CEO - Canadian Centre for Diversity & Inclusion
Fintros: Good Afternoon, Michael, and thank you for taking the time to sit down with me to chat about the state of diversity, inclusion, and employment equity in the Canadian workplace. Let’s begin with a brief overview about the influences that drew you to champion D&I.
MB: I attribute a great deal to the fact that I grew up in Toronto with parents who are very left-leaning, socially aware individuals. From an early age they instilled in me that as a White man I had a role to play in ensuring that people who didn’t necessarily have a voice, had a voice. It was not just a social right, but a responsibility, and that was always in my head growing up.
I’ve always been involved with D&I in some form of volunteer capacity – whether that’s working with the Lesbian and Gay Youth of Toronto or the NYC Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project; whatever it is I’ve always been doing this work. When I got to KPMG I had come out of the closet, was living as a proud gay man, and all of a sudden found myself (having just moved back to Canada at the time) in an environment that seemed behind the times as it related to being ‘out’ at work – and not just at KPMG but in Canada generally. KPMG was not a homophobic environment at all, but it felt like we were going back in time a bit. It is a bit of a long story, but the gist of it is that I, along with a group of other people, started Pride@KPMG, which is the employee resource group for the LGBTQ population of the firm and their allies, and I became the first Chair of the network. The next thing I knew, the CEO knew my name, and I was in the ‘diversity’ spotlight. So I went to the head of HR at the time and said, you know, if we are serious about this diversity thing we need fulltime resources dedicated to it and I want the job.
She sent me away to write the business case for the creation of the D&I role at KPMG and I ended up doing that job for seven years. I also spent two and a half years as the Deputy Chief Diversity Officer for KPMG International - which again is another role that I wrote the business case for - in conjunction with my peers in the US, the UK, France, Australia and South Africa.
On reflection, it was a great opportunity where a merging of passion and profession took place and got me to where I am today. I was in the right place at the right time; KPMG knew the quality of work that I could deliver, and as such was willing to take a leap of faith by putting me in a different role that I had no experience in. I look back now and acknowledge that the move was potentially career suicide, and that I initially didn’t know what I was doing, but am proud that I managed to figure it out as I went along.
Fintros: It is now well documented that D&I strategies are tied to a stronger business case, as well as corporate citizenship and responsibility. Could you speak to the notion of a corporate moral imperative?
MB: I can give you one example that comes to mind, but before I do that I would like to quickly discuss that last point you brought up: the moral imperative. I believe one of the main reasons why the team I led at KPMG was successful, and now the team I lead at the Canadian Center for Diversity & Inclusion continues to provide a positive impact is because we don’t talk about the moral imperative. We don’t use language like ‘it’s the right thing to do,’ because of course it is the right thing to do. No one gets up in the morning and thinks ‘I’m going to do the wrong thing’. It is the right thing to do for business, it’s the right thing to do for employers, and it’s the right thing to do for our country. That’s what matters.
The concern about resorting to moral or ethics, which we would call the social justice argument of diversity and inclusion, is that when you get into the world of morals and values it is a bit of a slippery slope. There are people in the world whose ‘right thing’ is very different from my ‘right thing’.
The other piece of that puzzle is that if something were to happen like what took place in 2008 (the economic slow down), and D&I continues to be reduced down to being the right thing to do, then it tends to go the way of the dodo as employers will say, ‘ok we aren’t going to do that anymore because we need to save money.’ That’s why we have been very clear in arguing for the business impact and sticking to the fact that D&I is good for the bottom line. Ultimately, I’m a firm believer that there is a strong financial business case for D&I with any employer in this country, and that is what makes it important.
Fintros: As an employer, recognizing that scrutinizing your recruitment process to uncover biases is merely the first step of many in creating a truly diverse organization, can you comment on how the gatekeepers of organizations, both large and small, can do better to ensure meritocratic hiring practices?
MB: There are a number of things around the hiring process that need to be critically examined in order to identify and mitigate the bias that exists. Hiring is highly biased in general, so first and foremost the willingness to examine the process is critical: how are decisions made concerning which candidates to select, to screen, to interview and to hire. There are lots of biases at play, whether they are conscious or not. Based upon what you told me about Fintros, it sounds like your platform goes to great lengths to mitigate a lot of the common biases: name, race, gender, etc. which is great. However, the infamous ‘blind hiring,’ which as a concept is starting to come into vogue again is something that I’ve never seen done terribly well, in large part because you have to remove a whole lot of information in order to make it a truly blind process: the name of the university, the companies you’ve worked for, etc. There is a ton of information on a resume that is very telling regarding who a candidate is and where they are from. The evidence is very clear that blind hiring does provide a far better result as it relates to hiring the best and the brightest because it does remove identifiers that can trigger bias, but it has not traditionally, in my experience, been done very well.
