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Panel 314 - Harnessing Diversity and Inclusion to drive Innovation in Canadian Science and Technology

Conference Day: 
Day 1 - November 7th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Harnessing Diversity and Inclusion to Drive Innovation in Canadian Science and Technology

Organized by: Ryerson University, Wendy Cukier

Speakers: Mohamed Elmi, PhD Candidate, University of Cape Town; Jaigris Hodson, Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Royal Roads University; Doaa Mansour, Advancing Women in STEM, Youth Employment Services Montreal

Moderator: Wendy Cukier, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy and Founder, The Diversity Institute

Takeaways and recommendations

  • Focusing on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is integral to creating an economy that works for everyone.

  • Canada needs a multilayer strategy that looks at individual behaviours as well as organizational and societal contexts to drive change and do inclusive innovation properly.

Immigrants are some of our greatest entrepreneurs

  • Immigrants are more likely to pursue entrepreneurship than Canadian-born residents.

  • Unfortunately, most settlement agencies and support organizations focus on language training and traditional employment pathways (not entrepreneurship) and organizations designed to support entrepreneurs have a limited understanding of the challenges that newcomers face.

Innovation support programs are not designed with women in mind

  • Most incubators and accelerator programs focused on STEM replicate systemic biases, are led by men, are hyper competitive (think “Dragon’s Den”) and reinforce “bro-culture”.

  • There are fewer mentors, less support, and not as much funding or sponsorship for women.

Our image of entrepreneurs creates bias

  • We have to reconsider our image of innovators and expand our understanding of entrepreneurship to encompass more than just technology.

  • For example, most people would think of Bill Gates or Elon Musk (“white males in tech”) as entrepreneurs – fewer would think of Oprah and almost no one would think of farmers or artists.

  • Media representations of entrepreneurs need to be more diverse.

Exclusionary organizational culture is a huge issue

  • Inclusive innovation in organizations has to be more than just about hiring practices.

  • Organizations need to reconsider their processes at every level –management training and communications, product design, procurement, marketing and promotion. EDI needs to be baked in at every level.

  • Organizations need to consider their leadership – who is making the decisions? Who is visible? What is the tone coming from the top?

  • Organizations must have strong and transparent HR practices.

  • Unconscious bias training should be more common and systematic throughout organizations.

  • There needs to be incentives and reward systems for enforcing and/or supporting EDI. It can’t just be suggested guidelines.

Creating inclusive online environments

  • Online environments can facilitate innovation, can shut it down or inhibit it.

  • On the positive side, social media can spread information and knowledge of a technology or innovation to a wide audience.

  • On the negative side, it can inhibit innovation when it becomes an unsafe space for people to share ideas or join discussions.

  • Those most negatively affected by social media are people from disadvantaged groups (women, people of colour, etc.) and can include harassment, sexual assault threats, etc.

  • Online anonymity is a huge problem and organizations like Twitter need to step up and be more transparent.

  • Governments can play a role in creating or mandating the creation of safe online spaces through regulations, or refusing to do business with organizations that don’t comply with online safety standards.

  • Institutions can help by:

    • Educating themselves about the risks certain groups face on social media.

    • Giving training and clearly defining expectations around social media use for their employees.

    • Providing support networks for those who might be at risk of being negatively affected by social media.

Other ways Canada can harness EDI to drive innovation

  • Realize that people do not need tech backgrounds to be successful CEOs.

  • Support networking, mentoring and sponsorship of immigrant entrepreneurs and women by recognizing that entrepreneurial opportunities are diverse and extend beyond technology.

  • Provide better integration of business and immigrant support services, including “concierge” approaches to providing information about the full range of available programs.

  • Develop better societal support systems for women; e.g., Quebec has universal access to childcare, and higher rates of female participation in entrepreneurship.

  • Ensure all communities have equitable access to digital infrastructure.

  • The government needs to spend more money – current investments in gender and diversity are miniscule compared to, for example, the Supercluster initiative.

  • Traditional job pathways (where jobs are posted, how they are worded, the interview process, etc.) are exclusionary for many groups and need to be reconsidered.

  • EDI initiatives need to be applied across the board. It’s not about just having an entrepreneurship fund for women; we need to ensure ALL entrepreneurship funds provide equitable funding for women.

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