June 9th, 2022, MontrealCofomo Diversity & Inclusion
Pride Month is upon us. Conversations about LGBTQ+ rights and recognition, and ensuring that they are established, entrenched, and respected have never been more important at Cofomo.
For this company, diversity and inclusion are not policy, they are a core philosophy, both for ethical and practical reasons. There’s probably no better way to illustrate this than by contrasting where we are with where this writer came from. It’s representative of how far society has come but strongly suggests that the journey is not over.
Diversity and inclusion are not a PR exercise. It’s good for business, and good for the world in which all companies must exist, flourish, and give back to.
My Diversity and Inclusion Awakening
I grew up in a neighbourhood with white kids, from white families. We all watched the same TV programs, went to the same schools, and were taught by white teachers before going home to cookie-cutter bungalows* in neighbourhoods that were so homogenous that getting lost was a routine matter.
To us, that was life. Steady, stable, unchanging, and wearing the same face generation after generation.
Suffice to say diversity and inclusion were not an issue, nor ever mentioned. To this 8-year-old, the world was meant to be homogenous, and while I understood that other places had people of other colours, races, and creeds – mine was defined by those Caucasian faces seen Sundays at church, buying white bread at the supermarket, and carrying it all back in a predictably beige station wagon with whitewall tires. In it, a husband, a wife, and the perfunctory three kids. That was the basic construct of society for me. No harm there. Right?
No. Except that it didn’t prepare me for the world I’d encounter once the greatest migration in human history began. The current one. International migration has soared from 84 million in 1970 to over 250 million per year. Some economically motivated, others forced to move because of conflict.1
International migration has soared from 84 million in 1970 to over 250 million per year.
Nor did it prepare me for a world where sexual identity and gender identity exist almost exclusively in a grey zone. When I was a child, the predominant attitude held that male homosexuality was aberrant, and lesbians were rarely mentioned. If they were, it was usually in hushed conversation by titillated teen boys. The term transgender wasn’t even coined until the late 1950’s2 and the medical procedures surrounding it are still poorly understood by segments of society.
Society did not make diversity or inclusion either important, or imminent.
Nor did it prepare me for a world in which economic realities and rightful ambition conspired to have women seek their place in business. My mum didn’t work, she didn’t need to, because dad brought the money home, and she managed the household. Life was predictably stable.
In short, my easy-to-understand white picket fence world was presented to me neatly packaged, unquestionable, and certainly not about to change anytime soon. That suited me fine because I did not know better.
What a Difference a Lifetime Makes
Decades later I’mA part of a tightly knit marketing group within Cofomo. My immediate superior is a whip-smart person undergoing gender reassignmentB. It took me weeks to get it through my Caucasian, heterosexual head that he was not she. My bad, really. His immediate superior is a laser-focussed manC from a middle eastern Muslim background who possesses a grasp of technology and its implications the likes of which I’ve rarely encountered. Keeping us on the straight and narrow is our nerve center, a production manager and chief coordinatorD with North African roots, and a proud Jewish heritage. And we all get along. Really, really well. Our differences make us stronger; our contrasts help us appreciate the advantages of being together in a world where we can all coexist, cooperate, and excel.
That world did not exist when I was eight. I never expected it to. Yet here we are. And we’re all much better off for it. Why it’s better is open to discussion, but I think there’s a relatively simple answer.
* Search for Pete Seeger, Little Boxes, it’s a great tribute to the perils of homogeneity.
The Advantages of Diversity and Inclusion
New perspectives. It’s really that simple.
New perspectives provide alternatives. Alternatives provide new ways of approaching old problems – they challenge convention, and in many ways, mediocrity.
Complacency is the bane of business, and indeed resting on one’s laurels, or dismissing alternative points of view can greatly limit competitiveness. If necessity is the mother of invention, then diversity and inclusion can rightly be claimed to be the sire of enhanced innovation and creativity.
Diversity and inclusion are the antithesis of homogeneity.
