Minister Bains says orgs committed to diversity will get “preferential access to government programming”

Navdeep Bains

As part of a new diversity initiative rollout Thursday, Minister Navdeep Bains committed to using both carrots and sticks to drive greater representation in private sector companies across Canada.

The Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry announced the launch of the 50 – 30 Challenge, looking to encourage Canadian companies to increase representation and opportunities for underrepresented groups in the private sector. The goal of the initiative is to achieve both gender parity and increased presence of underrepresented groups on company boards and in senior levels of management.

“My view is corporate Canada should look like Canada,” Bains told BetaKit.

Speaking with BetaKit Thursday afternoon, the minister said companies that achieve certain goals as part of the challenge will be able to “get preferential access to government programming.” The statement echoes those made by Bains during the launch of the initiative this morning.

“We’re using the government as a platform to encourage competition within the market, apply a little bit of peer pressure, and provide resources for the smaller companies,” Bains told BetaKit. “Then the next phase is for companies that achieve that goal, they’re able to do business with the government of Canada in a preferential manner and get preferential access to government programming.”

Initially, that preferred access will apply to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) programming, which provides a variety of support for the Canadian tech sector, including the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) and Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative (VCCI).

Bains, one of the ministers responsible for ISED, called the department “a great place to start” offering this type of incentive given the large number of Canadian companies that interact with its programs.

The government has also committed $33 million over three years to the 50 – 30 Challenge, with the goal to identify tools and programs that will encourage organizations to embrace the initiative and bring greater diversity to their workplaces. The $33 million is specifically meant to develop an online toolkit and offer programs to assist small-and-medium-enterprises (SMEs) through mentorship and training.

Companies that achieve certain goals within this framework will be provided with incentives linked to government programs. In addition to general incentives, the preferential treatment aspect is specifically related to a certification program that the government is looking to develop with The Standards Council of Canada.

The Standards Council of Canada is a federal Crown corporation mandated to promote voluntary standardization, in cases where standardization is not expressly mandated by laws. It provides and creates accreditation programs for a variety of sectors. The council is set to collaborate with 50 – 30 Challenge partner organizations “to develop Canadian standards for diversity in organizational leadership.”

“We want to make sure that we have a fair and robust process,” Bains told BetaKit. “And in order for there to be consistency across the board, any company that achieves this goal needs to be certified by Standards Council of Canada. And then we would work closely with procurement and other departments to make sure that companies [that] do follow through on this 50 – 30 Challenge, they’re able to do business with the government of Canada in a meaningful way and are able to access programs in a meaningful way.”

While these incentives will initially be available solely for ISED programming, Bains expressed plans to expand the initiative across the federal government.

“We’re using the government as a platform to encourage competition within the market, apply a little bit of peer pressure, and provide resources for the smaller companies.”

The 50 – 30 Challenge builds on Bill C-25, which came into effect at the beginning of this year. It requires all businesses governed by the Canada Business Corporations Act to disclose information on the diversity of their board of directors and senior management to shareholders.

“We’re seeing progress, but we know we can do better,” Bains said, regarding C-25. He noted the challenge allows the government to apply pressure to those companies, as well as others, to achieve equity.

The federal government created the 50 – 30 Challenge alongside private sector partners, which will work with the Standards Council of Canada and are helping to develop the overall initiative. Partners span the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, BlackNorth Initiative, and tech sector groups like Capital Angel Network, The51, Sandpiper Ventures, and TechImpact.

More than 470 organizations across Canada have already signed on for the challenge. This includes a number of tech startups and innovation organizations, such as Communitech, MaRS Discovery District, CIFAR, and Startup Edmonton.

The challenge offers three streams: large corporations; SMEs; and post-secondary institutions, not-for-profit organizations and charities. Each organization is asked to commit to working toward the 50 – 30 objectives (50 percent gender parity, 30 percent underrepresented groups) in ways that show “meaningful progress toward creating a workplace that reflects the diversity of the communities in which they operate across Canada.”

“My view is corporate Canada should look like Canada,” Bains told BetaKit. “It’s about promoting diversity and inclusion that means we get better outcomes, get a better rate of return for our investments, get better ideas and solutions, and a better society overall.”

“If you look at the broader context … around systemic discrimination and around the challenges that we’re seeing, with under-representation within our institutions, what we’ve come forward with is a plan to encourage companies to promote and improve equity in organizations across the country,” he added.

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Associate Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.