can use is just truly overwhelmed by it all.    

 

And through all of this, you’re figuring out how to keep DYLOTT moving forward. How has that journey been?

Before COVID-19 hit, we had just come off our closing activities for 2019. After having experienced a tremendous amount of success for our pilot year in different programs, we were ready to bring them to other Black communities across Ontario and then nationally. Over October, November, and December we were building our strategic direction — operationally, financially, and in terms of the personnel that we’re going to bring on board — and had started conversations about going after an Ontario Trillium Foundation Grow Grant. That would have been multi-year funding, so we wouldn’t have to be in the precarious position of looking for funding every single year.

In January, we started to write the grant and were communicating with potential partners to come on board and support the program. By February, COVID started to take root and our steering committee and our board members began to talk about what we should do. By March, everything was shut down. Fortunately, we were already doing virtual conferencing — everybody who is in DYLOTT works full-time, or has part-time work or school work — so we were doing conference calls at 9:30 at night when our children went to bed. 

 

And what about that strategic growth plan? Are you continuing in the direction you were discussing, or has COVID changed things? 

The work really has shifted from ‘How do we prepare to roll out our current programs?’ to ‘Is there an opportunity to prepare Black youth for the transition into the future of the work?’ Because we know that the digital age is already here and our communities are already left behind.

When COVID hit and we had to adjust to learning at home, there were pockets of information coming out saying that Black communities don’t have access to reliable Internet, we don’t have access to reliable technology. We already knew those things were happening — but it was an opportunity for us to say we need to create access to those technologies that are going to be mandatory in the digital age, during the recovery period and beyond. 

That’s a mountain of a job, because how do we reach out to these people using the virtual space when they don’t have the access to the virtual space? That’s a road-map that we need to create to make sure that we don’t leave anybody behind, but we recognize that is going to be slow, it’s going to be long, and I’m sure it’s going to be treacherous. 

 

Looking at the issue of learning from home, the Ontario government made big announcements about distributing laptops and tablets to disadvantaged students — but it’s community organizations like DYLOTT that are recognizing the gaps in the program. Should the government be working with you more closely on efforts like distributing learning devices? 

I absolutely think we should take the lead here, because we know those communities that we’re working with, and have an understanding of the needs of the people who participate in our programs. We can provide training, and help families to adjust to the new demands and technological requirements that they’re being presented with. The assumption is that we just provide them with the technology and they will figure it out. That’s not always the case.

I can draw on the example of my seven-year-old daughter. She had a Google Meet meeting every Wednesday with her teacher and her classmates for an hour. The only thing I got from her teacher and from the TDSB [Toronto District School Board] is: ‘Here is the link to the Google Meet, and the time. Log on when it’s time.’ I could figure it out, but what about those families who are technologically illiterate? What about those families that have children with a learning disability, with autism, with all the other challenges that come, the exceptionalities that children have? What do you do to support those families? 

I think the assumption is that people will just get by and figure it out, but you can’t have those assumptions when you’re dealing with a population of people that have already been marginalized within society. COVID really has rolled back the curtain on all the inequities that exist.

 

“I think the biggest positive that I can take from COVID is that it has opened up the lines of communication, where I think they were locked or non-existent before. Even through social media, there’s access to people that I think before as a Black person I would have never had the opportunity to engage with.”

 

For DYLOTT to provide these services, you need funding. You’ve set up a GoFundMe page, but that’s far from the multi-year support you were hoping to secure at the beginning of the year. What does the financial part of this equation look like? 

At the end of April, the federal government announced $350 million of support for the nonprofit sector and community. That generated a lot of interest of course from community organizations. We had several different workshops on how to apply for this grant and how to gain visibility. But the thing that I realized about this whole process, is that if you’re not a well-established organization, if you haven’t been around for a long time, or if you don’t have a mechanism that you’re connected to other organizations that have visibility, you get passed over, always.

While at DYLOTT we were talking about, ‘How do we put an application together?’,  other organizations were already out there doing that work, they were already planning their response, and how they would access the funding that was out there. We could not get a hold of anyone. No one was listening to us. We were floundering in a way, because we didn’t have visibility.

That day when I decided to put that tweet out and I tagged Jan [Frolic, SVP at Women of Influence], I tagged her because I knew that in order for us to get a support team, someone else who knew about us had to pick it up. That’s the only way that an organization like DYLOTT can get any support.  And when we got visibility, now all of a sudden a lot of people are calling and they’re all saying, “Hey, what are you guys doing?”

It’s not that organizations aren’t doing the work, they do the work and they’re doing very important and impactful work, but if someone else doesn’t recognize the value that the organization is providing, that work gets unnoticed and they end up falling by the wayside. 

 

And what about at the community level, the individuals that you work within your programs? Or other organizations in this space? What are you hearing from them? 

What we’re hearing is the things that we already knew existed, the challenges that we already knew existed — like mental health, which was never a priority area for social determinants of health for Black communities. All of a sudden, it’s a priority. If all of a sudden it’s a priority — we never got a chance to sit down and deconstruct what mental health looks like within that community, and we’re expected to have solutions for all those challenges, we’re expected to have the people who can address those challenges.

For me as a social worker, I know for a fact that there aren’t enough Black mental health workers to support our community, because there has never been that focus put on the need to provide Black mental health services. 

Also, of course, the challenge with technology and the barriers that presents. One of the questions that we’re discussing with organizations like ours is ‘What training do we need to provide?’

But what agency do we have to answer that expert question? I don’t feel like I’m an expert right now. That’s the reality. I think it certainly is an opportunity to address something, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect that we have all the answers, especially right upfront, right now. We need the space to figure out strategies to address all the different social determinants that are happening all at one time.

 

What in all this gives you hope? Is there anything that is happening because of COVID that you believe can help us build a better future? 

Yes. Definitely. Even in all this horribleness, all the terrible, tragic impact that COVID has brought with it, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that COVID has brought many opportunities for people who are Black and for people to collaborate. I think the biggest positive that I can take from COVID is that it has opened up the lines of communication, where I think they were locked or non-existent before. Even through social media, there’s access to people that I think before as a Black person I would have never had the opportunity to engage with.

The major thing that gives me hope is that people are recognizing the value of contribution from Black communities. They are recognizing that there is capacity for agency within Black communities. And they are recognizing that there are a plethora of experiences that are valuable. 

Now, the spotlight is being shone on our communities, and we’re saying, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity for self-governance. There’s an opportunity for economic independence. There’s an opportunity for collaboration on a level that there has never been.’ I’m certainly very happy for that.

A conversation with Pam Palmater on COVID, racism, and Indigenous communities

Within the first few minutes of the conversation, one thing is clear: it is impossible to understand the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous people living in Canada without knowledge of the centuries of struggle that came before it, and the racism, oppression, and genocide that they were experiencing already.  

On these topics, Dr. Pamela Palmater is an authority — a result of more than 25 years of focus on First Nations issues, studying, volunteering, advocating, and working as a lawyer, Associate Professor, and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. A Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick, Pam has spoken internationally on Indigenous issues and authored three books on the subject; her latest, Warrior Life: Indigenous Resistance and Resurgence, just became available for preorder. 

I spoke with Pam on June 3, the one-year anniversary of the release of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. On the same day, Pam published an article that shows through statistics that Canada has a racism problem, and Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check. 

And so our conversation started not on COVID, but on injustice.  

The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the complete discussion below.

 

Do you think the pandemic has been shining a bigger spotlight on the issues that Indigenous people in Canada face, or has it been a distraction? 

To me, COVID-19 has been used sadly as an excuse to deflect from the multiple crisis Canada was in prior to the pandemic. For months, we were in Wet’suwet’en Strong protests, that were anti-police violence, anti-police racism, anti-state oppression and breach of Indigenous rights — but even prior to that, Canada was already in the worst human rights crisis that it has ever faced. 

The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls found as a matter of fact and law — not theory or academic research, but fact and law — that Canada is guilty of historic and ongoing genocide, that Canada’s laws, policies, practices, actions and omissions are a direct cause of the crisis level rates of exploitation, disappearance and murders of Indigenous women and girls, and that Canada demonstrates it has a manifest pattern of intention to destroy Indigenous people — and that hasn’t changed, despite using different policy names. Everything is still about accessing our lands and resources and essentially assimilating Indigenous people, and they ignore all of the violence and premature death and ill health and poverty conditions as part of that. 

And so we should all be very concerned about COVID, but every pandemic in history has always disproportionately impacted Indigenous people, and in particular, Indigenous women. Indigenous people were overrepresented in H1N1, in terms of hospitalizations, intensive care, and death, and pregnant Indigenous women were also overrepresented in hospitalizations during that time.

 

Considering H1N1 disproportionately impacted indigenous communities in Canada, is anyone looking at those stats right now with respect to COVID?

Indian Affairs, which is so-called Indigenous Services Canada,[1] has been very criticized for not collecting enough data. They were reporting exceptionally low numbers, and so First Nations, knowing that this data was wrong and presenting the worst picture possible reported their own data to Ryerson University’s Yellowhead Institute — not all First Nations in Canada, but they got a large group to submit their numbers — and the numbers were almost three times higher than what Indian Affairs was reporting.

And that doesn’t even include all of the First Nations. If you don’t know where COVID is, who is infected, how can you contact trace that? How can you prevent it? First Nations for the last few months have been complaining that they haven’t been sent tests. There’s been no concerted, purposeful, intentional focus on the most at-risk, health-compromised population in this country, which is First Nations people.
 

Knowing that, do you think there has been an appropriate response?

