Diversity and Inclusion – It’s Everyone’s Opportunity

When people look back at this time in history, it’s my hope that it’s one that is defined by the important strides made around diversity and inclusion. While this is a broad topic that extends beyond my usual focus on the ocean economy, I want to share my experiences from the past few weeks that included a wealth of perspectives from leaders, across a number of platforms, that are worth considering.

And yes, there is a link to ocean. I’ll get to that, but as a start I will say diversity and inclusion is an opportunity for us all, including ocean industries, and it takes leadership to help make it happen.

Last month I had the chance to listen to leaders who have done so much to add volume to the issues of diversity and inclusion. While in Toronto, this included the rare opportunity to listen to the stories of a tremendous line-up of speakers: Her Excellency Julie Payette (Governor General of Canada); the Right Honourable Kim Campbell (former Prime Minister of Canada); Dr. Frances Arnold (Nobel prize winner in chemistry); Dr. Donna Strickland (Nobel prize winner in physics); Pat Mitchell (media executive and author); Debra McGrath (Canadian actress) and her daughter, Kinley Mochrie; and Jess Herbst (politician from Texas and transgender rights activist).

I also had the honour of hearing President Barack Obama speak. He was in Atlantic Canada to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council, with stops in St. John’s and Halifax, where he delivered an empowering message to the many thousands in attendance. First talking about the importance of focusing on what you want to do rather than who you want to be, the President reflected on not having set out in life to become President and yet, the roles he took on over the course of his career, including entering politics, were for the purpose of achieving his goal to make things better. He encouraged the future generation to use their purchasing power for good, rewarding corporately responsible behavior and walking away from companies that are not positively contributing to our future. Finally, he spoke about climate change, calling it the biggest challenge currently facing humanity and the need to achieve global cooperation to develop the urgently required solutions. And in the context of it all, he reminded us to be empathetic to the reality an individual is facing before passing judgment on their view of the world.

The conference that brought me to Toronto earlier in the month was organized by the International Women’s Forum (IWF), an organization focused on promoting gender equality and women in leadership and included 1,100 women from all over the world. I joined IWF-Atlantic Chapter about five years ago and have had the opportunity to participate in events around the world celebrating the successes of women and challenging each other to do more.

The theme of the conference was Open Minds and touched on topics including artificial intelligence, cannabis, inclusion, and waste management. Dr. Donna Strickland, who won the Nobel prize for her laser technology, and Dr. Frances Arnold, who won for innovation through evolution both spoke about how challenging it can be as a woman in their respective professions but how important it is to stay true to what you believe in – a message also delivered by the President during his stops in Atlantic Canada. Her Excellency Julie Payette, echoed by others, said she looked forward to the day when we have so many women being recognized for their achievements that we stop counting.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #5 is focused on how gender equality is a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. World Oceans Day this year, June 8th, was focused on the theme of promoting gender equality in all ocean-related activities. When we look at the ocean economy, the voice of women is considered essential to both producing and protecting the ocean. Yet, women are underrepresented in maritime industries, and in ocean managerial roles the percentage of women drops even further. I have attended several ocean conferences since I started my role last year and it has been my experience that women are generally outnumbered. However, I do want to point to an encouraging statistic coming out of our own recent Ocean Supercluster event where approximately 35 per cent of attendees were women.

Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is focused on building a diverse and inclusive ocean economy. And while there is a clear focus on achieving this, there is much work to be done. In the Atlantic region, there are lots of great things happening that help build technology skills which are also critical to supporting the digitization of our ocean:

·      Irving Shipbuilding is creating career opportunities for African Nova Scotians at Halifax Shipyard;

·      Ulnooweg is building STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills in over 10,000 indigenous youth. This strengthens the foundation for these youth to build the technology companies of the future including ocean tech companies; and

·      Genesis Centre has established a Women in Tech Peer Group to bring together women in technology in Newfoundland and Labrador and is focused on boosting the retention and advancement of women.

*Please feel free to share any other technology skills learning opportunities happening across the country in the comments section of this article.

My three takeaways:

❶ The world is facing wicked problems. It will take every one of us with different genders, ethnicities, backgrounds and skill sets to develop globally relevant solutions.

❷ It will take focused activities to achieve the diverse and inclusive ocean economy that we need to succeed – it will not just happen organically.

❸ The ocean economy has incredible potential to become more diverse and inclusive. It creates opportunities for so many including: local communities who rely on the fisheries; large and small businesses building the ocean tech solutions of the future; indigenous communities who have sustainably lived off the sea for thousands of years; research scientists identifying new species; and women looking to build their future – this is incredibly exciting!