By Maryam Zargar
Maryam is the current vice president of VanWIT and a business lawyer with focus on technology law and the managing partner of Zargar Lawyers + Business Strategists
The need for diversity is clear and fewer and fewer individuals and organizations openly dismiss diversity even when deep down they may not understand it; they may even disagree with. What we hear instead is the case in favour of meritocracy or the flaws of a quota system and the negative impact that forcing diversity has on those who are not from a marginalized group.
This disagreement and the lack of proper implementation of diversity and inclusiveness frequently arises from a lack of understanding of what true diversity is about.
What diversity is not about is numbers. It’s not about how many women or how many underrepresented minorities a company hires. That half of a work force is comprised of women does not make a company diverse. That the majority graduates from a certain technical program are female does not make the tech industry diverse. A company with a female CEO or a visible minority CEO does not instantly make the company diverse. We can all think of a few examples here, unfortunately.
Diversity is also not about just giving a voice, rather it’s about giving those voices the power to effect change. It is about creating an environment where power is given to those who face challenges because they understand the challenges and they know what is needed for a meaningful change. Those voices need to be coupled with experience from others, organizational leadership and a strong support team to then produce change. A culture of inclusiveness is key if an organization or an industry wants to achieve true diversity.
In Canada, as in the rest of the western world, Caucasian men have historically been in positions of power and privilege. A culture of inclusiveness cannot be successfully created without their active participation and their commitment to defining roles for marginalized individuals, underrepresented minorities and women, giving them power and most importantly creating space for them to effect change. We must all listen to each other and learn about the struggles we each face.
In January 2018, NRStor CEO Annette Verschuren, GoSponsorHer co-founder Laura McGee, Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz, and General Electric Canada Elyse Allen CEO launched #weneedboth with the objective of “tackling gender diversity through collective action”. Initially, the pledge asked women to sign a pledge that when invited to speak at panels, they would require at least one man on the panel and it asks men to “raise their hand” and show willingness to discuss gender equality. “If we fail to engage all genders (including men), we will miss out on diversity of thought from important stakeholders and changemakers” the website reads.
BetaKit, an online news blog which provides start-up news and emerging technologies in Canada published on this topic and stated that while is committed to supporting diversity in tech and similar impact initiatives across Canada, to date it is unaware that “a lack of men’s representation on diversity panels was a source of concern. It seems that many in the Canadian tech community felt the same, with public outcry on social media, including the #weneedboth Twitter hashtag.” Many of those speaking out against the #weneedboth feel that more focus should be on men being in the audience listening. I agree that we cannot afford to leave men out of the discussion. On its updated website, #weneedboth asks “for all genders to commit to ensuring panels on gender advancement are as inclusive as possible”.
The case for diversity is clear. How we get there is through a culture of inclusiveness and we can all take steps to do more. Seema Lakhani of Wattapad made a list of these steps which I quite like and I use her headings which invite us all to:
- Listen: We need to listen first so that we can understand the issues others may be facing so that we can work together to improve things.
- Raise up marginalized voices, but don’t make it about you: If you are in a position of power and privilege, “make sur you pass opportunities, including the chance to speak on panels to marginalized people around you who are doing the hard work to produce change.”
- Educate yourself: Learn about the challenges of the underrepresented minorities by reading and studying books and materials published by great thinkers and authors from the underrepresented minorities. It’s their story and they tell it best.
- Hold yourself accountable: If you want to see change, you need to start with yourself. Set goals and make a plan to achieve those goals. Measure yourself and keep doing it or try to do better.
We have a unique opportunity and a big responsibility. Individually and together we can effect change.