The COVID pandemic should have resulted in a doubling of the effort to make sure that Indigenous women and girls are taken care of. That simply hasn’t been the case. There have been outbreaks in prisons, and Indigenous women are the fastest-growing population and already overrepresented in prisons — they represent 42 percent in federal corrections alone. Indigenous girls represent as high as 98 percent of the youth corrections population. 

So if you think about institutions and how they’re natural fermentors of the pandemic because of the overcrowding, lack of hygiene, lack of access to health care, then we know that Indigenous women and girls are at the highest risk because they are overrepresented in all these institutions. It’s just beyond belief that Canada didn’t immediately act on Indigenous women and girls with the report, but didn’t also immediately have a gendered pandemic plan for Indigenous women and girls, to target them first and foremost for protection. 

 

What gives you hope in all this?

I think the hope that I see is the ways in which specifically First Nations and Indigenous women have addressed murdered and missing women and girls, land-based protests and land-based defense, and even this pandemic — by asserting their own sovereignty. And we may be doing so in an underfunded capacity, in a marginalized, oppressed capacity, in a context of ongoing genocide and pandemic risk — but we continue to show our strength, and our resilience, and our leadership, and our commitment to our sovereignty as nations, to continue to do this for our people. 

There are literally a thousand stories of Indigenous women and girls serving their communities. They’re the most underserved, but they’re out there volunteering for elders, they’re cleaning, they’re bringing supplies, they’re advocating. They’re literally on the front line. And there are still women out there on the front lines of land defense and that’s where I find my hope. In the assertion and defense of our sovereignty and our territory, despite the overwhelming and monumental barriers, and the risk to our lives.

It’s really important that we get these stories out, and show Canadians that this is where hope is, supporting Native people in asserting and defending their sovereignty and territory, and the right to make decisions for themselves, that’s what will get us out of this. Canadians are starting to see that the things that we were advocating for and protesting against were the very same things that were going to benefit Canadians. So when we’re trying to defend clean water for First Nations, that’s actually a benefit to all Canadians, because we’re not going to live very long without clean water or farmable land. And similarly, when we’re defending human rights and civil liberties, that’s for everybody. And it’s a very slippery slope to say it’s okay to breach those rights for Native people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for Black people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for immigrants, now it’s okay to breach those rights for poor people — it never ends, and so we have to have an absolute stop against the breach of human rights, and that benefits all Canadians.

 

And what can all Canadians be doing to be better allies?

You don’t have to be working in a social justice advocacy organization to advocate loudly and strenuously and continuously. If you look at the Wet’suwet’en Strong solidarity action, again for most of the large marches and protests and rallies, the majority of them were Canadians, and again politicians took notice of that. So every letter, protest, large behind-the-scenes influence or donation — all of that makes a difference. But the thing is, it has to be vocal. It has to be aggressive. And when I say aggressive, I don’t mean violent — but it has to be pushy, and it has to be continuous, because that’s the only way it’s going to work.

 

 

[1] The Harper government replaced the minister of Indian Affairs with a minister of Aboriginal Affairs in 2011; the Trudeau government changed it to minister of Indigenous affairs in 2015, and then split the department in two — to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and Indigenous Services in 2017. It wasn’t until July 15, 2019, however, that the Department of Indian Affairs Canada was legally replaced. Many Indigenous activists, including Pam, saw the change as “more superficiality than substance.”

How Dream Maker Inc is making entrepreneurship more inclusive

Isaac Olowolafe Jr., President of Dream Maker Inc, a Toronto-based asset management firm, started his entrepreneurial journey at just 22 years old. Now at 36, he credits the support of his parents, wife and his community for his success — and he’s paying it forward, with venture capital investments and philanthropic support guided by a diversity and inclusion mandate.

 

by Hailey Eisen

 

 


 

 

 

At 36 years old, Isaac Olowolafe Jr. has experienced great success in business at the helm of Dream Maker Corp., a diversified asset management company with divisions in real estate, development, property management, and insurance. He’s also contributed greatly as a philanthropist and is an active champion of diversity and inclusion. Isaac, however, won’t take personal credit for any of it — attributing all of his success, instead, to his upbringing and the unwavering support of his family and community.

“My parents moved our family to Canada from Nigeria when I was 4,” he recalls, “and I grew up in a rough area of Toronto.” When Isaac was 15 his family moved again, this time to Woodbridge, a large suburban community north of the city.

“Being one of the only black students in a primarily Italian community was certainly a culture shock,” Isaac recalls. And, while he recognized that he was outside of his comfort zone, he realized he had a choice to make — focus on the negative and sulk in the corner for the rest of high school, or make the most of it.

Being optimistic by nature, Isaac chose the latter path and quickly found inclusion into his new community through sports. “There are certain things that make people colour blind and one of them is sports,” he says. “It’s a great equalizer.” So, Isaac joined the soccer team and learned to play Bocce Ball. He made friends and focused on all the positive things his new community had to offer — including a strong work ethic and business sense.

“I was exposed to a lot of the businesses built out of Woodbridge, such as real estate, development, and construction,” Isaac says. “And, my dad was also a real estate broker, so I was exposed to real estate not only from my environment, but also from watching my dad. I saw real estate as a tool to create generational wealth, not only to take care of your family but also to build up a community.”

At just 22 years old, and in his second year at the University of Toronto in Mississauga, he launched Dream Maker Corp. — then, just a real estate investment company. Eight years, and a lot of hard work later, he added real estate development to his growing company. His first project was a $40 million mixed-use condo development across from Yorkdale Mall. “I wasn’t a typical developer, and many lenders said ‘no’ right away,” he recalls. Throughout the project, he faced many roadblocks — but he also received much support. In the 16 years since he set out as an entrepreneur, Isaac’s business has grown substantially. He’s remained committed to his roots, however, crediting his connections and contacts with opening doors and helping him overcome roadblocks.

With a realization that the technology ecosystem is what continues to drive the real estate and development sectors, Isaac became interested in providing support and funding to tech entrepreneurs — especially those from diverse backgrounds. He launched Dream Maker Ventures Inc. (DMV), the investment arm of Dream Maker Corp., to fund early-stage startups in this space.

 

“Nothing good comes easy, regardless of you being a woman, or from the black community, or from any type of diverse group, with enough hard work, you can crack through and achieve your goals.

 

As a venture capitalist, he believes that those companies that work with Dream Maker Ventures are innately open to different viewpoints — and he brings that to the table, no matter who he’s working with. “We work with the companies we fund to bring a diverse perspective to hiring and product development, among other things,” he says.

Their latest initiative takes this a step further. Through the recently-launched “Diversity Fund,” Dream Maker Ventures will make early-stage, seed, and Series A investments in tech companies with founding teams inclusive of persons of colour, women, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+, immigrant, refugee, and indigenous entrepreneurs.

Isaac’s goal through this fund is to help change the narrative around entrepreneurship. It also makes good business sense, he says. “Statistics show that diversity not only creates a more positive work environment, but can also help companies build better products overall.”

As a philanthropist, Isaac has, for the most part, focused his efforts on inclusion in the startup space also. Through the Dream Legacy Foundation, Isaac’s philanthropic arm, he gives back to the community by supporting programs and initiatives that help entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities, and provides access to key resources that are critical to long-term success. This essentially creates a pipeline of diverse entrepreneurs within the ecosystem that are suitable for future investment by Dream Maker Ventures and other venture capitalists. Such programs include the DMZ Black Innovation Fellowship, based out of Ryerson University; Fierce Founders, a bootcamp program for female entrepreneurs; and Access to Success, which supports future business leaders with disabilities, among others.

“The challenge most entrepreneurs of any diverse group face, is access,” Isaac says. “Access to mentorship, funding, and resources.” The access he was given when he was starting out is what he hopes to provide for others. The Black Innovation Fellowship, for example, is the first fellowship program in Canada to provide startups led by Black entrepreneurs with mentorship, events, industry connections, capital, and an alumni network to support growth.

“This is a five-year initiative, and I hope that in five years there’s no need for a program like this — that it will be normal to go into any incubator and see black-led, female-led, and other diverse population-led startups,” Isaac says.

In the future Isaac envisions, his daughters, now 4, 6, and 9, won’t face challenges specifically because of their gender or race. For now, however, he’s focused on teaching them about the value of hard work. “Nothing good comes easy,” he says. “Regardless of you being a woman, or from the black community, or from any type of diverse group, with enough hard work, you can crack through and achieve your goals.”

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

 

How Jeff Perera is using support — rather than shame — to guide men towards a new idea of manhood

Jeff Perera credits his upbringing — and the negative male role models in it — for leading him towards his current career: as a speaker, writer, and facilitator focused on a modern view of manhood. His approach avoids shaming men for their learned biases, and instead encourages them to support each other as they build their ‘empathy muscles’, celebrate their differences, and set themselves free from the stereotypes they grew up with.

 

by Hailey Eisen

 

 


 

 

 

Jeff Perera has spent more than a decade working to inspire a shift in what it means to be a man in today’s society. “Quite simply, our ideas of manhood are outdated and are no longer serving us,” explains the 44-year-old speaker, writer, and facilitator who has delivered keynotes, talks, and workshops to tens of thousands of people across North America.

“I aspire to breach conversations in a brave way,” Jeff says, “to build a bridge between the genders and provide opportunities to support one another as we move toward the awakening of modern men.”

He traces the roots of his passion back to his childhood. Raised in Canada by Sri Lankan parents who emigrated via the UK, Jeff recalls having a staunchly ‘Canadian’ upbringing. “I grew up speaking English, eating mac and cheese, and watching hockey,” he says. “My parents experienced a great deal of racism in England and wanted a different experience for me here in Canada.”