Fintros: Based on my examination of how blind hiring has historically played out across a number of industries, I would agree with you. To clarify, this is why at Fintros our product and engineering teams spent over 16 months developing proprietary algorithms that truly anonymize an individual. From the common characteristics you mentioned (name, race, gender, age), to a candidate’s previous employers and educational history, we have made it our utmost priority. As a secure platform that guarantees candidate anonymity we must ensure that it would be essentially impossible for any employer to discern the identity of a Fintros candidate. With that being said, our platform only goes so far as we are focused on delivering the best candidates to an organization; what happens beyond the sourcing stage is wholly out of our control as we defer to humans over technology in this latter stage of the hiring cycle.
MB: Right, there is no way to perfect the process, because as you just mentioned at some point you have to meet the person and you can’t avoid the reality that that is, and if you’ve got a bias it is going to show up loud and clear. To come back to your question, I would reiterate the importance of examining your process and making sure that hiring managers are trained in mitigating bias. I’m a big fan of moving to panel interviews and ensuring that you remove any potential bias from the situation. For example, candidate evaluation should be done as a group, or possibly using some form of scoring algorithm so that you can categorize the candidate. At the CCDI we use a system called Fitzii for managing applicants. Fitzii is not magical - it uses an algorithm and puts people through a personality assessment and we know that when we are looking for a communications person, that there is generally speaking a certain personality type that tends to be drawn to those roles, and is successful in those roles. Fitzii helps to remove the risk of biases in the interviewing process because you can point to the data and validate based on the results that a certain individual is the top candidate for the job.
Another very important thing to keep note of concerns job postings, and looking at exactly what you are calling the requirements of the job, and determining whether or not A) its actually something you need, and B) is it measurable. I’ll reference women as an example. Studies show that women, generally speaking, will require of themselves that they have 100 percent of what the employer is looking for prior to applying for the job. Men, on the other hand, will only require that they have 60 percent before they apply. Men apparently fake it with the justification that they can learn all of the skills that they lack on the job. The point is that hiring managers should ensure absolute transparency in a job posting so that candidates are clear on what are the ‘must haves’ versus the ‘nice to haves’.
At the CCDI, we found that we were using the traditional language of job postings and I challenged my team to examine some of those and discern what the actual requirements for the job are. In doing so we found that we got a lot more women applying for jobs that were historically more male-oriented. It is simple evaluations like these that will better ensure that your hiring process isn’t inadvertently leaving people out.
Fintros: That’s very interesting. So where do you see the role of technology in creating more just and fair recruiting practices? Is it possible to eliminate human and firm biases without looking to tech solutions?
MB: I come from a tech background, and we here at CCDI are likely the most tech-heavy charity I have ever seen. We use a lot of technology-based tools because I really do see technology as an invaluable aid. However, technology is not the panacea; technology is not going to eliminate our biases absolutely. Just this morning I was giving a presentation to a large Canadian retailer on the topic of unconscious bias and one of the people asked me ‘how can I mitigate bias when I am calling up industry people for a reference.’ I responded by saying you can’t, but more importantly why would you want to. References are a perfect example of a total waste of time! Who in their right mind is going to give you a reference that is bad? Any candidate is going to make sure that they have chosen the right person who is going to say the good things about them and that’s it. Additionally, by considering references you are going to eliminate candidates who are new to Canada and who may not have a professional network here. Technology can only take us so far, and we will have to look for and rely on education and training to make sure that we are in fact addressing those biases.
Fintros: I think you have touched on some great points and applaud the work you and your team at the CCDI are accomplishing. It is incredibly gratifying that Fintros, although not built as a hiring bias mitigation-technology solution, has been successful in placing female to male candidates at a 3:1 ratio in Capital Markets roles here in Toronto. This, for us, was an unintended consequence, so now we are invested in continuing to find ways to build our product to ensure the recruitment process in finance and accounting only continues to become more meritocratic through the application of our blind recruitment software.
MB: I love unintended consequences, particularly if they are demonstrating the results that Fintros has seen concerning the advancement of women in a profession that has not traditionally been friendly to them. I’ll quickly chime in on something you said before the interview began about the Capital Markets profession and how it is not necessarily attractive to women that want to start families; it isn’t attractive to anyone who wants to start a family and it just so happens that women tend to be the caretakers in heterosexual relationships where children are involved. I love unintended consequences and if Fintros continues to help women and underrepresented groups succeed in professions like finance and accounting I truly believe that is fantastic. It is a good news story for everybody.
Fintros: Given all of your experience over the past three decades in championing the diversity and inclusion initiative in Canada, what is one piece of advice that you can leave our partners in recruitment with, given that they are largely the gatekeepers to the organizations?
MB: The immediate thing that comes to mind is don’t do it alone. Surround yourself with other people. In my experience it is often thankless work and it is important to make sure you have your allies; your friends that you can call up and kibitz with and complain about how things are going, and of course don’t give up.