“Diversity and inclusion” is one of the four values of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Canada, guiding its pursuit of excellence and its goal of ensuring that management education is accessible and every student is empowered to achieve his or her full potential. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Through their Diversity Institute, the school is involved in numerous projects that are having a significant impact nationally.
To continue our special themed month focused on diversity and inclusion, I spoke with Dr. Wendy Cukier from The Diversity Institute about this initiative, which she founded in 1999, and the impact it is having.
Introduce the Diversity Institute and how it came about
The Diversity Institute is an action-oriented research centre – a “think and do” institute in Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management. The initial focus of the institute was gender in the ICT sector and management and over time it expanded to include other dimensions of diversity. In Canada, there are four designated groups addressed in employment equity legislation: women, visible minorities, Aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities – that are historically disadvantaged both in terms of employment and advancement in corporations. Recent court cases have drawn additional attention to similar disadvantages for LGBTQ individuals. Additionally, discussions of diversity and difference have focused on the importance of intersectionality and overlapping identities including refugees, immigrants and specific religions. Policy makers and forward-thinking private sector companies have advanced the notion of the “business case for diversity and inclusion”, shifting the focus of discussion from equality, social justice and human rights, and as a result, drawing in more than the usual suspects and partners to the Diversity Institute.
What are the key features of the programme and how does it work?
We work with organizations across sectors to develop customized strategies, programming and resources to promote new, interdisciplinary knowledge and practice about diversity. We also work with partners to develop and scale evidence-based innovations with the capacity to effect change across sectors and at the individual, organizational, and societal levels.
The Diversity Institute leads the DiversityLeads project (2011-2017), which aims to benchmark and assess the progress of diversity in leadership; examine barriers at the individual, organizational, and societal levels; explore leadership representation in media; and develop an integrated approach across groups, sectors and levels for sustained change.
The work and reputation of the Diversity Institute has enabled it to attract and retain strong partnerships both locally and globally. The Diversity Institute collaborated with Catalyst Canada to survey 17,000 mid-career managers on their perceptions and experiences related to career advancement in corporate Canada using a diversity lens and with Maytree Foundation and Civic Action to track rates of diversity among leaders in the GTA in 2009, 2010 and 2011 through the DiversityCounts project.
What is the role of business schools in promoting diversity and inclusion?
Business schools have an important role to play in increasing diversity and inclusion across sectors through their key function of training leaders of tomorrow. Diversity, inclusion and human rights are core UN sustainability goals and fundamental to corporate social responsibility (CSR) although they are often overlooked (in contrast, for example, to environmental goals).
Organizations are becoming more diverse and as are their markets. To be effective leaders and managers, business graduates need to understand, value and advance diversity and inclusion. The “business case for diversity” needs to be understood in the context of developing the workforce, enhancing innovation, meeting the needs of diverse markets, improving corporate performance and minimizing risks.
Multiple perspectives provide better solutions and research shows ethnically diverse groups produce better ideas when brainstorming. While contexts differ, there are increasing legal and regulatory requirements related to diversity and inclusion. Multinationals must understand how to navigate these across markets.
Business schools are well-positioned to shape organizational policies, practices and culture. Business schools also have longstanding connections to the corporate sector and ought to play a role in helping business achieve their diversity and inclusion goals which are increasingly becoming important to key stakeholders. Currently, in most countries businesses have relatively low levels of diversity among senior management and corporate boards of directors. Often unconscious bias and systemic discrimination pose barriers to recruitment and advancement of women, minorities and persons with disabilities. Business schools can raise awareness and provide evidence and tools need to advance diversity and inclusion policy and practices.
It is also important for business schools to understand that their diverse student body may need additional support and tools and others in their community need to understand and value diversity to create effective learning environments and workplaces.