Part of his understanding, and critique, of manhood came from his own father’s abusive behaviour toward his mother. “My mother was an extreme example of what women and girls endure, but I learned early on that my father was broken,” he says. “And I was seeing similar behaviours in the socially and emotionally challenged community I grew up in.”

As a man of colour, Jeff says, there were additional stereotypes he had to navigate. “Whether it’s the negative ones, the narrative that group X is lazy and group Y is smarter, or other stereotypes that feel complimentary, like this group is more athletically inclined or this group is more hard working — they’re still treating you as ‘other than’,” he says. 

As a teenager, Jeff rejected a lot of the traditional stereotypes that were pushed on him. But it wasn’t until he was in his thirties and went back to school to study social work at Ryerson, that he realized how he could take his beliefs and put them into action. 

As a mature student, Jeff got involved in human rights work on campus and joined White Ribbon, the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls. For years he co-chaired the White Ribbon Campaign on campus and organized events and facilitated workshops. This led into a full-time role with White Ribbon, followed by a position with Next Gen Men, a non-profit organization that promotes positive masculinities, healthy relationships, and gender equity. He eventually started his own freelance business — spreading a message of healthy versus harmful ideas of manhood — which he’s been running successfully for four years.

 

“For most boys, there’s a moment of trauma where childhood ends and they’re encouraged to ‘man up’, but when they enter their first romantic relationship, suddenly they’re expected to contribute emotionally and don’t have the tools to do so.”

 

Today, he’s speaking and facilitating workshops to help create a map of modern manhood that’s more inclusive, accessible, and puts equity first and foremost. “As a collective society, we’ve instilled traditions and ideas of masculinity that don’t serve us in a lot of ways. There’s the hunter-gatherer narrative, there’s manhood measured by dominance, what we own, what we demonstrate or produce, and our access to power,” he says. “But what I always say is the measure for manhood should be how we give and how we live.”

Through his work, Jeff is tackling the stereotypes that he grew up with — and more. Be it gender, ethnic or cultural background, or disability, “what we really want to do is to recognize those differences and celebrate them,” Jeff says. “We want to be able to say, ‘like you, I am different.’”

But what about those men who aren’t ready for that message? We may find ourselves feeling defensive or reactionary if our differences are challenged rather than celebrated — but shaming others for their learned biases isn’t going to change them. Real change begins, Jeff says, when we have more living examples of what manhood should look like, and role models leading the way. This is what he’s set out to do, and he’s encouraging other men to join the conversation via his website, Higher Unlearning.  

From a corporate perspective, Jeff urges companies to think about more inclusive hiring and to “dip your toe into the pool and try to see what it will feel like for a woman, or a gay man, or a person of colour.” It’s about becoming aware of your blind spots and doing what you can to change those. This includes stepping up as a champion and contributing to a culture of caring. 

“We have to ask ourselves, what can we do to ensure our work environments are more inclusive?” This can be impacted by simple things such as the language that’s being used, the activities chosen for team building, the culture of respect being garnered, and the focus on listening to what women, and others, have to say.

Jeff believes that most men need to work on building their “empathy muscles,” which tend to get stunted in childhood. “For most boys, there’s a moment of trauma where childhood ends and they’re encouraged to ‘man up’,” he says. “But when they enter their first romantic relationship, suddenly they’re expected to contribute emotionally and don’t have the tools to do so.” 

To build empathy, Jeff says, men need to go back to the metaphorical gym and work on the muscles they want to grow. “Men also need to step up and spot one another in this process,” he says. “As I always say, compassion without action is just observation. If you want change, you need action.”

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

 

How the CTO of Sun Life is using technology to create a more inclusive workplace

The job title of Chief Technology Officer isn’t usually associated with diversity and inclusion initiatives — but Rahul Sekhon, CTO at Sun Life, sees things differently. A passionate advocate and ally for women, people of colour, indigenous people, and individuals with disabilities (among others), Rahul is using tech to contribute to a broader strategy of promoting inclusion. Through his role — and his own actions — he’s playing an important role in attracting and retaining top talent.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

As Sun Life’s Chief Technology Officer, Rahul Sekhon’s responsibilities include cloud transformation, employee experience, DevOps, and global infrastructure services. And while his education and experience align perfectly for this position, it’s the informal roles and responsibilities he’s taken on within Sun Life that really cause him to stand out amongst other male executives. 

“People who know me would tell you I’m a relentless activist for equality,” Rahul says. And it’s through this lens that he sees all his roles and responsibilities at Sun Life. In fact, he has made it his mandate to support women’s advancement in the workplace, with a particular focus on recruiting more women into technology to support diversity, and increasing the percentage of women entering science, technology, engineering and math-related fields. 

“Throughout history, Sun Life has taken pride in being an employer that supports fairness and a safe environment,” Rahul explains. “We also recognize that we must move beyond the traditional and continue to evolve to attract and retain the best talent in the industry — operating like a tech company in the insurance space.” 

In an effort to better understand their clients and create products without bias, about five years ago Sun Life began looking at Diversity and Inclusion internally as part of an overall sustainability strategy. They began with unconscious bias training, looking for gaps in the talent pipeline, and re-writing job descriptions to ensure they include gender-neutral language. This year, they partnered with six other insurers to launch the Women in Insurance STEM (WIISTEM) program in Canada, offering female coop students in STEM undergraduate programs work terms with Toronto-based insurance companies. Sun Life has also sponsored several technology advocacy and recruitment events, such as the 2019 Girls Learning Code Day, WomenHack Toronto, and the Move the Dial Summit. And these efforts are paying off — there’s a great culture across the technology area, where men and women are treated fairly and equitably, and opportunities are available to everyone.

With a background in technology, Rahul is especially interested in how tech can be used as part of this broader strategy to improve the employee experience and promote inclusion. He’s using technology to design for an experience where employees are free to be productive in ways that best suit them, and are encouraged to be open and honest about their needs and desires. 

“We’ve actually begun to simplify our technology use to create a frictionless experience — allowing people to work from one system to the next without losing productivity, and keeping in mind people with disabilities and our employees who are based all over the world,” he says. 

Looking to amplify the voice of each employee, Sun Life has leveraged Workplace by Facebook, an online team collaboration tool that brings together its offices across 26 countries. With a similar interface as Facebook, it allows the organization to connect employees across the globe with town halls and other Livestream events, and provides a common space for individuals — from entry-level to executives — to share company news, personal stories, and feedback broadly, and comment and engage readily. It not only increases the frequency and authenticity of communication, but it also ensures everyone feels included and heard, even if the feedback is challenging. 

“We launched the platform with the aspiration to bring our organization together,” says Rahul, noting the #ReachOutAndDiscover hashtag that employees were encouraged to use, “and we’ve seen example after example of how it’s enabled us to move to a truly open and inclusive culture.”

 

“Being authentic is more than how we dress up, it’s ensuring that we lead in our day-to-day actions around driving inclusion, whether it’s allowing people to speak up and voice views that are different, or amplifying the voices that get suppressed.”

 

Like when Dan Fishbein, President of Sun Life U.S., began to use the tool to share personal anecdotes and observations with employees. “He demonstrated that it’s OK to open up and be vulnerable, and encouraged others to share their stories and experiences as well.” 

With a corporate culture focused on bringing your authentic self to work, Rahul has made every effort to follow suit. From small things, like using Zoom meeting and turning his camera on, to empowering his teams to choose how and when they work — he encourages leaders to be authentic and empathetic. “Being authentic is more than how we dress up,” he says. “It’s ensuring that we lead in our day-to-day actions around driving inclusion, whether it’s allowing people to speak up and voice views that are different, or amplifying the voices that get suppressed,” he explains. 

Coming from a place of authenticity, Rahul says, has always been extremely important to him. Born and raised in India, he admits he has experienced discrimination first-hand. But he hasn’t always been the ally and advocate that he is today. “My personal journey began many years ago, with the self-awareness and recognition that I needed to shed my own biases before I could influence others.”

Rahul began by participating in learning opportunities to engage with women and other minorities, to understand the challenges they were facing. “At first, I wasn’t a huge contributor, because I was trying to build my skills as an active listener,” he says. “But, in 2017, I took a personal risk and participated in a series of unconscious bias videos to share my own story. That’s when I realized I was in a position to influence change and new behaviours, and made it my mission on a daily basis to do so.” 

While Rahul sees the value in large gestures, he believes real change takes place on a grassroots level, and that small, conscious actions have the most impact. As an engineer by trade, he says he’s generally inclined to want to ‘solve’ things, but in this case, it’s more about making subtle changes in how you act and how you show up, and, in doing so, influencing others to do the same. Leading by example, Rahul makes it a priority to actively mentor and sponsor women, create awareness about bias and discrimination, and volunteer on a regular basis.

As such, Rahul’s commitment to inclusion has always been part of his home life as well. “My wife and I have always taken turns in our careers, to raise our daughters while still allowing each other to grow professionally,” he says. It’s these beliefs that he’s ingrained in his daughters, too, who are now 13 and 17, and active diversity activists in their own right. 

The advice he offers his girls — and other young women — is the same advice he has had to heed himself over the years. “As immigrants, my wife and I consciously chose not to let go of our identities when we came to Canada,” he says. “This advice translates to women as well. Don’t be someone else, be yourself, focus on your personal brand, be authentic and curious — and never settle for second best.” 

As a strong advocate of the role that men need to play in driving equality, his advice for young men is around respecting women and building courage to stand up against bias. “Supporting women is not about giving up your spot, rather it’s about making room by being an ally,” he says. “It’s ok for men to show their vulnerability and still be passionate about what you stand for. But we need to be accepting of other views, and most importantly, we need to take accountability for our actions.” 

