Diversity lessons from Canada’s cabinet
Why Justin Trudeau’s team can show the way to companies
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.
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