Home >News >Business Of Life >Diversity lessons from Canada’s cabinet


Justin Trudeau was the flavour of the season on social media after he was officially sworn in as Canada’s 23rd prime minister last week, thanks to the heartening diversity of his 30-member cabinet. For one, it was a cabinet showcasing the idea of gender balance, with 15 male and 15 female ministers, a first for Canada, and very far removed from the reality in most other countries. There were also five ministers from visible minorities (four Indian-Canadians and one Afghan-Canadian), two ministers from Canada’s Aboriginal communities, two ministers with disabilities, and 18 first-time ministers. Their backgrounds tell a fascinating story.

Trudeau has been hailed for putting together a cabinet that is progressive and representative, and, as he said, one that “looks like Canada".

Diversity has become a corporate buzzword over the past few years, yet most companies have a limited understanding of its scope. Often, it is confined to conversations on gender. Important as that is, diversity entails having organizations that mirror society. This philosophy of diversity will not only seek gender balance but will also strive to ensure that teams are multidisciplinary and cut across race, age, experience and geographical region. “It’s about recognizing different acumen, leadership styles and points of view. The more diverse you make your leadership teams, the better your company will do," says Anjali Singh, senior vice-president (corporate strategy) at business process outsourcing firm Genpact.

The business advantage of diversity, and the depth and rigour it can lend to decision making across all levels, is well documented in management literature. Companies with diverse teams are known to perform better on all metrics. Yet the diversity statistics at most large firms indicate that logic doesn’t translate easily into action: Leadership intention and organizational ability can both become obstacles. On gender, for example, companies often cite difficulties in ensuring a better balance in boards, C-suites and managerial teams. Quite simply, women tend to take career breaks to fulfil family responsibilities.

Yet Trudeau seems to have found a way. “He has taken a quantum leap. It would have taken a few years of preparation to identify and work with the people he finally named in his cabinet. And, if they succeed, everyone—companies, governments, countries—will need to ask ourselves if we can leapfrog as well. Do we need to be satisfied setting targets of 25% for gender balance, or can we reimagine the future too?" says Singh.

We spoke to leaders and human resource practitioners as well as those working on diversity and disability issues to find out if there are any lessons our companies and chief executive officers (CEOs) can learn from the Canadian prime minister.

What Trudeau has done will help to move the needle on issues such as gender diversity, and more. It offers an alternative to the world and gives the groups represented in this diversity a chance to show what they can do and how they can perform. It’s more democratic too. Not many CEOs recognize the value of this kind of diversity enough though. Like political leaders should look to have cabinets that represent their country, CEOs should look at building teams that broadly reflect their consumers because this helps to create more sustainable businesses- Mohandas Pai, chairman, Manipal Global Education Services
A great quality for a leader to demonstrate their integrity is by ‘walking the talk’. Trudeau promised to represent all communities and delivered on it at the first opportunity he got. With one move, he has established his foothold as a new leader. What he has done in terms of gender balance, for example, is significant because not only did he acknowledge the diversity, which a lot of people might do, he put it into action as well.- Mohinish Sinha, director and leadership and talent practice leader, management consulting firm Hay Group India
When asked why his cabinet had 50% women, Justin Trudeau said, ‘Because it’s 2015’. I am reminded of people who say they climbed Mount Everest because it’s there! There was no big pronouncement or justification around a cabinet with 50% women—they are half the world and, technically, should be half of everything. That Trudeau believes his choices and decisions need no explanation is what makes it progressive and landmark. In one swoop, he has put Canada on the world map as a leader on an issue (gender balance) that will be centre stage in the years to come. Clearly, he is a man of our times, and, with some luck, a source of inspiration to other world leaders and corporate CEOs.- Anuradha Das Mathur, founding dean, Vedica Scholars Programme for Women, an alternative to traditional master’s in business administration (MBA) programme
Trudeau’s cabinet is significant in the message that it sends to the rest of the world. With this cabinet, Canada has become a new role model for diversity—a beacon for the rest of the world. I expect great things to come from this for the country. Diversity boosts innovation, competitiveness and economic growth. Also, all companies and countries, should understand that your leadership needs to be like the people it serves so it can understand their values and needs. Having a diverse leadership also leads to better decision making because of the higher quality of ideas that emerge- Vivek Wadhwa, entrepreneur turned academic and researcher
Trudeau has set the template for what meaningful leadership is going to look like in future. Having a gender-equal, ethnically diverse cabinet in 2015 shouldn’t be considered radical. It is simply a recognition of the values that most young people around the world have on inclusion and equality. I really appreciate the other small things, such as the Inuit singing at his swearing-in. It shows that in today’s world, tradition and modernity can and, in fact, should coexist beautifully. It is a lesson for all organizations—governments, companies and other institutions—on how to create frameworks for positive change. In today’s world, Trudeau and his actions spread due to digital media, and created a ripple effect. It gives great hope to all those who are fighting for issues like LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) inclusion and diversity that a new tomorrow is possible, such as we are trying to do at Godrej with our focus on gender and LGBT inclusion. - Parmesh Shahani, head, Godrej India Culture Lab, a cultural ideas platform
Trudeau’s new cabinet has two people with disabilities. This is a big lesson for India and its corporate and political leaders. In our country, politicians go out of their way to hide any disability. It is surprising that while we go out of our way to ensure that a woman is in charge of women’s affairs (and rightfully so), we do not think of having a person with disability in charge of disability affairs in India.- Javed Abidi, disability rights activist
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