Unlocking the Value of Canadian Entrepreneurship Through Diversity
Founder & CEO
Laura McGee is Founder and CEO of Diversio. Her passion for diversity and inclusion began when she was a McKinsey consultant who developed talent strategies for Fortune 500s and advised governments on how to attract, develop and retain diverse talent. She brought the Diversio team together with the goal to develop innovative technology and eliminate barriers to diversity and inclusion. Laura is also the Co-Founder of #GoSponsorHer and of Summit Leaders, and Co-Chair of the Expert Panel on Women’s Entrepreneurship.
Diversio is a startup that uses artificial intelligence to help companies solve diversity and inclusion challenges. Diversio’s mission is to bring data and analytics to help organizations become more inclusive.
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1- Entrepreneurship is a manifestation of a global and agile economy. Adopting an entrepreneurship mindset is critical to Canada’s growth and will facilitate new ideas, products and services in our markets. Without this, Canadians will face an inevitable loss of business to more agile international competitors.
2- Investing in our strengths, such as artificial intelligence, is what has helped shape Canada as a go-to destination for tech and attract top global talent. To continue this momentum, we should merge more incubators with traditional education and invest in sectors other than tech itself, such as arts, sports and culture.
3- We can build the Canadian brand and give it an international competitive edge by focusing on the role and impact women entrepreneurs can have in our business hubs. If we position Canada as the go-to technology hub for women entrepreneurs it will provide a huge opportunity to attract higher-top talent, making our country the best ecosystem for higher return companies.
Corporate Canada and Canadian leaders who are connected into global networks should make it their goal and priority to find one, two or three up-and-coming Canadian entrepreneurs and invest in them. They should help them grow, integrate them into their network, identify opportunities and sponsor them.
What is the importance of embracing an entrepreneurial mindset as a nation to achieve a successful economy? How entrepreneurial is Canada?
Today, things move fast—really fast—which disrupts the pace of how Canadians navigate through their careers and how companies scale-up. With the economic structures that have been in place for the past 100 years at an inflection point, the common career path—go to school, get a job and climb the corporate ladder within the same organization for the next 20 to 40 years—does not exist anymore.
If we don’t embrace an entrepreneurial mindset, we will leave Canada vulnerable to today’s agile pace of change. Entrepreneurship presents an opportunity for Canadians to participate in this economy. It’s a critical tool for growth to adopt new ideas, products and services.In a new competitive paradigm, Canadians need to always be thinking about what is next, one step into the future. If not, Canadians will face an inevitable loss of business to competitors abroad.
“If we don’t embrace an entrepreneurial mindset, we will leave Canada vulnerable to today’s agile pace of change. Entrepreneurship [is] a critical tool for growth to adopt new ideas, products and services.”
When I joined our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in Buenos Aires to address the G20 Business Women Leaders Task Force (BWLTF) on advancing women as entrepreneurs and business leaders, I also participatedin a workshop with six other entrepreneurs from across the G20. The workshop brought together people from all countries and sectors of society to work in close collaboration, share ideas, and help each other scale up. For me, this was diversity and entrepreneurship at its best: we shared lessons from our home markets, came up with great product ideas, and formed connections that we’ve since leveraged to enter new markets – like Argentina.
My main takeaway? Canadians have a great track record for collaboration and work well with others when planning solutions. These skills are extremely valuable: the ability to collaborate in a diversified environment and partner with others is an essential skill of entrepreneurship and brings different parts of a puzzle together faster.
What we need to work on is our assertiveness and taking the lead, instead of being fast followers. Canadians are hard-wired with attributes of confidence and humility, but are reluctant to be the first ones to try something new.We have a choice to make: sit around and wait for the world to change, or figure out which part of the world is about to change, and how. Canada provides a great social safety net to take more risk, including universal healthcare and many anti-poverty initiatives. Government support is there, so Canadian entrepreneurs should dream big and focus on scaling.
What tangible steps should Canada take to foster an entrepreneurial culture?
Entrepreneurship stems from individuals and startups, but we can also find it within existing companies in the form of intrapreneurs. No matter the format, they are all important to transform an organization more quickly and effectively to build the innovation engines that will make Canada excel in global markets.
One thing that’s helped me flex this muscle is having mentors and sponsors who support my goals, but more importantly help me up when I stumble. That support system allows me to take way more risk than I would otherwise be comfortable with. To put it simply, a strong network minimizes the downside risk of failure – you know you’ll bounce back.
So whatever Canada and Canadians can do to create those networks and encourage people to mentor and sponsor young talent – that will really help us succeed.
How would you rank Canada on an international scale in terms of the strength of our tech entrepreneurship and ecosystem? What can we do to help Canada’s tech community and its entrepreneurs innovate, scale and grow big?