While he believes nothing is going to be fixed overnight, Rahul is prepared to keep pushing for change. “We are trying to undo 15,000 years of damage, and we need to dig our heels in and commit to achieving equality for the long term,” he says. “It’s less about a revolution, and more about evolutionary change. It’s how we show up and how we acknowledge the other 50 percent of the human race. And how we become their allies. Equality is not optional.” 

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

How Matthew Jefferson and Jordan Hart are lending their privilege to help others

Coined by Anjuan Simmons, the term ‘lending privilege’ describes using your own position or power to help underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. What does it look like in action? We spoke to Matthew Jefferson, who walked from BC to Newfoundland to raise awareness on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, and Jordan Hart, who completed 100 days of busking to raise money and awareness for people with intellectual disabilities. Here’s how they are using their own privilege to help others.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

Anjuan Simmons has travelled the globe speaking about diversity and inclusion, but his focus remains on ‘lending privilege’ — a phrase he coined with the intention of galvanizing action. The Texas-based technologist, speaker, and author believes that every single person has the ability to use their own position or power — no matter how great or small that may be — to help others. 

“The term ‘lending privilege’ means the willingness to take two actions,” he explains. “First, you have to be willing to recognize your own privilege, that is to understand how your gender, race, level of physical ability, and other factors provide access to resources. Second, you have to be willing to share your privilege with others.” 

While lending privilege isn’t exclusively done by men — there are many examples of women lending privilege in extraordinary ways every day — Anjuan says men, given their traditionally inherent power, have a vital role to play. 

“I always encourage men to recognize the power they have by changing how they think about justice,” he says, and that includes recognizing the systemic bias and barriers women face. “These experiences limit the job opportunities women can pursue, the promotions they receive, the salaries they are paid, and even how safe they feel walking down the street. If men can see that unfair system and care enough to create a better experience, then they can do their part in changing the system.”  The result actually makes the workplace — and home life — better for all genders.

To make real change, there are a number of simple actions individuals can take. Lending privilege can be as easy as nominating someone for recognition or a particular assignment, inviting junior colleagues to meetings with leaders, sharing information with individuals who don’t have the same access you do, standing up for the equal pay or rights of a colleague, joining a campaign like 30% Club Canada with a focus on gender-balanced leadership, or stepping into the role of mentor or champion.

Matthew Jefferson is a man who has taken the concept of lending privilege one step further. Or, more like a million steps further. On June 25th of this year, Matthew completed a year-long, 8,275-kilometer walk — from Victoria, BC to Cape Spear, Newfoundland — with the intention of bringing awareness to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada. 

As a man who ‘presents white’ (on account of his New Zealand-born father) but is also full status indigenous, Matthew is committed to lending privilege to bridge indigenous and non-indigenous communities, open the channels of communication, and raise this often ignored issue to the broader public agenda. 

 

“You never really know what you’re capable of until you apply yourself, I second-guessed myself every single day and even when I reached my final destination, I didn’t feel elated or done — this is just the beginning of my work and my journey.”

 

On October 14, 2017, Matthew’s aunt, Frances Brown, disappeared while mushroom picking in a forested area north of Smithers, BC. Local search and rescue crews from around the province were called in, alongside RCMP and volunteers — but the official search was called off eight days after it began. 

“If I were an indigenous woman, or even looked more like an indigenous man, then you probably wouldn’t be having this conversation with me,” Matthew said from North Sydney, Nova Scotia. “As you can imagine, it’s a privilege to be who I am, and I am using that as a tool to deliver our message.” 

Speaking in front of community groups, to the media, and most importantly, he says, to school-aged children, Matthew has been educating Canadians about residential schools, day schools, ‘the sixties scoop,’ and aboriginal child welfare — aspects of Canadian history that until recently had been brushed over in school curriculum. “Young people are this country’s future elders,” says Matthew. By educating them, he hopes they, in turn, can educate others. 

Matthew is a staunch advocate for women’s rights — both indigenous and non-indigenous women — and while he says his talks across the country were mostly attended by women, his goal is to have more men engaged in these conversations. “Women are sacred, they are life bringers, water carriers, and an integral part of our societies,” Matthew says. “I want to see more non-indigenous women stand up for indigenous women, and more men stand up for all women.” Matthew is also a supporter of the Moose Hide campaign, a grassroots movement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men and boys who are standing up against violence towards women. 

While his walk proved excruciating at times, leading to physical injury, illness, and emotional trauma, Matthew says he realized a great deal about himself over the course of the year. “You never really know what you’re capable of until you apply yourself,” he says. “I second-guessed myself every single day and even when I reached my final destination, I didn’t feel elated or done — this is just the beginning of my work and my journey.”

 

 

A welder and carpenter by trade, Matthew continues to commit his time and energy to championing this cause. “While I was walking I was able to meet with tens of thousands of people across our nation, laying the groundwork for what I’m about to do next.” On June 1st, 2020, Matthew will be leading a sponsored bike ride from B.C. to Newfoundland, raising funds for all indigenous communities in Canada that have missing family members. “I’ve connected with many people over the past year and through this bike ride I get to test their commitment to really wanting change.” 

While Matthew was nearing the final leg of his journey, another Canadian man was just setting out on his own personal mission to lend a voice to those whose voices have traditionally been silenced.  

This past spring, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter Jordan Hart completed a 100-day busking challenge — serenading strangers on the streets across Toronto to raise money and awareness for L’Arche Canada, an organization that creates communities for people with intellectual disabilities.

Jordan was born into a musical family and says that he spoke music before he could speak words. Graduating from an arts high school in Edmonton and having completed a summer program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Jordan chose busking as the route to musical fulfillment. In 2013, he set out to travel across North America as a busker, beginning in Vancouver. “Almost immediately I was connected with influential people in the industry, including producers, and I decided to stay and see where those connections would take me.” 

 

“You know, as humans, we have this preconceived notion about someone’s value based on their capabilities, which tend to revolve around money or talent.”

 

A few years later he followed his music and connections to Toronto, where he spent time in the studio with producer Michael Sonier (who has worked with Alessia Cara, Mary J Blige, and more) and the multi-platform, Grammy-nominated production/songwriting group Kuya Productions (their credits include Alessia Cara, Drake, and others), creating a five-song EP that blends acoustic, roots soul with alternative R&B. 

“I spent a lot of time in the studio and was ready to get back to the streets,” Jordan says. But rather than focusing on self-promotion, he took the opportunity to lend privilege to an organization and cause that was extremely close to his heart.  

“My dad was the executive director of L’Arche in Edmonton and has been on the board of L’Arche Canada for some time, and from a young age I was in touch with the community, spent time visiting houses, and had relationships with residents and assistants,” Jordan says. “What I experienced in those communities was inspiring and unique. I had never seen such unconditional love and acceptance in my life.”  

Jordan dedicated every Sunday of his 100-day challenge to L’Arche, raising funds, and more importantly, awareness. “What I felt I could really offer was exposure of L’Arche to a younger generation,” he says.  Jordan brought core members from L’Arche communities out with him to speak, dedicated his social media posts to the cause, spoke to the media, handed out information, and had one-on-one conversations with people who came to watch him perform.

The results were more than he could have ever imagined. “You know, as humans, we have this preconceived notion about someone’s value based on their capabilities, which tend to revolve around money or talent,” Jordan says. “And you look at someone with intellectual disabilities and they don’t possess these things and so they’re often overlooked. But when you sit down with them, you realize that value is not attached to that at all — what matters most is being in the moment and being human together. And, you realize that your worth actually never had anything to do with what you’re capable of. That understanding left a huge space in my heart to love myself for who I am — and a desire to share this realization with others.” 

What surprised and delighted Jordan most was how many young people he met while busking who wanted to learn more and get involved. “I’ll never forget the moment a young man came up to me, saying he’d moved to Toronto to pursue a job, and while he was doing well financially, and all his goals had been met, he was feeling unsatisfied. He needed to reconnect to community and he was drawn to what I was saying about L’Arche and wanted to know what he could do to help.” 

As Jordan continues his musical journey, he plans to continue to involve L’Arche directly. Next up is a showcase that will include music as well as other art forms. “I would like to have artists of all backgrounds collaborating to create a multi-sensory experience where you can feel the openness and inspiration to become who you are and celebrate that,” he says. The project is in the works now, with the aim to have it ready by late summer or early fall. 

While lending privilege certainly doesn’t have to be the grand gestures made by Jordan and Matthew, which are two completely different examples, it does require the realization that our privilege gives us benefits that others can’t easily access. It’s what you do with that realization — how you step into your power and use it to advance the voice, or the career, or the well-being of another person or group of people — that really matters. Whether that means making an introduction to someone in your network, bringing a junior employee into a meeting, or choosing to be a mentor or sponsor, there is likely a small action you can make immediately that will have a long-term impact on someone else’s life or career.

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

A deeper look at the design of everyday men — and what it means for women’s equality

Deloitte recently released a report — The design of everyday men — that investigates men’s experiences with work, family, and masculinity. Co-author Eric Arthrell explains how his personal experience of becoming a father inspired the study, and why taking a closer look at men’s success is an opportunity for gender equality.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

The first line of experience on Eric Arthrell’s LinkedIn profile reads “Caregiver, Supporter, and Household Manager.” A quick scroll through the 31-year-old’s profile reveals that Eric is also a highly accomplished strategy consultant and a manager with Doblin, a global innovation firm out of Deloitte.

Currently on a seven-month paternity leave with his 14-month-old daughter, Eric is balancing the release of a report he recently co-authored with a team at Deloitte Insights with diaper changes, grocery shopping, and story time at his local library.

