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In an otherwise subdued Canadian job market, diversity and inclusion experts with the “cultural competence” and leadership skills to influence organizational change are in hot demand.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, for example, has posted a new full-time position for a diversity and inclusion specialist to advance the organization’s internal progress on equity issues and support its roles as a change agent in the broader business community. The successful applicant will have “lived experience as a member of an equity-seeking group” – along with an established track record in diversity and inclusion work and expertise in change management, networking, consensus-building and policy development.

“The face of Canadian business is literally changing and the chamber needs to reflect those changes,” chamber president Perrin Beatty said in an e-mail.

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“This is a priority for us,” chief operating officer Gayla Brock-Woodland elaborated in an interview. “The pandemic has really underscored the unfairness and inequities in the work force; many of the equity-seeking groups have been disproportionately affected. Our focus is really on [an inclusive] recovery.”

Beauty retailer Sephora Canada is also looking for a senior manager of inclusion and belonging to build on efforts already under way. Effective diversity, equity and inclusion practices are “no longer a nice-to-have for businesses, they’re a need-to-have,” said Debbie McDowell, the multinational’s director of social impact in Canada. Sephora employs and serves a young, diverse demographic. “These employees want to work at companies they believe in, and customers want to shop at companies they believe in. They’re looking at what you are doing to support [diversity and inclusion], what you are doing to support communities, what you are doing through your supply chain.”

In 2020, Sephora commissioned a study on racial bias in the U.S. retail sector and found that customers who were BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or people of colour) felt less welcome in stores than white people, were trailed by suspicious staff and security guards more frequently and had more difficulty finding suitable hair and skin-care products on the shelves. Employees also reported they had experienced or witnessed racial bias. The goal of the research was to identify problems in order to tackle them.

Sephora Canada did not replicate the study here, Ms. McDowell said, but has established a number of steering committees to examine a range of issues, including diverse hiring and advancement, cultural competence and brand diversity on the shelves and in the in-store experience.

There’s intense competition for professionals who can quantify conscious or unconscious bias in organizations, develop diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and measure the effectiveness of those initiatives, she added. “It’s a hot skills market for DEI leaders right now.”

Hospitals, law firms, municipalities, pharmaceutical companies and major Canadian retailers are among those with current postings for full-time specialists in the field. A few, such as the Chamber of Commerce, are specifically looking for members of equity-seeking groups to inform their efforts.

“The best way to overcome the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities involved is to draw upon people who understand the issues from personal experience,” Mr. Beatty said.

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The pay range for the position at the chamber is $85,000 to $90,000, based on experience. The Ontario city of Markham is offering annual pay of between $93,259 and $109,745 to the person best qualified to lead its diversity and inclusion initiatives on behalf of civic employees and the community they serve.

Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion “is among the hardest, most difficult tasks in any organization,” says diversity and inclusion strategist Hamlin Grange. His Toronto-based firm, DiversiPro Inc., was recently hired to deliver “culturally adaptive leadership” training to senior managers in five federal government departments that have established anti-racism secretariats. The people leading these initiatives need to understand employment equity laws, they need the cultural competence to bridge and navigate cultural differences, and they need the skills to overcome resistance and lead an organization through change – “because diversity and inclusion is about change.”

There has to be buy-in from the highest level of any organization for these efforts to succeed, Mr. Grange added. “If your diversity, inclusion and equity program starts in HR and stays in HR, it often dies in HR.”

Mr. Beatty said his organization has a responsibility to address long-standing inequities in Canada. “The chamber’s role must go beyond simply telling the government what it should be doing for business. We also need to provide leadership within the business community on key societal issues by applying the same standards to ourselves as we recommend to others.”

The new hire who takes the lead on diversity and inclusion within the chamber will also support its 200,000 business members in filling their talent and skills gaps by creating opportunities for under-represented segments of the Canadian population.

It’s not only the right thing to do, Mr. Beatty said. It’s good for business.

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