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Why diversity is critical for your business

It’s not an easy time to be a business owner. The challenges are huge: pandemic disruptions, labour shortages, economic uncertainty.

But businesses in the Ottawa area – and across Canada – also have an exciting ace up their sleeves that many aren’t aware of or taking advantage of: diversity.

Research shows that companies with gender and ethnic diversity consistently deliver more innovation, higher revenues, larger profits and better employee retention. Companies with racial and ethnic diversity earn 35 per cent above standard industry returns, according to a 2015 study by the consulting firm McKinsey.

Closing the gender gap could add $420 billion to the Canadian economy by 2026, McKinsey said in a more recent study.

Missed opportunity

Yet, when Canadian business owners were asked how they will address labour shortages, only six per cent said they plan to hire newcomers to Canada, BDC found in a survey.

This is a missed opportunity. Canada’s population is changing. By 2032, immigrants will account for up to 80 per cent of Canada’s population growth, and around one in four Canadians will be born in another country.

Businesses need to adapt if they want to hire and retain the best workers and compete in a quickly changing world. Diversity not only casts a wider net for your workforce. It also brings new ideas and access to fresh markets.

Diversity pays off

We see this every day at BDC. We have made it a priority to support diverse entrepreneurs who face unique barriers in starting and growing their businesses. We do our part to ensure that all entrepreneurs have access to the financing, capital, advice, connections, resources and inspiration they need to succeed.

For example, through our Women Entrepreneurs Strategy, BDC has provided more than $1.4 billion in financing to more than 5,000 women-led businesses since 2018. In addition, more than 100 BDC employees got involved as women entrepreneur champions. As a result, we have grown the number of women entrepreneurs we are supporting to more than 8,500.

Steps you can take

How do you improve your company’s diversity? The answer is leadership and concrete action. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Review your hiring to eliminate discrimination. It’s common for hiring to be biased – often unconsciously – against candidates with unfamiliar names or foreign credentials. You may also need to change how you evaluate credentials of newcomers.
  2. Foster an inclusive workplace. Evaluate your workplace to see how you can improve inclusiveness. It’s a good idea to adopt an anti-discrimination policy as part of a broader policy on workplace discrimination and harassment. You can offer diversity training and appoint mentors for women, racialized employees and others. It’s also helpful to have employee resource groups for various diversity communities. They offer invaluable support for employees and ideas for improving diversity.
  3. Improve supplier diversity. A diverse supplier pool ensures access to the best expertise and prices, helping you stay competitive.
  4. Find partners to help. You can expand your hiring by partnering with employment agencies such as Hire Immigrants Ottawa, World Skills Employment Centre and other community groups. You can also hire outside experts to review your practices.

It’s an exciting time for diversity. I see more diversity in the business community and a hunger for change among all people.

Change isn’t always easy. But the understanding is growing that barriers cost us all. Businesses that don’t reflect Canada’s growing diversity will fall behind. Those that act now will be more resilient, successful and ready for the future.

Catherine Leteinturier-Guissé is Ottawa business centre manager at BDC, leading a team dedicated to helping entrepreneurs achieve their growth plans by offering flexible financial and advisory solutions. She is a women entrepreneurs and Black entrepreneurs champion at the bank and is passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion.