I think 2020 is going to be a watershed year for profound and sustained social change in Canada and around the world.
Much of my hope actually stems from the many disappointments we saw in 2019 – failure or regression in addressing climate change, Indigenous relations and gender disparity.
It is that failure to deliver that has created a real sense of urgency to make change happen now. An urgency being carried by our youth who are demanding that we better share and protect our planet; that the private sector, governments and not-for-profits take action to constructively work together; and more simply, that we build communities that are equitable and provide space for everyone to thrive and succeed.
When I arrived here as a two year-old child of refugees from Kenya, our country was a much different place. The visible minority population was less than 5 per cent and the pay gap between women and men was about 20 per cent wider than it is today.
Growing up, my sister and I didn’t give much thought to being a minority or that as women we had less opportunities than the men around us. But when I entered the work world I began to realize that, like many new Canadians, I lived a dual life.
At home we celebrated all that Canada offered as well as the traditions and practices of our culture. But outside our home we hid our culture. What we did on the weekends, the food we ate, always conscious of how we dressed and behaved so people wouldn’t question our right to be here.
Looking back, I realize I was covering up who I truly was.
Fortunately, early in my work career a number of role models emerged. Strong women who saw the value in being different. Women who mentored me, sponsored me, listened to me and encouraged me to be proud of what makes me, me.
This made me realize the constant covering – an unconscious sense that I didn’t really belong – had impacted my self-esteem and reduced my comfort challenging the status quo. This was not something I felt alone. It was common for many minorities and women in the workplace.
But I was lucky to work with these incredible women who helped me be my authentic self and find my true potential. This had a huge impact on my personal and professional life. Today, as chief inclusion and social impact officer for KPMG, I am focused on making sure the people in my organization feel safe and welcomed for who they are.
We need them to be engaged and committed, and to feel comfortable speaking up and sharing. In a world where change is happening faster than ever before, getting everyone to bring their ideas to the table is critical to success.
I recently talked to my mother about her feelings on hiding her true self as a visible minority woman in Canada. Interestingly, she did not feel she was treated as an outsider – and never gave much thought to what she had to conceal to fit in.
I think for her, whatever she gave up in identity, whatever she hid, she saw as a worthwhile trade-off – Canada gave far more than it took. But, like many newcomers to Canada, I also know my mom had far more to give this country. Her unconscious covering was a loss to our community and nation as a whole.
As a parent myself as well as a leader, I make sure that I share the positive difference inclusion and diversity can have on our communities and in our workplaces. Like the women who mentored me, I’m committed to do the same with the next generation.
And it is this next generation that drives my belief that profound and positive change is coming. They don’t hold the same biases or baggage of previous ones. They believe in and demand social justice knowing they can drive change with their words, their feet and their wallets.
I see it in my kids and their friends. My daughter and son live a much more authentic life than I did, or did my parents. They are comfortable sharing their whole selves – as are their friends.
As I look at the journey my mom and I took I hold great hope that International Women’s Day 2020 will be one of the last few years we’ll talk about why change is not happening fast enough.
It will instead be remembered as the year when the covers came off.
Kristine Remedios is the chief inclusion and social impact officer at KPMG in Canada
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
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