Companies that understand and reflect the diversity of Canadian society will do a better job of working with and selling to that society.
By Rebecca Walberg, Financial Post
Diversity at the most senior levels of business is more than a matter of optics or politics; it leads to more thoughtful and balanced decision-making, due to input from directors and executives with vastly different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences.
“The whole purpose of having a large number of senior executives or directors is because they bring different strengths and views,” says Lorraine Dyke, director of the Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work at Carleton’s Sprott School of Business. “If you have six people around a table and they all think alike, five of them are redundant.”
For privately held businesses, it’s particularly important to catch up to Canadian society with respect to giving women and minorities a place in the boardroom. While there is much less transparency for such companies than in their publicly traded counterparts — and therefore less data about how their C-Suites are staffed — they’re widely perceived to be more homogeneous.
“Publicly held businesses are ahead of us in that regard,” concedes Paul McLellan, CEO of Saskatchewan’s Alliance Energy, an employee owned construction firm and one of Canada’s Best Managed companies. “Privately held companies, particularly smaller ones, often have no outside boards,” he points out. “That brings its own challenges, compared with larger publicly traded companies that can bring in a much larger group of people to participate. We have to work to build it into our culture and structure.”
Alliance has made a conscious effort to diversify in its hiring. To this end, the company may have one advantage in terms of workforce diversity at all levels. “We’re an open shop, and I’ve heard union agreements used as an excuse when I challenge larger businesses about diversity. We’re able to reach out and recruit a little better.” In the future, as Alliance cultivates its workforce, this diversity will move up the organization’s ranks, Mr. McLellan expects.
It often requires an effort from the most senior levels to make boardrooms more inclusive precisely because it’s human nature to feel comfortable around similar people, and this influences hiring and promotion.