QueerTech MTL panel says it’s not just up to managers to support diversity in a company

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Does diversity drive innovation? That was the big question at this past Thursday’s Queer Tech MTL event, which brought together a group of inspiring and open-minded Montrealers at Desjardins Labs. The moderators and panelists brought the conversations to life, with a broad range of backgrounds and life experiences.

Moderated by Katherine Chennel, a trans woman with more than 45 years of experience as a flight controls systems engineer, the panel included Nicolas Coulombe, the VP of infrastructure and operations technology for Desjardins Financial Group; Ricardo Assemat, a technology consultant in the PwC Canada Workday team, and chair of GLEE Montreal, PwC’s newly created LGBTQ+ employee network group; and Claire Gaillard, communications specialist at CGI and editor-in-chief for Canadian lesbian magazine, Lez Spread the Word (LSTW).

The panelists spoke to questions about the importance of seeing LGBTQ+ role models in the workforce, how we can hire diverse teams when we’re not allowed to ask job applicants their sexual orientation, how diversity drives innovation, and how we can measure diversity.

There was a consensus that building diversity is the responsibility of all members of a company. It can’t simply be talk from the management, nor should it be the responsibility of recruiters or HR.
“There’s definitely support needed,” Assemat said when asked about how these initiatives should be implemented within companies, “not only from the company, but from the community within the company.”

“Where you find more roadblocks is when you want to build engagement from the bottom,” he continued, “You can have policies, even partners, supporting these initiatives, but if the culture isn’t ready for it, then you’re also going to have to work toward that goal.”

Gaillard added that the challenge for organizations is creating a sense of identification that creates visibility for diversity. “We talk a lot about inclusion, we write about it a lot, but it’s often marketing.” She suggested that one way for companies to truly embrace diversity is by showing their employees why it’s so critical to innovation.

Quoting a McKinsey report, Gaillard said that “Diverse companies outperform non-diverse companies by 30 percent.” This was followed by comments from other panelists and audience members, who spoke anecdotally about their own experiences. When people come from various cultures and backgrounds, there appears to be a greater likelihood to have new ideas that challenge the status quo.

Chennel highlighted one experience of creating a new diverse group after struggling with a project for three months. “You have to think differently. You can’t continue to do the things you always did. Then you will never do anything new,” she said. “After we put together a new team of people, all with different ideas, we made a better product in one month.”

“The ingredients for innovation are: they need to care, they need to trust, and then they innovate,” said Coulombe.

“At the end, we are always talking about people,” said Chennel. “You have to think differently, and we certainly think differently.”

Photo via Twitter

Lauren Jane Heller

Lauren Jane Heller

Lauren Jane Heller is passionate writer and storyteller. With a background in documentary film and journalism, she has now found her niche writing for and about the continually evolving world of technology.