Toronto is diverse but not as inclusive as it could be

Toronto exemplifies multiculturalism, but struggles with inclusion and equality of opportunity.

By Carol Goar, Toronto Star

“Having diversity is interesting,” said Zabeen Hirji, chief human resources officer for the Royal Bank non-commitally. “It’s when you do something with it that it becomes powerful.”

She had put her finger on one of the biggest challenges facing this city: moving from diversity to inclusion.

As a woman, an Ismaili Muslim and an immigrant from Tanzania, Hirji is acutely aware of the difference. Many Torontonians are not.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the United Way of Toronto, Hirji was careful not to offend the business leaders in the room. (Eighty per cent of the charity’s funds come from the corporate sector in direct donations and employee payroll contributions). But she made it clear that diversity — which Toronto has in abundance — is simply a description of the city’s talent pool. Inclusion is the act of tapping into the whole pool — not just the top layer — and mixing people from disparate cultures, backgrounds and generations together in a way that allows them to combine their strengths.

On that score, Toronto doesn’t do as well. Very few immigrants — who make up 46 per cent of the city’s population — hold senior positions in business, politics or civil society. Racialized Torontonians — as they call themselves — are disproportionately poor, underemployed and socially isolated.

Many influential Torontonians who could reach out — corporate CEOs, political leaders and heads of major public institutions — don’t; or don’t do it effectively. Many immigrants and their descendents in turn, live in ethnic enclaves, work for employers from their country of origin and socialize among themselves.

 Hirji wasn’t there to preach. Her primary message was that harnessing the talent and energy of young people, newcomers, members of First Nations, gays and lesbians and other minorities is good for business and good for the city. She offered three tips, drawn from her 13 years spearheading RBC’s drive to make its workforce a better reflection of the population: Start with a clear commitment from the top, develop an explicit plan and get buy-in from all employees.
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