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“This isn’t about tokenism. Because someone is diverse doesn’t mean that they’re leaders, of course. We deal with this head-on. We will never put forward leadership without competency.”
Julia Deans is the CEO of CivicAction, formerly the Toronto City Summit Alliance (TCSA). Ratna Omidvar is the President of Maytree.
More than 630 leaders gathered at the first Toronto City Summit in 2007 when the seed of an idea first took root. As issues like housing, health and education were being discussed, a call for more action on diversity surfaced across all conversations.
Follow-up meetings were held with leaders across sectors and diverse communities to determine what needed to be done. At the same time Maytree was delivering two nascent programs addressing board diversity and civic engagement.
But it was David Pecaut’s meeting with the Premier’s office and a $1.5 million commitment from the province of Ontario that brought the DiverseCity project to life.
DiverseCity presented a new take on an old problem. Many successful initiatives were tackling integration and diversity. Many were looking at the issue through the lens of equity and inclusion. We knew there was something missing. We asked ourselves why are there only white guys over 40 at the head of all sectors?
We wanted people to ask: “What’s wrong with this picture? Why don’t more people look like me?”
We wanted to wake the city up to the power of diverse leaders.
We didn’t need to negotiate space with others. We were establishing new territory.
We sought nimble solutions and didn’t want to get stuck in the box of complaints. The project grew organically. It developed incrementally over time and by listening to many stakeholders.
We were imaginative, tapping into the best ideas and then creating projects around them. We weren’t confined by structure.
We knew that networks were essential. The routes to leadership were not clear or open.
We wanted to act on ideas; not just talk about them.
Change was inevitable but we wanted to compress natural timelines. We knew that if we didn’t take advantage now, we were not going to succeed.
We were two organizations with different but complimentary skills. CivicAction had an ingrained ability to convene and had access to corporate networks. Maytree had a track record of delivering impactful direct service programs and was a knowledge leader in diversity and integration.
Neither of us was the right sole carrier.
We had the experience of working together having co-launched the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC). Our collaborative path was clear.
Ours was a hopeful message; one that everyone could rally around. While the equity message creates a competition, the goal of prosperity unites people.
One of our most gratifying surprises has been the overwhelmingly positive media we’ve received.
The appetite for our story has been enormous.
Our first Canadian Club luncheon was one of their highest capacity events ever. It was our “coming out” to Bay Street and out they came. We had two bank CEOs at our head table, all sectors represented and probably the most diverse room in Canada – EVER.
We saw a sea of faces of support and validation for what was a potentially risky project.
The project was intended to be time-limited. Through our projects, we aimed to enable 1,000 diverse leaders to emerge. Now with targets reached and the clock running out, we are seeing a logical continuation and evolution of our project.
There’s so much excitement about this. There is something magical here. How do we take it to the next level and embed it into everyone’s work?
Innovation keeps this project alive. We might do things differently but we will continue to do them.