He’s proudly touting his paternity leave in hopes of setting an example for other young men. “There is an alternative for how you choose to show up at work and for your family — and that alternative can create more space for women to succeed,” says Eric (during a phone interview he strategically scheduled around his daughter’s naptime).

The Deloitte report, The design of everyday men, was published in early April and looks at “traditional masculinity” in order to better understand the individual and organizational reasons why companies still struggle with gender equality. It reframes the conversation, from trying to help underrepresented groups fit into the status quo, to investigating how this status quo is negatively affecting those who typically benefit from it.

How does this help women? As men begin to redefine their roles and take on more duties outside of work, women are no longer left to pick up the slack on household and other non-work responsibilities, which has traditionally been a disadvantage to their own career — especially with today’s “always on, always available” expectations. As men take more paternity leave, for example, the evidence shows a decrease in the wage gap, as well as women being more likely to stay employed full-time and earn senior leadership positions on boards.

 

“Gender roles are changing and men have the opportunity to find something different for themselves.”

 

For organizations, this shift means more gender equality in the workplace, greater competitiveness in today’s diverse marketplace, and more satisfied employees — both women and men.

“What I recognized — in thinking about my own involvement in my daughter’s upbringing and in writing this report — is that we have the opportunity to redefine what it means for a man to have a meaningful and happy life,” Eric explains. “While it used to be that being a strong earner and the head of the house was what mattered, gender roles are changing and men have the opportunity to find something different for themselves.”

The impetus for all this began for Eric when he and his wife Erin, an award-winning brand strategist, began talking about having a family. “I remember specifically trying to understand what fatherhood would look like for me if I wanted to support my wife and her career and have an equal role as a caregiver.”

Not finding many male role models who were balancing career success and active parental responsibilities, and finding that paternity leave policies differed greatly from maternity leave policies, Eric decided to have some conversations with senior leaders both within Deloitte and elsewhere. “What I found in those two-dozen coffee chats, was that many of the senior male leaders I spoke with said they wished they could have played a more active role at home but hadn’t seen an opportunity to do so while being a breadwinner.”

These informal conversations gave birth to the idea for the report, which would try to make sense of the biases in place around masculinity and the workplace, and what shifts needed to take place to enable men to approach gender equality not just as allies but as active participants.

“I think of an ally as someone who will mentor and champion, and empower another based on her ability to do an awesome job,” Eric says. “But as active participants we can take that one step further by righting the wrongs that have existed for some time, redefining what’s important in our own lives, and changing how we show up personally and professionally.”

Opportunities to support campaigns such as the 30% Club Canada and organizations focused on making real change in gender balance is just one example of active participation. Other examples are outlined in the report, which Eric believes will be the starting point for many important conversations around change.   

Based on an ethnographic study of 16 professional men in and around the GTA, the study looks at men’s relationship to work, home, and masculinity. Based on its findings, the report provides three “calls for action” which business leaders can incorporate in order to set an example for other men within their organizations. These include recognizing the reasons for gender inequality in the workplace, shifting behaviours and practices to lead in a more mindful way, and breaking down barriers to change.

As Eric was finishing the report, he was also preparing for his own paternity leave — taking over for his wife who had spent the past 12 months at home with their daughter. “There is a world where I could have decided that instead of sharing the parenting responsibilities, I’d put my head down, work really hard, get promoted much earlier, take on more and more work, and continue to move up as fast as possible,” Eric says. But making a different choice, one which involved being available to support his wife even before he went on leave, has separated him from the “always on, always available” mentality which the report indicates as a success criterion contributing to gender inequality.

As the report states: “Individuals often prioritize work over family, personal commitments, and well-being to rise to the top, and men may be more predisposed to making this trade-off at the expense of their outside-of-work commitments. Women then wind up picking up the slack on household and other non-work responsibilities, thereby disadvantaging themselves by becoming unable to adhere to the ‘always on, always available’ expectation as easily.”

According to Eric, this isn’t benefiting anyone. “There is literally reams of research dating back to the early 1900s that over-work without scheduled time off leads to poor business outcomes, productivity, employee satisfaction, and retention,” he says. “So, one of the ways workplaces can support men in showing up differently is to reward productivity, skills, and competencies as opposed to recognizing and rewarding only those who are always on and always working.”

What’s required to make this a reality is a shift in the status quo says Jake Stika, co-founder and executive director of Next Gen Men, a nonprofit organization that aims to engage men and boys in conversations around gender. “We need to transform the status quo of what we value in workplaces,” he says. “I would argue that valuing someone who is available all the time, who neglects other relationships for work, who dominates conversations and doesn’t allow all ideas to be heard, is not beneficial to the individual or the organization in the long run.”

The national nonprofit is focused on building better men through peer engagement, education, and empowerment — including a workplace initiative, Equity Leaders. Despite doing this work, the themes of the report hit close to home. He notes it’s not ‘those guys’ that need intervention — it affects all of us because it’s the culture we are steeped in.

“As a founder, I constantly feel it’s on me, and struggle to ask for help,” says Jake, a nod to two of the four “themes of masculinity” extracted from the Deloitte study. The themes — which encompass men putting pressure on themselves to handle responsibilities on their own, being afraid of failure, having difficulty turning to anyone for support, and looking to leaders and peers to determine what behaviours are acceptable — seem to be keeping professional men tied to traditional gender roles and holding them back from evolving.

 

“Valuing someone who is available all the time, who neglects other relationships for work, who dominates conversations and doesn’t allow all ideas to be heard, is not beneficial to the individual or the organization in the long run.”

 

“I try to show others it’s OK,” says Jake. “I do this by talking about my mental health struggles, I do this by taking public, intentional, and explicit leave for eldercare — I even set my out-of-office to let others know why I’m slow to respond. If I can’t do this for myself, how am I to make it ok for others?” Coincidentally, at the time of this interview, Jake’s out-of-office indicated he was “giving care and taking care,” spending two weeks in Prague caring for his elderly grandmother before taking a week in Spain to take care of himself.

Jake’s lead-by-example approach aims to support a shift from ‘restricted masculinity’ toward what he calls ‘positive masculinities’ or moving from what men should be to what men could be. “We all generally embody restricted masculinity to some extent, or at least we can all name or relate to the boxed-in ideal — strong, stoic, dominant, etc. — of what it means to be a man that still persists in society,” Jake says. “Breaking free of that leaves so many possibilities of how to be in the world.”

As for translating this to the workplace status quo, Jake says many of the organizations Next Gen Men is working with have asked, ‘how do we get more men involved?’ This is where, he says, the Deloitte report is going to prove beneficial. “There is a lot more buy-in to the idea of engaging men when a global leader like Deloitte has put the work in to prove the need to do so. It may feel counterintuitive to invest in engaging those who generally benefit the most from the status quo — but this research shows that the status quo isn’t working for them either, and they are often feeling left behind amidst all the other changes organizations are making to boost diversity and inclusion.”

With young men like Jake and Eric stepping into the new definition of masculinity — and doing so publicly — the opportunity for change becomes more feasible for others.  And this, as the Deloitte report finds, means that more women “win” in the workplace.

“Ultimately, that’s my goal,” says Eric, “to set an example for other men, by taking paternity leave and speaking and presenting about the report. I’m redefining what I find to be important in my life, reprioritizing, and, as a result, getting the best outcomes for my family, giving my wife an equal opportunity to succeed and stepping up as a role model for my daughter.”

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

How a physics professor is helping to get more women’s voices into Canadian media

Having spent 16 years as a physics professor at Simon Fraser University, Dugan O’Neil was well aware of the underrepresentation of women in academia — and was working to change it. His recent involvement with Informed Opinions, an organization committed to amplifying women’s voices in the media, is helping to end underrepresentation on an even broader scale.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


Women currently make up just 29% of all voices quoted in the media. These numbers reflect a mere 7% shift in the past two decades, and we still have a long way to go. Informed Opinions, a Canadian non-profit organization founded by Shari Graydon, is committed to amplifying the voices of women in the media — and they’re committed to achieving gender balance by 2025.

It’s a lofty goal, and one that has already taken the combined efforts of many. Including a physics professor from Simon Fraser University (SFU), Dugan O’Neil.

His involvement began in 2017, shortly after leaving his post as Chief Science Officer with Compute Canada, an organization that accelerates research and innovation by providing advanced research computing (ARC) services and infrastructure for Canadian researchers and their collaborators. He had been named Associate Vice-President, Research at SFU, overseeing academic leadership in, and administration of, research and other scholarly activities for the university.

“I had worked closely with Kelly Nolan at Compute Canada; she was now working with Informed Opinions, and she told me about their desire to track women’s voices in the media, in real-time,” he recalls. The project seemed doable from a high-performance computing perspective and peaked Dugan’s interest. “I’ve always lived my life with a firm belief of equality, and this would be an opportunity to actively support those beliefs.”

He took the proposal back to SFU in search of a researcher who would champion the project and push it forward. “Maite Taboada, a professor in the Department of Linguistics and the Director of the Discourse Processing Lab, stepped forward with an interest in taking this on,” Dugan recalls.

The project began in earnest in early 2018 and was officially launched in February 2019 at an Ottawa event featuring The Honorable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality, and Dr. Joy Johnson, Vice President, Research and International, Simon Fraser University, and sponsored by 30% Club Canada and 30% Club members, Osler and Teck. The resulting tool, The Informed Opinions’ Gender Gap Tracker, was developed by the university’s big data technical team, the Discourse Processing Lab, and is hosted by SFU’s Research Computing Group. It measures the ratio of female to male sources quoted in online news coverage across some of Canada’s most influential national news outlets, and provides the real-time results which are showcased on the website.