After traveling to the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland, it is clear that Canada’s tech community is having a moment. Cities like Toronto have caught a spark they didn’t have before and are creating game changing products. This build up didn’t happen overnight. It came through steadily investing in our strengths including AI but also things like agtech and cleantech, and positioning the Canada brand as a top go-to destination for tech. It’s exactly the assertiveness Canadians must continue to nurture to help our tech community continue to innovate. Canada has now unlocked a global stream of funding, talent attraction and positive attention.
Educational institutions can also help entrepreneurs innovate and scale, and some are already doing so. For example, Ryerson University established the DMZ as one of Canada’s top business incubators and has been helping entrepreneurs and global tech startups win since 2010. It’s actually ranked the number one university-based business incubator in the world by UBI Global. The ranking recognizes their commitment to helping high-growth tech startups scale, fostering a vibrant startup community and fueling innovation in Canada. This holistic approach across the incubator also greatly improves the effectiveness of the university’s entrepreneurial and business programs. Universities across Canada should look to power their own tech ecosystems that can merge traditional education models with a pool of entrepreneurs that support the university. It would give us a listening edge.
“Investing in arts, sports and culture is vital to help our tech community scale in Canada. Top talent value the social aspects of a city: the growth opportunities, the close community of peers, the sports and art festivals. It’s not just about how much money they can make.”
Why would you not give students the opportunity to work and grow with startups to get real-life experience and create a more seamless co-op program? This is a key model to mimic; one that aims for partnering and involves a more hands-on approach, with team-based activities as a tangible outcome.
Last, I would say investing in arts, sports and culture is vital to help our tech community scale in Canada. Top talent value the social aspects of a city: the growth opportunities, the close community of peers, the sports and art festivals. It’s not just about how much money they can make.Entrepreneurs and millennials value experiences; they value community and they value inclusion. To help our tech hub grow and prosper, we also have to invest in sectors other than tech itself to attract the widest pool of top talent. So, it’s important to keep nurturing the intangible and non-monetary conversations.
What are some specific challenges women entrepreneurs face today? What is Canada doing right to support women entrepreneurs, and what should we be doing differently?
A lot of women entrepreneurs struggle with gender barriers: lower access to capital, a weak response from equity and venture funds to finance or sponsor them, and they also remain the primary caregivers at home. These problems limit women entrepreneurs’ ability to form growth-oriented business partnerships.
Canada tackles some of these problems with the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy; a $2-billion investment that seeks to double the number of women-owned businesses by 2025. This Fund aims to provide support to women to grow their businesses, access capital through loans and equity, invest in networks and support and export services to reach new markets abroad. The Fund is a $30 million investment providing up to $100,000 in non-repayable contribution funding for 12 months.
Canada also does a good job with parental leave. It still needs some work, but the strides we have made are encouraging. Both parents now have an incentive to take parental leave, which is a really clever policy move. It provides incentives for fathers to be more engaged in raising their children and taking time off to learn how to be an active parent, freeing up women to also focus on their careers.
Despite these advantages, women entrepreneurs are still underrepresented, especially at the scale-up stage. While gender inequity has wide-ranging causes, if government and venture capitalists focus on the role and impact women entrepreneurs can have in our business hubs, this unused strength can give Canada an international competitive edge.There is a huge opportunity to attract high potential individuals to Canada, unlock talent that’s already here, and make our country the best ecosystem for higher return companies.
Can you speak to the importance of organizations consciously ingraining diversity and inclusion into their corporate cultures? How can this be done and how does it affect an organization’s productivity and profitability?
Diversity is not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. If companies disregard how to embrace diversity and leverage its strengths, they will not survive.The reasons are well-documented: diverse teams are innovative, better at serving markets, better at attracting talent, and have lower employee attrition. They are also lower risk: for example, one study found that companies facing a #MeToo or other ‘bad behaviour’ scandal lose an average of 7% market cap in the weeks after it breaks.
Bringing a few talented women and minorities to the table and hoping for the best won’t cut it. Diversity may seem ethically intuitive, but in fact, a sociological principle called homophily shows that humans are naturally attracted to people like us. This makes us have the tendency to bond with people similar to ourselves. This also means that small teams in C-level or board positions are more comfortable approaching similar people to partner with, promote or sponsor. Thus, the challenge is to ensure that you actively risk some discomfort to make diversity and gender equity work within your team.
Companies need a strategic plan for ingraining diversity and inclusion across their organizations. This is the only way to nurture the business performance benefits of diversity; teams need to ensure that they can contribute and pull from their diverse experiences and perspectives. This means stamping out any biases or structural barriers. Creating a diverse cohort will allow any organization to discover hidden gems who would not otherwise have been on the radar.
Part of the Entrepreneurship Series presented by