In 2017, of the 100 highest-paid CEOs in Canada, three were women and five were named Paul.[1]

It is not a secret that diversity and inclusion are popular buzz words in today's business world. Whether by way of positive or negative encouragement, various companies throughout North America are jumping on board by creating and amending workplace policies. Beyond the powerful public relations benefits, encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace can create a more productive workplace environment, attract sought-after talent and bring competitive and financial advantage to a company.

Women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ2S and racialized Canadians have long been underrepresented in upper management of businesses.[2] While this imbalance sparks an ethical conversation about implicitly exclusionary business practices, it also brings forward an underutilized and untapped talent market that brings great added value to the workplace.

Today's businesses are facing changing markets and new challenges

Companies are currently dealing with complex challenges in a changing world and are concerned with how they may have competitive and financial impacts. Companies are also dealing with the low representation of equity-seeking groups in management and leadership positions, an aging workforce and talent pool, finding talent to bolster globalization and expansion efforts and responding to the rising consumption power of specific population segments by recruiting talent that mirrors the diversity of customers. Diversity and inclusion initiatives are becoming a proven approach to tackling these issues.

Statistics show that companies that can successfully respond to these challenges will gain competitive advantage, leading to greater financial success. "Multiple and varied voices have a wide range of experiences, and this can help generate new ideas about products and practices."[3] Diversity of thought leads to "dynamic and innovative" problem-solving. Looking at over 1,000 companies in 12 countries in 2018, McKinsey & Co. found firms in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21 per cent more likely to see higher-than-average profits than companies in the bottom quartile.[4] Further, companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 33 per cent more likely to be above average in profitability than companies in the lowest quartile.[5] This is just one of many studies pointing to the "business case for diversity."[6]

Diversity and inclusion can provide solutions

Diversity and inclusion are more important than ever to millennials, the talent companies seek to recruit. According to a 2015 PwC study, 86 per cent of female and 71 per cent of male millennials care about an employer's policy on diversity, equality and workforce inclusion when deciding whether or not to work for an organization.[7] Companies that want to attract the best talent should think about how their workplace policies and initiatives may positively or negatively affect their ability to competitively recruit.

Greater diversity in the workplace has also proven to directly correlate to greater innovation.[8] Equitable groups who are consistently under-hired and under-promoted can bring new and creative ways of thinking to an organization.[9] Orit Gadiesh, Chairman of Bain & Company, suggests that rather than ask "do you think this person will fit in with our team" ask "do you think this person will bring something different to our team."[10]

How can a business encourage diversity and inclusion?

Diversity initiatives cannot thrive without leadership and support from senior management. Because change does not happen immediately, leaders must have a long-term plan for their company's diversity strategy and they must stick to it. Any initiatives should also include targets and measurement of progress towards these targets. There must be accountability to show if these new initiatives and approaches are working.

The Ontario government has recently taken steps toward gender parity through a strategy called "Then Now Next: Ontario Strategy for Women's Economic Empowerment."[11] Further, it recently passed the Pay Transparency Act, 2018 which will, as of January 1, 2019, require employers with more than 100 employees to collect information and prepare pay transparency reports that may then be published on the Internet by the Ministry of Labour.[12] The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires Ontario organizations to develop accessibility plans that will help Ontario become accessible by 2025.[13] The Ontario Public Service (OPS) is currently implementing its second five-year accessibility plan, reaffirming its commitment to making the OPS an accessible employer.[14]

The legal profession is also actively involved in promoting diversity and inclusion issues. The Law Society of Ontario recently implemented new minimum requirements for lawyers and paralegals regarding diversity and inclusion professional development training. Lawyers must now have their own Statement of Principles asserting their commitment to diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and in their own workplace.[15]

Don't get left behind

Companies are, or should be, awake to the issues of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Many companies, organizations and governments are now setting standards for equality and inclusion, and those that fail to do so may lose out on substantial business advantages such as attracting top talent and capitalizing on a globalized market.

This article is also written by Shannon Kristjanson.