Everyone Deserves a Seat at the Table-Promoting the Inclusion of People with Disabilities on Canadian Corporate Boards
Canadians Believe in Diversity and Inclusion: As Canadians, we pride ourselves on being compassionate and fair-minded. We believe everyone should have the opportunity to participate equally in all aspects and every level of Canadian life. Together, we have made great strides in the removal of barriers to create a more level playing field for Canadians living with disabilities. But there is more we need to do.
About Us: Everyone Deserves a Seat at the Table is a new project by the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons (CFPDP). Our objective is to encourage corporations to appoint people with disabilities to their boards of directors.
Business Community Support: We were formed with the support and guidance of some of Canada’s top business leaders, many of whom serve on our candidate Selection Board.
Current Situation: An estimated 6.2 million Canadians, over 22% of the population, live with a physical or developmental disability.
The good news is that many of Canada’s leading corporations have begun implementing progressive employment policies and strategies aimed at recruiting people with disabilities into their work forces and creating barrier-free work environments or joined the Canadian governments, 50-30 Diversity Challenge.
However, there exists a glaring lack of progress the corporate-board level. Studies reveal less than 1% of corporate directors indentify with a disability.
Call for Change: It’s time for corporations to start looking beyond the usual candidate pool when filling board seats and consider people who are equally qualified for the role yet also have the experience of living with a disability.
How the CFPDP is Promoting Change
Awareness Campaign: Canadians place great value on the concepts of equal opportunity and fairness. Corporations are reflections of society – and we expect them to hold similar principles and ideals. When it becomes evident to us that they are falling short, we expect them to change
Therefore, a key part of this social-change initiative is a public-awareness campaign to increase awareness of the lack of board representation by people with disabilities and to promote the business benefits of board diversity.
The campaign will feature full-page ads in the Globe and Mail, along with a robust communications and social-media plan.
Candidate Recruitment Service: The central focus of a Seat at the Table is the creation and ongoing management of a new recruiting and matching service that serves the needs of both corporate board recruiters and board candidates with disabilities. This innovative service – the first of its kind in Canada – provides an effective mechanism for individuals on both sides to reach out, connect and form relationships.
- A candidate pool of board candidates with disabilities, available to corporations at no cost, has been created and will be developed and nurtured over time.
- A Selection Board composed of highly qualified individuals has been established to vet pool applicants, ensuring that all the candidates in our pool possess the required competence, professional credentials and proven business acumen that a corporate board requires.
Why Should Boards Care? The Business Case for Diversity: There are compelling business arguments for why corporations should strive for greater board diversity. In general, as a board diversity increases, the growing mix of viewpoints leads to more nuanced and constructive debate, new ways of thinking and different perspectives on consumer wants and needs.
Specific benefits to boards of having members with disabilities include:
- A disability perspective can serve the bottom line by identifying opportunities for the development of new products and services targeting disability communities.
- A disability perspective can further serve the bottom line by helping companies be proactive about meeting the customer-service needs of the growing population of people living with disabilities.
- Compared to able-bodied individuals, people with disabilities tend to be harder workers because they feel the need to be better at their jobs than their colleagues to overcome the bias that they’re less capable.
- Compared to able-bodied individuals, people with disabilities tend to be better problem solvers. This is because the challenge of overcoming barriers to daily living requires them to use their physical abilities differently and strengthens their skills at thinking ahead, managing problems and devising creative solutions.
In an era when innovation is essential to market success, diversity has become a precious business asset. Board members with disabilities clearly have much to offer the modern corporation.
The driving force behind Everyone Deserves a Seat at the Table is the Honourable Vim Kochhar, the CFPDP’s founder and chair.
As a strong supporter of social equality, Vim cheered from the sidelines as advocates for greater inclusion of women on corporate boards helped drive a slow but steady increase in representation – from practically zero only a few decades ago to nearly 20% today.
Eventually, he concluded that the disability community should borrow a page from the women’s playbook and similarly begin advocating for board representation as well as creating business mechanisms to support this desired change.
In 2018, Hon. Kochhar was inspired to take action after hearing former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney talk about the benefits of his decision to appoint (for the first time in Canada) a cabinet minister as “Minister Responsible for Disabled Persons.”
Speaking at a CFPDP event, Mr. Mulroney said the presence of a senior-level advocate for disability issues at the cabinet table was instrumental in guiding his government to make numerous progressive policy and program decisions on behalf of the disability community.
Mr. Kochhar immediately saw the parallels with corporations appointing people with disabilities to their boards of directors soon after began work on what would become A Seat at the Table.