“I set things in motion and then stepped back — but in the meantime, I was asked to join the Informed Opinions board and I became the Gender Gap Tracker guy.” It’s an unofficial title Dugan wears with pride. “The tracker’s primary purpose is to measure what gender representation looks like in the media,” Dugan explains. “If you don’t know how you’re doing, you’ll never know if you’re improving.”  

Along with tracking data, Informed Opinions works to motivate and train women experts to make their ideas more accessible to a broader audience, offering dynamic and interactive workshops, presentations, and professional editing support. They’ve also developed a database of expert women who are available for inquiries from journalists, producers, conference planners, recruiters and research collaborators.

 

“We are working to move the needle even further — our equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) efforts are tackling everything from the pipeline to pay equity, and are guided by open dialogue.”

 

The database currently features a range of expertise covering almost every industry and profession with more than 900 women represented. Going forward the organization is working to grow this database, encouraging women who have the capacity to add value through written commentary and media interviews to add their name. They’re also looking for nominations of women who would make great contributors, and encouraging others to leverage the database to find expert speakers for events, research and communications. For journalists, the hashtag #HerInformedOps can also be used to get leads for expert sources.

“This is the most coherent and complete approach I’ve seen so far to tackling this issue,” says Dugan.

From an academic perspective, he can see why the work of Informed Opinions is so important — and it’s aligned with the university’s own mission of knowledge mobilization. “SFU employs experts, many of whom will be engaging with media to mobilize the knowledge they produce,” he says. “We are also an organization that trains the next generation of experts, who need these positive role models.”

Having spent most of his career in the world of computing and physics, he’s no stranger to the underrepresentation of women. SFU is committed to attracting more young women to the department — beginning with elementary and high school outreach programs. “We all want to see change, but have a limited pool of applicants to choose from,” he says. “That’s why our approach is to reach out to girls before they get to us and give them an opportunity to explore physics.”

Dugan is also aware of the need for increased gender parity in research and academics overall. “At SFU, 28% of full time Professors are female, 37% of Associate Professors are female, and 48% of Assistant Professors are female,” he says, noting the trend is moving in the right direction. “We are working to move the needle even further — our equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) efforts are tackling everything from the pipeline to pay equity, and are guided by open dialogue.”

Dugan’s own portfolio includes creating and implementing an EDI action plan for externally funded research chairs and awards, including the Canada Research Chairs. “A big part of this plan is centred on data and information sharing, transparency in how positions are allocated, hiring processes, and the like. It represents a big change in the way we work.”

And his work is continuing with Informed Opinions — which is beginning to have an impact. In the two months since the launch of the Gender Gap Tracker, the ratio of women’s voices in Canadian media has reflected brief spikes of improvement. Several of the news media being monitored have invited Shari into their newsrooms, and committed to tracking their own performance. Some are also are actively seeking to diversify their sources by calling on experts featured in the project’s database.

But public engagement is critical. News media play an important role in setting agendas, shaping public conversations and the policies they influence. So Informed Opinions, as well as Dugan and the team of SFU researchers who created and continue to refine the digital tool, are working to draw attention to the data and its implications through public presentations and media engagement. The goal is to encourage news consumers who believe in the importance of gender equity to visit the Gender Gap Tracker, notice the persistent gap, and contact the news outlets they rely on to track the gender of their sources in pursuit of more democratic public conversations.

 

We need more women’s voices in Canadian media — why not yours? It’s simple to add your name to the database, or nominate an expert. And as a consumer, you can make a difference by sending a message to media outlets, challenging them to do better. Organizations like Informed Opinions as well as 30% Club Canada — who supported this story as part of the men champions of change series — know that change is possible, if we all do our part.

 

Building and championing Canada’s diversity story in tech: a viewpoint from the President, Venture Services, at MaRS

Salim Teja’s long career in tech has touched every part of the ecosystem, from entrepreneur, to investor, to corporate innovator. In his current role of President, Venture Services, at MaRS, he’s not only championing Canada’s tech ecosystem, he’s helping to guide it towards greater diversity — with initiatives in research, representation, and funding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

For the past twenty years, Salim Teja has been fully embedded in the technology world, first as an entrepreneur, then a venture investor, then a corporate innovator, and finally as an ecosystem builder. His career began in the late 1990s when upon graduating from Western University, he moved to the Bay Area in California and launched an internet venture that brought him great success.  

Drawing upon his experience at the helm of a start-up and using it to launch a career in the tech sector, Salim says he’s been fortunate to touch so many aspects of the innovation space over the past few decades. In his role as President, Ventures Services with MaRS, he and his team’s work influences more than 1,000 start-ups.  

“One of our biggest areas of focus is getting Toronto on the map globally,” says Salim, who grew up in Edmonton. “We’re out there championing the Canadian story to investors and corporate talent, because Canada is starting to catch the attention of the world, and we have to capitalize on that for our entrepreneurs.”

A big part of the Toronto story is diversity, something that’s top of mind for the past and present leadership at MaRS. “Putting aside the fact that focusing on diversity is morally the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense,” Salim says. For start-ups, he points to leveraging diversity internally as one of the best ways to ensure the products and services they’re producing are relevant to diverse markets. Diverse teams tend to bring about more diverse thoughts, ideas, and opinions, which means more informed decision-making.

One of the areas in which MaRS is working to be an active community leader is around the stewardship of research. Salim says there’s great power in data to drive the diversity conversation forward. “I think one challenge we’ve seen is that much of the conversation still tends to be anecdotal, and it will take time to develop the strategies and solutions we need to move to an empirical discussion.” In order to obtain the data needed to drive action, MaRS has partnered with #movethedial, a global movement to increase the participation and leadership of all women in tech, to produce an annual, “Where’s The Dial Now?” report that examines the state of women in the tech and innovation community in Canada.

“We’re looking at how companies are thinking about diversity and the challenges that come with trying to implement change,” he says. “We want to know how big the problem is, and how we measure the solutions.”  To help support this, MaRS undertook a research project to work with companies across the Toronto tech sector to shed light on the challenges companies face in attracting, hiring and retaining diverse talent, and to provide data on how workers feel about the state of diversity, inclusion and belonging in their workplaces. The key insights of this research has been published publicly in the Tech For All: Breaking Barriers In Toronto’s Innovation Community report.

 

“We’re looking at how companies are thinking about diversity and the challenges that come with trying to implement change. We want to know how big the problem is, and how we measure the solution.”

 

As a community hub that hosts hundreds of events, MaRS has also committed to the mandate that every single event have diverse representation, from the agenda to the tone of conversations. “Even the little things can be really important in setting the tone of diversity,” Salim says. MaRS also supports external events including Elevate and Collision, with a focus on D&I and how the MaRS community can contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way.

Community-building is a big part of Salim’s mandate as well, including the work he does with the Tech and Innovation Advisory Council for Tech4SickKids. As Co-chair of the initiative, Salim says this is the perfect opportunity for technology and innovation to become part of the pediatric healthcare story.

Innovation has historically been a male-dominated industry and the investors who fund innovative start-ups have also typically been male. “In the last five years I’ve seen a big shift in the innovation space, with a focus on the opportunities to get more women involved in these organizations at the team, leadership, board, and investor level.” The conversation has certainly begun to take shape, and the next step is walking the walk, he says. “This isn’t something we’ll solve in six months, but will require sustained conversation over the next five to 20 years, not just in the tech space, but in every industry.”

MaRS has focused on this through the creation of StandUp Ventures, a venture capital fund for seed-stage technology companies with at least one woman in a C-level leadership position and an equitable amount of ownership, powered by the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund and led by Michelle McBane.

Taking these conversations and putting them into action through meaningful programs is where MaRS’ focus lies. Take “The Women in Cleantech Challenge,” for example, jointly supported by MaRS and Natural Resources Canada. The program set out to find the country’s most promising cleantech entrepreneur, drawing attention to the women across the country taking a typically male-dominated industry by storm. The program received 150 applications for a chance to win a $1-million grand prize.

Beyond all of these external programs supported by MaRS, Salim says that internally MaRS is on their own inclusion journey as well. “We’ve set up our own DIBs (diversity, inclusion and belonging) council and continue to challenge ourselves in terms of how we’re doing as an organization and as a leadership group, and what we can do to walk the walk in the way we run our organization. As one of the world’s largest innovation hubs helping entrepreneurs to launch and grow their businesses, we want to ensure that MaRS is setting a good example.”

After 6 years at MaRS, Salim will be moving on to a new career opportunity this spring. “I’m incredibly proud of what we have accomplished at MaRS as a team and organization.  We have strong leadership — past and present — and a commitment to continue to build upon our momentum in the ecosystem. The world is watching us as our tech scene in Canada takes off and MaRS will play a big role in helping to show the world what an inclusive industry can look like.”

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

Building towards better: How a male-dominated organization is creating a culture of inclusion and moving towards a more diverse workforce

The journey towards a diverse and inclusive workplace can be long and difficult — especially in an industry that’s overwhelmingly male-dominated — but David Pathe, President and CEO of Canadian resource company Sherritt International, knows that the benefits still outweigh the challenges. Here’s how his organization is making change.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

When 85 per cent of your workforce is comprised of men, in an industry that’s almost completely male-dominated, making the decision to shift toward a more inclusive culture will naturally pose some challenges. Pair that with an industry plagued with difficult economic times and the challenge becomes even greater.

Despite the obvious roadblocks, David Pathe, President and CEO of Sherritt International — a Canadian resource company with a focus on nickel and cobalt mining, oil and gas exploration and production, and electricity generation — has remained undeterred in his commitment to change.

