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Canadian Innovation

Tapping Into Canada’s Diversity Advantage

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Serena Nguyen

Executive Director, The Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR)

Canada’s innovation and tech sectors have experienced remarkable growth in the past two decades. More than twelve per cent of the country’s GDP is generated by the tech industry, which is growing three times faster than traditional sectors. Canada is poised to be a global hub for technological innovation and advancement, armed with a highly skilled workforce, world-class educational institutions and an environment that fosters creativity and collaboration.

Research shows that diversity and inclusivity helps increase creativity, innovation and productivity. As one of the most multicultural nations in the world, Canada boasts a diverse talent pool to tap into. However, representation continues to be an issue, especially at the C-Suite level. Black and Indigenous groups are underrepresented, making up less than seven per cent of leadership roles across the country.

While businesses have been doubling down on diversity efforts in recent years, many focus solely on numbers such as hiring targets, without doing anything on the inclusion side.

“When you have diversity without inclusion, you have employees that don’t feel a sense of belonging and that ultimately can’t excel in the workplace,” says Serena Nguyen, Executive Director for The Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR). “Our goal is to get underrepresented employees through the door and get them a seat at the table.”

CILAR is made up of Canada’s top innovation leaders, focusing on breaking down systemic barriers, and increasing access for BIPOC people in the innovation industry, for an inclusive future. 

The organization recently launched its ACCELERATE Mentorship program, which creates reciprocal mentoring relationships between executives in the innovation economy, and Black and Indigenous leaders. The first cohort kicks-offis this summer, and CILAR is recruiting for executives and Black and Indigenous leaders for its next cohort.

Mentorship is a proven way to increase minority representation at the management level. Formal mentoring programs have increased the representation of minorities from 9 per cent up to 24 per cent in senior leadership roles. 

“Reciprocal mentorship provides access, opportunity, and social capital to help leaders accelerate their transition to more senior roles,” explains Nguyen. “But it also allows executives to better understand the lived experiences of Black and Indigenous leaders, and deepen their understanding of diversity and inclusion for organizational success.”

With ACCELERATE Mentorship, CILAR has adapted key learnings from its youth development programs, and applied the key insights to align to mid- and senior-managers to help organizations diversify their succession pipelines.

“Engaging individuals with unique experiences, social capital and perspectives in two-way learning accelerates personal and professional growth, increases understanding, and ultimately transforms culture,” Nguyen adds. 

“Affecting systems change starts with moving hearts and minds. And the best way to move hearts and minds is through mentorship.” 

Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

McKinsey Report “Why Diversity Matters”

With Black and Indigenous people underrepresented in C-suite levels, mentoring programs have proven to increase minority representation at the management level from
9 per cent to 24 per cent.
35 per cent of BIPOC workers said they’ve been discriminated against and were twice as likely to experience high levels of stress compared to those who didn’t face discrimination, 

A Benefits Canada 2022  Healthcare Survey 


Mustafa Abdulali

Fourth-year Business Management Student,
Ted Rogers School of Management

Mustafa Abdulali is a fourth-year business management student at the Ted Rogers School of Management. He’s also a Sales Enablement Intern at Appen, a role he secured after meeting Appen’s Chief Product Officer at the Empower to Employ: Activate Youth Summit.

What did you find most valuable at the Summit?

As a business management student, we attend a lot of networking events. The Empower to Employ Summit is by far the most valuable for building connections. It felt like the speakers CILAR brought in were really there to help us.

What stood out for you?

Youth from diverse backgrounds — like myself — don’t often get the opportunity to pick the brains of C-Suite leaders. It was wonderful to see the diversity in the room. Diverse talent that is sometimes overlooked is given an equal opportunity in forums like this. 

“Representation has always been an important issue in tech. However, inclusion in the tech industry has never been more critical than now. Through our relationship with CILAR, we were able to identify and hire a number of incredibly smart and deserving interns who we may not have otherwise been connected with,” says Sujatha Sagiraju, Chief Product Officer, Appen.

Sujatha Sagiraju

Chief Product Officer, Appen

“CILAR is directly unlocking the potential for Canada to play a critical role in the responsible evolution of AI through their diversity and inclusion programs.” 

Meet the Canadian executives participating in this year’s ACCELERATE Mentorship Program 

Laura Pearce

Head of Marketing, Google Canada
There is always so much to be learned when you connect and collaborate with people who bring new and different perspectives to the table, especially as a marketer. The Accelerate Mentorship program allows me to share my leadership journey and learn from the leadership journey of others, and will help me to be a better ally to the Black and Indigenous communities in my work and personal life. We all need to contribute to providing greater support and opportunities for Black and Indigenous leaders so that we can build for today and for the future.

Kamran Aslam

Chief Diversity Officer, Siemens Canada
Taking part in the previous Youth Mentorship Program has been an enriching and impactful step on my own personal journey of growth. I’m grateful to CILAR for providing this new opportunity through the Accelerate Mentorship program to focus on leadership where me and many other leaders can apply new knowledge to create inclusive teams.

To learn more about CILAR’s ACCELERATE Mentorship Program, visit

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