The case for innovation in diversity and inclusion

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by Wendy Cukier, Vice-President, Research & Innovation

I recently presented to a room full of women at the Electricity Distributors Association’s Women Connected event, which featured a series of talks aimed at women in the energy industry.

The room was definitely energized as I delved into the subject of diversity. The research confirms what many women experience on a daily basis: in order to make room for diversity, we need to apply what we know about innovation to solve the problem.

In innovation, we need more than just inventors. The scientists and engineers that drive the creation of technology are necessary, but without the people who are studying the “human side” of things, we will never understand the drivers and impediments to adopting those new technologies. We need research on consumer behaviour, organic practices and policies, and social and economic impact. Nowhere is this more true than in the energy sector given the complex forces which shape how and when we use electricity.

Similarly, we have to tackle diversity and inclusion from multiple fronts. You can’t pick one thing and expect to solve a complex problem.

As women, we need to recognize the other people around us who are being excluded and bring them into the fold — there is strength in numbers. In the Greater Toronto Area, there are nearly equal numbers of racialized women as there are white workers. Yet white women outnumber racialized women seven to one in leadership roles. We can work to support each other by lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down.

What are the impediments to being viewed as equals? The current research tells us that not only do men prefer to work for other men, but women also prefer to work for men. Why does society’s view of leaders need to be defined so differently for women than it is for men? As women, we are held to an amazing standard of “niceness.” I get that presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is “not nice,” but when we brainstorm leadership characteristics, does “nice” figure prominently into discussions of what leaders need to be?

When asked: how often have you been in a meeting where you offer an idea and a little while later a man offers the same idea and is greeted with “great idea?” — the room exploded with laughter.

It used to be that in order to be a top-level executive, there was an expectation that you had a stay-at-home wife. Not only does this speak to the fact that we couldn’t conceive of women being in positions of power, but also that they were expected to have a role in the home as entertainers. This dynamic continues today. A high percentage of male CEOs continue to have stay-at-home wives. More than 40 per cent of boards in industry have at least one woman on them today, which some might applaud as progress. But from my perspective, that means there is still more than half that don’t have any women at all. It’s not that women are not ambitious, driven and hard-working; quite the opposite is true. Most women put a lot of effort into the execution of their jobs but not so much effort into self-promotion. Women are scared of failing. We are scared of being called bossy.

When asked: how many of you have been called bossy? — most women put up their hands. Often, when men show vision, determination and drive they are called leaders. Women showing the same traits are called “bossy” or worse.

If we are going to see equality, we need to take risks, have confidence, and take action. Most importantly, we need to learn to not always ask for permission but ask for forgiveness instead.

Regardless of where you are in an organization, you can exert influence. Everybody has the potential to become a changemaker.

I’d like to thank all the women who attended this conference. The enthusiasm in the room was definitely a sign that you are on the right path toward making change.