Titled 'Unconscious Bias, Diversity, Inclusion & ESG: Investors' Expectations & Board's Role in it All', the panel discussion explored the steps organisations can take to open themselves to be more diverse, including challenging bias, and how investor demands are forcing the pace of change.
"Institutional investors expect diversity and inclusion at all levels and if they don't see it, it raises the obvious question of why it isn't happening," said David Salmon, president of Laurel Hill Advisory Group.
"From a regulatory perspective, the Canadian Business Corporations Act is expanding to diversity from gender to include visible minorities, people with disabilities and aboriginal people. The trend is to go beyond one and done. Many institutional investors seek a minimum three, or 30%, women on boards to achieve critical mass and if it is not achieved or not defined how it will be achieved, they will withhold voting."
Jill Nelson, a professional recruiter and owner at Brooks & Nelson, said the goal was to make the unconscious conscious so people were self-aware of their unconscious bias and could therefore take steps to mitigate its potentially negative effects.
"Unconscious bias can create certain barriers and prevents people working together efficiently," she said.
"It is fundamentally a lack of trust which manifests itself through micro aggressions that have a major impact on someone else. As a result, companies end up settling for good enough rather than best results."
For Resa Furey, marketing and business development at Stantec, the key is cultivating behaviours which make people feel they are welcome in a group so they can contribute fully to workplace success. "You want to bring your whole self to work, not an edited version. No one wants to go to work and feel like an outsider. [In an inclusive environment] people will be more productive and much more likely to stay," she said.
For smaller companies such as junior explorers which may not have human resource professionals, creating an inclusive environment and improve diversity requires leadership from senior management and the board.
"Leaders need to be self-aware to stop and think to ensure decisions are based on facts and evidence," said Nelson.
"They need to be openminded to what diversity can bring to the table, change processes and systems and anticipate where bias may impact decisions. Write good job descriptions that get rid of gendered language and limit the list of qualities to those that are absolutely necessary as women will not apply for a job unless they tick all the boxes.
"Avoid asking salary history as if the candidate is underpaid you are perpetuating that inequality."