Why? Diversity and inclusion are the antithesis of homogeneity. Little elaboration is needed on why homogeneity stifles creativity. It establishes norms which, by definition, resist change – even when the world changes around them. Business flourishes when it is proactive, when it embraces inevitable change and adopts novel ways of doing things. While no empirical evidence has been gathered to support the hypothesis, the acceptance of our differences, the normalization of the gender and sexual identity spectrum, and indeed the great migration have oiled the wheels of business. Instead of being based on opinions that converge largely due to professional peer pressure, business decisions now routinely consider the unorthodox. The unorthodox has long been a stalwart of breakthrough companies. And breakthrough companies are the ones making the news, and the money.
Apple said it best. Think different. Grammar issues aside, and marketing gimmickry notwithstanding, choosing to be different can pay off. Being different has its risks but being complacent is considerably more hazardous.
Cofomo on Diversity and Inclusion
In 2021, nearly 70 percent of employees reported that their organizations prioritize diversity and inclusion, yet only 35 percent of employees reported that their companies had substantially followed through on their commitments.3
Philippe De Villers, Cofomo’s Vice-President, Culture and Talents, was recently interviewed as part of a comprehensive Pride Month initiative. Diversity and inclusion are high on his list of essential corporate values.
Cofomo’s position on diversity and inclusion came about when reality began to converge with conviction. The value of working towards an equitable society needs little justification – from the earliest days of the new Cofomo (circa 2002) the long-held belief that ethnicity, creed, age, and political, sexual, or gender affiliation were in no way connected to talent, ability, or potential. Commerce and industry, a global pandemic, and an appreciable segment of the population reaching retirement age among others led to increased international hires.4 That practice continues unabated and is likely to increase in scope.
People don’t accept job offers just for the paycheque. They can get that anywhere. Rather they look for employers who have a positive impact on their communities, where they can feel proud to work.5
Simply put, Cofomo, like many companies, and even countries, is becoming a microcosm of the world where it does business. It’s not your dad’s button-down business world anymore. It was about time…
Corporate culture is evolving and contrary to the prevalent political climate which tries to place people and segments of societies in clearly defined silos, thus creating divisions. Cofomo is aligned with Canadian values of multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion6 – not by regulation, but by choice. It’s a good business decision, but more than that, it’s the right thing to do.
We put it into active, enthusiastic practice across our corporate landscape, and it is firmly entrenched in our offices in Montreal, Quebec City, and Ottawa. For example, in 2022 Cofomo joined Pride At Work, an organization that empowers employers to build workplaces that include everyone regardless of gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
The world we work in must reflect the world we live in.
Every little bit matters, and so diversity and inclusion add up, even when measuring success by the balance sheet. Any incremental improvement in productivity derived from heightened employee satisfaction is worth celebrating.
I feel the backbone of the company culture is stronger than the policy. At Cofomo we talk the walk.7
Philippe De Villers truly feels the inclusiveness of the Cofomo culture and has made it a key part of his mission to expand and enhance it. We think he’s the right man for the job.
Diversity and inclusion are not just something to do, it’s something to be.8
I’ll end on a personal note. Although the ability to speak more than a single language cannot be equivocated to being a visible minority, it does illustrate the importance of knowing about the world beyond which one was raised. I am a better writer because I am bilingual, it increases my flexibility of thought. Knowing a second language has given me a distinct advantage. The brain is plastic, and homogeneity of thought discourages our ability to accept differences, we can even end up fearing them. Bilingualism has given me perspective.
Cofomo will continue to embrace and advocate for diversity and inclusion. Growing fast, and reaching out across the globe for talent, it is in the ideal position to make this value a flagship one and contribute immensely to its future success.
Information for this article was compiled from several sources:
3 McKinsey – Gender Diversity At Work – https://www.mckinsey.com/ca/overview/gender-diversity-at-work-in-canada#
4, 5, 7, 8 Interview with Philippe De Villers, Vice-President, Culture and Talents, Cofomo
6 Public Opinion Research on Canadian attitudes towards multiculturalism and immigration, 2006-2009
A – Jacques Daviault
B – Jesse Lee Coggan
C – Hassan Alchaddad