March 02, 2017

by Bessma Momani and Jillian Stirk, Vancouver Sun

Opinion: The diversity dividend: Canada's global advantage

As America and parts of Europe turn inward and shut their doors to immigrants and free trade, Canada stands poised to benefit from its diversity and policies of inclusion. But it is not enough to simply reap the dividends that come from attracting highly skilled immigrants; there is also an opportunity to demonstrate how opening ourselves to the world benefits everyone.

Global migration is a long-term trend and intrinsic feature of globalisation. Historically, nearly all the great advances in the social, cultural and economic spheres can be traced to the migration of people, goods and ideas. Today’s challenges such as health, education, environment, energy or infrastructure have an international dimension and require global solutions. It is not surprising then that both business and governments want their workforce to be able to communicate, connect, negotiate and understand others globally. 

When we talk about globalization we focus on supply chains, disruptive technologies, financial markets and liberalized trade. But globalization is also about connections and connections are all about people: the people who work in those supply chains, innovators who create and use new technologies, researchers who advance science, investors whose choices drive economies and the traders who bring products to market. The access to products and services we all take for granted is a result of opening our borders.

Canadians, who trace their origins to more than two hundred nationalities, should be the model for global connectivity. Canada can be both an example and advocate for a world that values differences, encourages the circulation of talent and ideas, and puts people at the centre of global economic strategies. 

During the course of a year-long study, funded by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and supported by several other partners, we conducted statistical research and consulted the business community to explore the link between a diverse workforce and economic returns. An in-depth economic analysis of the Workplace Employee Survey, a Statistics Canada data set covering more than 6,000 firms, in 14 sectors and between 15,000-20,000 employees annually over a six-year period, revealed in almost all sectors, a strong correlation between ethno-cultural diversity and increased productivity and revenue. The correlation was strongest in sectors that depend on creativity and innovation such as cultural industries, technology and business services. In other words, if Canada wants to succeed in the high value-added sectors of the future, then workplace diversity is a valuable contribution and immigration is a must.

To complement the quantitative research, we hosted roundtables in seven cities with more than a hundred of Canada’s leading employers to gain their perspectives on workplace diversity. Executives confirmed what our quantitative data shows: that workplace diversity is good for business. They told us the benefits of diversity included access to a wider talent pool, the innovation and creativity that comes with different points of view, the ability to develop and tailor services for a more diverse group of customers at home, and improved understanding of market opportunities abroad. Many companies said a diverse workforce was key to their success in foreign markets. 

Yet, almost all firms acknowledged they faced challenges in reaching their goal of a more diverse and inclusive workforce. They talked about barriers to inclusion and what kind of policies and practices are needed so that diversity can be harnessed to drive innovation, productivity and global connectivity. They raised issues such as the recognition of credentials or of international experience, reliance on traditional networks, and unconscious bias in hiring. Underemployed highly skilled immigrants are in effect a stranded resource, something we cannot afford, in either economic or social terms.

In a highly competitive world, talent follows opportunity and we need to ensure Canada remains an attractive destination for the world’s top talent. That means supporting talent hubs, inclusive cities that provide not just jobs, but transportation, housing, education, access to recreation and culture to attract and retain highly skilled millennials.

Although our study focusses on the economic results, this is just one element of the diversity dividend. Canada’s diversity and global connections represent a significant global advantage, but one which not all Canadians have fully recognized or leveraged. To realize our potential will require policies that promote a more inclusive society and encourage Canadians to pursue what should be a global vocation. With the world becoming more isolationist, this is the moment for Canada to seize and champion the opportunities diversity represents for us all.

Bessma Momani is a professor in the department of political science at the University of Waterloo; Jillian Stirk is a former Canadian ambassador and assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs, Canada. She is a mentor at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, an associate at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue. They are co-leading the Pluralism Project ( and will launch their report The Diversity Dividend: Canada’s Global Advantage in April.

This article was published originally on Vancouver Sun on March 2, 2017.