“Changing culture is a long-term process,” says David, who joined Sherritt in 2007, and became CEO in 2012. “It takes a great deal of effort and commitment by every leader in the organization, and it’s been a tougher and longer road than I thought it would be.”

In an industry that’s long adopted certain ways of thinking, change hasn’t come without some pushback.

“One of our Promises to our key stakeholders, which includes our employees, is a commitment to treating people with respect and being inclusive. Taking a hard position on expected behavior, having difficult conversations and making tough decisions when we witness behaviors that are inconsistent with this promise, is a leadership behavior we expect at Sherritt,” says David. As an organization, he adds, they are committed to creating an environment where all individuals feel safe and comfortable coming to work every day.

 

“If being a feminist means women and girls should have the same opportunities as men and boys, and treat one another with respect, then I would have thought everyone should be a feminist.”

 

“In a period when our company, like many others in this industry, has been shrinking rather than growing, it is important to remember that change takes time,” David says. “But we’re doing all we can to ensure we have an inclusive culture, with the right policies and procedures in place and the leadership commitment to support this.”

“It just didn’t make sense to continue doing things the way they’d always been done,” David says. “We were finding that attracting and retaining talent was getting harder and harder, and to be systematically and unconsciously discriminating against an entire portion of the population isn’t logical.”

In 2017, Sherritt worked with Catalyst Canada to deliver unconscious bias training and support in redesigning employee onboarding programs. They also got involved with The International Women in Resource Mentorship Program, which provides women with mentors in senior leadership positions across the industry, and became a member of the 30% Club Canada, a campaign promoting the business case for gender-balanced leadership on boards and in C-Suite positions.

Most recently, David stepped into the role of Co-Chair of the 30% Club Canada Advisory Committee, which he says gives him the opportunity to share his knowledge, experiences, and learnings with other companies ready to make similar changes. He also continues to sit on the Catalyst Canada Advisory Board, showing his support and dedication to creating workplaces that work for everyone.

Sherritt is a global company with approximately 4,000 employees working in Western Canada, Toronto, Cuba, and Madagascar, so change has to be made systematically and strategically. Over the past two years, David’s efforts have been very focused. Ensuring all position descriptions accurately reflect the requirements of the job, improved parental leave and employee benefits that promote flexible working arrangements, promoting three women in to VP roles, and adding another female to the board are some of the noticeable results. Sherritt’s multi-year Diversity and Inclusion strategy will continue to evolve as the culture changes, with the short term focus on training, clear leadership accountabilities and measurable KPIs to monitor progress.

 

When women come into the organization and they see those role models, on the board and in senior management roles, it gives them something to aspire toward.

 

“Having female representation on our board and on our senior leadership team is important for a number of reasons, but internally it sets an example for the rest of the organization and is without question, good for business,” he says. “It starts from the board down. When women come into the organization and they see those role models, on the board and in senior management roles, it gives them something to aspire toward. Also, there’s no shortage of research around diverse groups and their ability to make better decisions.”  

As a father of two teenage daughters and one younger son, and the spouse of a successful lawyer, David’s motivation to continue on this journey is personal as well as professional. “If being a feminist means women and girls should have the same opportunities as men and boys, and treat one another with respect, then I would have thought everyone should be a feminist,” he says.  

Meanwhile, he’s continuing to lead the charge in this direction, hoping it will not only provide competitive advantage for Sherritt, but also motivation for others to follow suit.

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

Moving from conversation to action: How OMERS is blazing a trail towards diversity and inclusion

At OMERS, diversity and inclusion isn’t just a goal on the horizon. Satish Rai, Chief Investment Officer with OMERS, explains how the organization has created a culture that puts respect and support first, with policies and daily actions that reinforce their inclusive message.

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

There’s no shortage of conversations about diversity and inclusion in the corporate world. But, according to Satish Rai, Chief Investment Officer with OMERS, what’s needed now is action.

“I want people to be as excited coming into work Monday morning as they are on Friday about the weekend,” he says. And the way to achieve this, Satish believes, is to create a workplace where everyone’s views and perspectives are respected, where inclusivity is part of the culture, where all voices are heard, and the unique needs of each employee matters.

 

“I want people to be as excited coming into work Monday morning as they are on Friday about the weekend.”

 

“This can’t be accomplished through one or two D&I events or conferences,” says the 30-year veteran of the investment sector who joined OMERS — the defined benefit pension plan for municipal employees in Ontario, and one of the largest institutional investors in Canada — four years ago. “It’s about how you interact with people when you walk down the hallways, when you’re in meetings, when you’re working together. It’s the respect you show, the positive impact you have in small ways, every day.”

From a business perspective, Satish says, D&I is an imperative. “There’s little doubt in my mind that we need to have D&I on a global scale if we are going to hit our business objectives,” he says. This type of diversity should span geography, gender, ethnicity, abilities and perspectives, to name a few.

Personally, Satish says, having a son and a daughter, both in their twenties, provides perspective. “I can’t imagine that a father, or a mother, or anyone for that matter, would want a playing field that wasn’t level. I want my daughter to have the same opportunities as my son, and while their definition of success may be different, they should each be given the unique opportunity to succeed.”

It’s all about eliminating barriers — and that begins with simple actions. At OMERS, this includes creating a culture where talent is what matters and personal obligations and responsibilities are valued, and flexible work options are made available to ensure everyone’s needs are respected. No one should ever feel stressed asking their manager if they can work remotely so they can make it to their kid’s hockey game, says Satish. The same is true for religious obligations, disabilities, and other needs. “To me it’s about a person feeling comfortable — it’s about recognizing differences and being open and adaptable across the organization so everyone feels supported.”

For the past few years, Satish says, OMERS has been on what he calls a terrific journey. “From the top-down, our CEO has really sent a very strong message about the importance of inclusion and diversity to optimizing our performance and culture across the entire organization.”

In looking to achieve gender balance within the investing teams at OMERS, he explains, “we didn’t set a target that 20 per cent or 30 per cent of any particular team should be women. Instead, with all hires and promotions we target 50 per cent gender balance in the interview pool.”

 

“With all hires and promotions we target 50 per cent gender balance in the interview pool.”

 

And their efforts go well beyond the hiring and promotion process. “We have always had a deep commitment to inclusion; our plan was inclusive from day one. Moving from intent to conversation, we looked at how inclusion and diversity of thought are important drivers of business success — we wanted to understand how to really move our teams, and the whole organization, forward to benefit both our business and the plan members we support,” says Satish.

Reflecting on OMERS progress, he adds, “that most recently, we have entered a stage of action where through experimentation and piloting of techniques such as blind resumes, unconscious bias training, and expanding employee resource groups we are moving the needle in a more concrete way.” Looking at 2019, OMERS strategy looks to further its commitment to inclusion and thought diversity across the full spectrum of people processes.

“The desire for change was there,” Satish says, “and now the tools are in place to pair that desire and intent with action.” A useful tool to leverage is the CEO Blueprint, published by the Canadian Gender and Good Governance Alliance in 2018. Endorsed by leaders across the Canadian business landscape, it provides a step-by-step framework on the components of building a vision, structuring and mobilizing management teams, and focusing on gender diversity initiatives that build a gender-balanced organization.

Externally committing $100 million to the RBC Vision Women’s Leadership MSCI Canada Index ETF, supporting the G7 diversity initiative, and joining the 30% Club Canada are just a few of the things OMERS has done most recently to solidify its commitment to D&I. OMERS is also part of an Investor Group convened by the 30% Club Canada in 2017 which launched a Statement of Intent to encourage institutional investors to exercise their ownership rights and proxy voting power to increase gender-balanced leadership on corporate boards and in C-Suite positions in Canada.

When asked what his advice would be for anyone looking to advance their career in an open-minded and diversity-focused way, Satish provides two valuable tips. The first: volunteer and give back, not just for the purpose of doing good, but also to open your mind, to look beyond your own industry, and to meet people whose perspectives may be different from your own. Satish has volunteered on hospital and university boards as well as recently joining the board of Toronto Global, which represents the Toronto Region to global companies interested in expanding to the area and connects investors with the right opportunities. “My education is never finished,” Satish says, “I’m always looking to broaden my point of view and expand upon my expertise.”

The second piece of advice: brush up on the softer leadership skills such as collaboration, empathy, and understanding. “Those things they don’t teach you in business school are absolutely required at senior levels,” he says. “The best leaders showcase the ability to collaborate, motivate, and inspire — they’re very powerful skills to have.”

As conversation gives way to increased action in the corporate world, those who succeed will have the skills needed to lead diverse and inclusive organizations. “There’s a massive prize to be won on numerous fronts when we move from conversation to action,” says Satish, “and I don’t think our society will tolerate inaction going forward.”

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

How Allen Lau, CEO & co-founder of Wattpad, built a majority-women, diverse and inclusive tech company

In the often male-dominated tech industry, it’s rare to find a company with a good representation of women. At Wattpad, women are the majority, visible and in positions of power at every level. Allen Lau, co-founder and CEO, looks to his employees for guidance and diverse perspectives on what’s needed for an inclusive environment, and wholly commits the company to achieving that goal.

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

“I am not a woman,” says Allen Lau, co-founder and CEO of Wattpad. “That means, no matter how hard I try to be 100 per cent understanding of the female experience, the only way to really do so is to step back, listen, and learn.”

He has no shortage of women to turn to. Allen is at the helm of a tech company — a global, multi-platform entertainment company for stories, to be specific — where women make up the majority of employees.

