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Sonia Baxendale is the CEO of the Global Risk Institute and a director of Forester’s Financial, Laurentian Bank, and the Hospital for Sick Kids Foundation.

Like many of you, I have been enormously affected by the events that have unfolded over the past few weeks. The death of George Floyd and ensuing protests have had many executives of prominent companies, including myself, reflecting on how we might have contributed to the current state of society, how we might have been more pro-active and how we might have been more sensitive to the plight of others.

It is now time for business leaders to turn their minds to how as leaders and as influencers they can actually cause real change. Change that is foundational, permanent and sustainable. Corporate Canada has the power to do so. As humans we are all feeling the pain of what we are witnessing, but are we willing to actually step up and effect real change?

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We have struggled for years to address gender equality, with limited success. It is fair to say that there has been progress. In fact, research has shown that having women in the boardroom is linked to better business results. But if equality was the goal, we are far from being in a position to declare victory.

We do know though that as more women have joined boards and taken on leadership roles the discussion of gender has become more prominent and more women see what is possible to aspire to. This is needed for Indigenous and Black people along with others disadvantaged by systemic racism. Yet as we made progress on gender equality, we were short-sighted by not putting more emphasis on racial diversity in the past. Now we have a lot of catching up to do.

Before we can make any progress, we have an added obstacle and that is a crisis of confidence. Boards and chief executives need to rebuild the trust among all stakeholders in general and minority groups in particular. The only way to rebuild this trust is to ensure that voices are heard and specific, actionable and impactful change is made.

There is also a need for government and industry to work together to ensure we have a clear plan to ensure dialogue, consultation and policies will enact change.

To start, we should consider:

  1. Some real reflection on the culture of the organization – some difficult conversations will be required. This is not a time for us to bury our heads in the sand. Systemic racism is a product of the system so that means decades-old policies and procedures that created enduring companies will have to be reviewed with another kind of lens.
  2. Educational partnerships with community and academic institutions to ensure that we have an appropriate pool of diverse candidates in priority skills areas.
  3. Reinvigorate and elevate diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  4. Board and senior executive targets for all public companies and government agencies, with a reasonable time frame for companies to comply.
  5. CEOs and senior executives deliver against what is measured and rewarded – this is ultimately both a performance and a risk issue. We need to adequately reward for success and penalize for under-performance.

Without these and other measures, Canada’s competitiveness and future prosperity will be at risk. At the Global Risk Institute, one of our greatest strengths is our convening ability: the ability to bring groups together to work toward solutions that mitigate risk to the financial sector and seek out opportunity. We will be playing a role in the future for change.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

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