Why companies must remember the second part of the D&I duo

By Michela Gregory

Diversity and Inclusion, or “D&I”, rolls off the tongue almost as if it were one word — a representation of the union between these two concepts. Yet within this duo, the importance and significance of inclusion is sometimes overlooked. For example, applying the concept of diversity to gender encourages more equitable recruitment of women. Doing the same with inclusion would speak to corporate policies that acknowledge and support working parents. For companies to create meaningful and effective D&I strategies, diversity must go hand in hand with inclusion.

We know that corporate Canada falls short of ideals of multiculturalism and inclusivity that we readily espouse in Canada. A recent report from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute entitled Diversity Leads notes that racialized people are the majority in Toronto, but represent just 15.5% of board positions. The Diversity Institute also interviewed persons who identify as Indigenous, LGBTQ+  and persons with disabilities who were members of boards to understand their lived experiences and whether they felt welcomed and included.

In short, their experiences show that Canadian boards are not nearly as inclusive as they should be. The interviewees characterized many boards as unwelcoming, and even hostile spaces. The barriers identified by interviewees speak to issues with “corporate culture, lack of social networks, discrimination (which is compounded for people with intersecting identities), pressures to refrain from self-identification, and a lack of mentorship or support.” Clearly, the work doesn’t end after diverse peoples are invited to the boardroom table – if they feel like outsiders and their perspectives are not heard.

In an essay published in the Globe and Mail, lawyer, researcher, journalist and consultant Hadiya Roderique articulated the very issue of belonging and inclusion in corporate Canada by describing her ongoing struggle to fit in as a Bay Street lawyer. Roderique described her experience as “a black girl they could spend two hours in a car with on the way to a hearing in Barrie, Ont., listening and humming to Bob Dylan and talking about summer vacations, when [she] wanted to sing along with Nina Simone and talk about inequality.” Inclusive strategies should not only condemn overt discrimination, but should also challenge corporate culture to eliminate systemic barriers, microaggression, stereotypes and unfair expectations that burden underrepresented persons.

 

Industry players commit to advancing D&I

NEI Investments is a founding signatory to the Canada Investor Statement on Diversity and Inclusion published by the Responsible Investment Association (RIA). This statement is a commitment by institutional investors and asset managers to promote D&I with their Canadian investees, and internally within their own organizations. As a member of the initial group of individuals consulted by the RIA in developing this statement, I know there’s a lot investors need to do to advance diversity and inclusion in corporate Canada. These commitments form part of the foundation of what will require concerted initiative by investors to see a more inclusive corporate and investment landscape in Canada.

How we engage companies on inclusion

The systemic nature of discrimination makes D&I a complex issue — and I could write a separate blog about the ways investors could consider and evaluate how well companies develop and implement their D&I strategies. One of our approaches at NEI is to use our influence as investors to encourage companies not just to disclose data on representation, but to enhance disclosure on workplace culture and inclusion. With this information, we hope to gain insight into how serious companies are about fostering inclusivity, as well as diversity.

If we have questions about a company’s disclosure, our ESG team will seek to initiate a dialogue with them on the issue. In conversations this past summer with food retailers including Loblaw, Empire and Metro, we questioned their efforts around diversity and inclusion and other ESG issues. Specifically, we asked about their D&I targets, policies and initiatives, not just in relation to their board and executive teams, but throughout their workforce.

As we look to the future, we will continue to engage with the companies we invest in on both sides of the D&I equation. We will press them on more than just ensuring diversity in their hiring, but also in the retention, promotion and advancement of diverse talent throughout the organization. And we will remind them that truly diverse and inclusive spaces must be rooted in a culture of equity and belonging for all.