Launching as a mobile reading app in 2006 (before there were smartphones), Wattpad has grown to become the world’s largest community of readers and writers. “With 70 million monthly users, and 4 million content creators — many of whom are female, and come from every single country in the world — it’s essential that our team reflects our user population,” Allen says.

But there’s more than a business case driving Allen. “I would say I’m a feminist because I truly believe that I don’t see any difference between men and women in terms of capability and performance,” Allen says. “I’m committed to ensuring every woman on our team is empowered to have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.”

 

“D&I is not a project. A project implies a start and an end, but D&I is ongoing and never ending — it changes as society changes and as the needs of our employees change.”

 

That doesn’t happen without effort. Allen and the Wattpad leadership team — 50 per cent of which are women — are committed to fostering diversity and inclusion, not only as something that’s talked about company-wide, but more importantly, as something that’s acted upon in very real ways.

The stats from Wattpad’s 2018 Diversity and Inclusion survey speak volumes. The company has made sure to not just focus on empowering women, but also taking an intersectional approach to diversity. The report shows that people of colour make up close to half (45%) of all Wattpad employees and 41% of the leadership team. Company-wide, 21% of Wattpad employees are women of colour, 15% are non-native English speakers, 8% identify as having a disability, 13% identify as LGBTQ+, and 3% are transgender.

The numbers are impressive, but the company is not resting on its laurels. According to Allen, Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) surveys are conducted annually to help draw attention to the needs of various parties within the organization, zoom in on those most pressing issues, and address them. “D&I is not a project,” Allen says. “A project implies a start and an end, but D&I is ongoing and never ending — it changes as society changes and as the needs of our employees change.”

And it starts with recruiting talent. As Allen explains, the Wattpad hiring process has been developed to eliminate unconscious bias and support the company’s commitment to diversity. “For starters, we hide the name on every resume we receive so we’re just looking at the qualifications,” he says.

Allen goes on to meet with every potential hire, getting a sense of who they are as people and ensuring they share Wattpad’s inclusive values. “If you think about it, a new employee is about to commit tens of thousands of hours to our company, so it benefits me to spend 35 to 40 minutes with them, to ensure that they share our inclusive values.”

 

“When something’s not working I can rely on my team to tell me about it, because they know I’ll listen to them — and learn.

 

In terms of promotion and advancement, Allen strives to have a transparent process, that offers equal opportunity for growth.

As a member of the 30% Club Canada, Allen says he’s happy to step forward and showcase his company when it comes to achieving gender parity. “We’re the exception, not the norm, and sharing our experiences to help others is very important to me.”

Not only does Wattpad support larger corporate initiatives like the 30% Club Canada, but they also support smaller, grassroots organizations. The company has worked with a variety of intersectional groups, including Women and Colour, Women in Product, and Hexagon US.

His advice to organizations that are aiming for the same diverse and inclusive culture? Invest in diversity. It costs money, time, and people resources to make a difference. And remember to stay the course, because it will get easier.

“When we started Wattpad, we really had to make a conscious decision to put more focus on gender inclusion and diversity, but now that the ball is rolling, it’s getting easier, it’s already baked into the culture,” Allen says. “Still, when something’s not working I can rely on my team to tell me about it, because they know I’ll listen to them — and learn.”  

 

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

 

 

The Role of Men

Over the last few decades, we’ve made progress towards gender equality in the workplace, and shifted our focus from ‘why’ we should be doing it to ‘how’ it can be done. The path that will most likely lead to success? One that includes men — as leaders, champions, and allies. Here’s why and how we’ll do it.

 

By Stephania Varalli

 


 

In 1977, John T. Malloy published a bestselling guide called The Woman’s Dress For Success Book.

His advice amounted to a feminized version of male office attire — hair above the shoulder, a “man-tailored” blouse, a scarf, a skirt-suit — creating a uniform for women that downplayed their gender in a non-threatening way. We’re like you, but we’re not trying to be you, it said.   

The book opened with a disclaimer that it was not at all sexist, just reflective of the reality of the time. “If women control a substantial hunk of the power structure in ten or fifteen years,” Malloy stated, “I will write a book advising men how to dress in a female-dominated environment.”

At least he was optimistic about the speed at which women would be advancing. In reality, it took longer than 10 or 15 years to just shift our focus away from “fixing women” to creating workplaces that work for everyone. But today, we are on that path.

In the past few years, we’ve stopped arguing about whether there’s a business case for diversity, and have started talking about gender equality as a business imperative — delivering better problem solving, increased collaboration, greater innovation, better governance and compliance, and overall higher financial performance. Corporations, SMEs, government, investors, and individuals are stepping up to the challenge of reaching economic gender parity. And there are more organizations that are calling for and supporting change, from broad efforts to focused initiatives.

“The question is not about ‘if’ or ‘why’ gender balance is important; it’s so much more about how we make it real,” says Louisa Greco, a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company. Passionate about gender balance and sponsorship, she’s also on the Advisory Committee for the 30% Club Canada, a campaign with the aspirational goal of 30% of board seats and C-Suite positions to be held by women by 2022.

The 30% Club wants to avoid the need for quotas. Instead, they are building a strong foundation of business leaders who are committed to meaningful, sustainable gender balance. If you scroll through their directory of members, some might be surprised to find more men than women. But in this case, it’s a good sign — and necessary for success.

“Men lead 95% of the world’s organizations and therefore have the power to make change,” explains Tanya van Biesen, Executive Director of Catalyst Canada. “Not change for change’s sake, but meaningful change that will expand their talent pools, their levels of productivity and innovation, and their contribution to just and fair societies.”

And, Tanya says, if you look at gender inequality not as a women’s issue, but as society’s issue, “all of society must take part in making progress.” So the question becomes: How do we encourage more men to get involved?

 

“Men lead 95% of the world’s organizations and therefore have the power to make change.”

 

“It does help to frame the issue in a way that promotes the understanding that equality and inclusion are not just ‘women’s issues,’ they are ‘people issues’ and ‘business issues,’” suggests Rahul Bhardwaj, CEO and President of the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD). “If we start from there, the quality of engagement will be much better.”

The ICD mandate is to actively promote the idea that strong boards make strong organizations, and ultimately a better country. Supporting the 30% Club Canada is a logical partnership for the organization, says Rahul, because of the impact diversity can have on board performance, and specifically, innovation.

“Canada’s prosperity depends in large part on innovation, and innovation requires new ways of thinking — diverse thinking.” says Rahul. “If your directors aren’t focused on innovation and helping you to think in new ways, your company will be left behind.”

Diversity as an enabler of innovation makes a strong business case, but it’s not the only thing that drives Rahul’s support of gender equality. “On a personal level, a strong woman raised me. My mother played a significant role in the community and did so with a lot of grace and courage despite some of the challenges of that time,” explains Rahul. “I’m also a husband and a father of a daughter and I’d like to know that all opportunities for professional growth are available to them, regardless of gender.”

These aren’t uncommon outcomes. According to research, having a working mom that acts as a strong female role model changes a man’s perception of gender roles, and having a daughter tends to push men towards more progressive views on gender.

For Spencer Lanthier, it is a matter a fairness. He’s the Former Chairman and CEO of KPMG, as well as the Founding Chair of the 30% Club Canada — although his views might peg that percentage goal even higher. “Women make up half the population,” he says, “so it’s only right that they would make up half the C-Suite roles and board seats.”

He came on board in 2015 after being approached by the team of Brenda Trenowden, the organization’s Global Chair. Spencer saw the 30% Club campaign “as a way to heighten awareness of the issue as well as to bring about change in a measurable manner, allowing organizations to do the right thing and experience the benefits that come with gender balanced leadership.”

 

“It’s a simple matter of math to make gender diversity a core value and drive meaningful, lasting change, men need to be part of the solution.”

 

Whatever their motivations, leaders and organizations are starting to do the right thing. Looking at TSX-listed companies in Canada, Osler’s 2018 Diversity Disclosure Practices report found that women held 16.4 per cent of board seats in 2018, up from 14.5 per cent the year prior. The stats are even more encouraging for S&P/TSX 60 companies: women held 28.4 per cent of board seats in 2018, as compared to 26 per cent the year prior. These numbers represent progress — but they also show that we still have work to do. Board directors tend to blame a lack of qualified female candidates, but this is an excuse that’s easily proven wrong.

“Women have earned upwards of 60% of university degrees in Canada for the last 30 years,” says Tanya. “These women are well educated, ambitious and engaged, yet they continue to be underutilized and undervalued in the workplace, to the detriment of our economy and society. Women have all of the capabilities and smarts to be successful, alongside men, but our workplaces and our societal expectations are lagging their ambitions.”

In 2017, leading not-for-profit organizations focused on research, advocacy and education in the areas of governance and gender diversity joined together to form the Canadian Gender and Good Governance Alliance. The aim of the Alliance was to coordinate and amplify their impact in their efforts to achieve gender parity on boards, in executive positions, and throughout Canadian organizations. They have launched curated best practice tools for boards in the Directors’ Playbook and for organizations in the CEO Blueprint. These serve as guides for today’s leaders to become champions of change — leaders who are mostly men.

Yes, some of these men have far to go before they’ll be convinced to tackle gender equality. But many men are already stepping up as allies and champions, and even as husbands, partners, and fathers, redefining the role of men and creating a more equal playing field for women.

“For sustainable progress, to make gender diversity a core value and drive meaningful, lasting change, men need to be part of the solution,” says Louisa. “And I firmly believe that, together, we’ll all benefit. If we ensure women are successful, men will be more successful, too, and broader business performance will reflect the positive benefits of this.”

 

 

This article is just the beginning. Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore the role of men, amplifying our efforts by joining together. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.