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It’s Time to Accelerate

Acceleration is a tricky thing to capture. Whether it be in a chemical reaction or a speeding car, it confounds the naked eye to measure the pace of change. Depending on the point of origin and direction of travel, it can cause intense excitement or profound anxiety. For better or worse, it is the essence of disruption on the road to creation.

When trends accelerate, our world transforms — and this has never been clearer than it is right now. The pandemic has poured kerosene on the flame of invention, bringing new ideas to the fore and hastening transformations already underway.

Thankfully, for all the heartache and hardship of the past two years, there is something to celebrate. Our truly shared experience has redefined our priorities. It has forced us to reconsider our assumptions about big questions. Most of all, for those who can meet the challenge, it has created opportunities for exponential success. Any winning race car driver knows a crash — when all the other cars brake — is the moment to accelerate, not slow down. That is what we have done at Navigator.

So, this edition of Perspectives is different. Our colleagues wanted to focus on the ideas that have taken off since 2020, and how they are reshaping our world.

In some cases, change has raised unanswered questions, as we found when examining how a prevailing consensus on climate action belies a gulf of disagreement on the ideal approach to transition. For others, acceleration has promoted dormant priorities to the vanguard of action, as in the amplified role of mental health in addressing the Great Resignation. The same is true of Quebec’s childcare program emerging as a model for rebuilding a more resilient and inclusive Canadian economy.

In every case, we set out to provide a snapshot of a major trend accelerated by our pandemic era. In doing so, I hope we have sketched a portrait of our future — with some advice on what we’ve learned.

The biggest takeaway for me? Put your foot on the gas and embrace the pace of change. Acceleration is here to stay and this moment of disruption can either be a cradle or a death knell. So, lean into change. It’s how we’ve approached 20 years of Navigator — and how we’ll approach many more. We should not let the momentum of this moment fade because for all its challenges, we will be better for it. After all, who would let a good crisis go to waste?

Recognition, Resilience, and Resolve

ASIAN HERITAGE MONTH provides Canadians an opportunity to understand and recognize the achievements and significant cultural impact made by Canadians of Asian descent. While these achievements have always warranted celebration, this year there is an added imperative to stand with our Asian Canadian colleagues and friends in the wake of an unacceptable rise in discrimination.

The theme for this year’s Asian Heritage Month is “Recognition, Resilience, and Resolve”. The federal government believes this theme embodies a myriad of sentiments that peoples of Asian descent in Canada have experienced and aims to use this month to honour diverse stories rooted in resilience and perseverance.

Three of our colleagues have provided insightful, compelling, and personal accounts of what Asian Heritage Month means to them, and lessons that we can all learn. We know that stories have the potential to build empathy, understanding and alignment more than any press release or corporate message, and we hope that their perspectives in particular will motivate readers to incorporate anti-racism, inclusivity, and respect into their personal and professional lives.






Heon Lee, Intern

WHILE IT IS IMPORTANT to continue to acknowledge and celebrate the immeasurable impacts of Asian-Canadians to the nation, this year’s Asian Heritage Month invites us to also consider matters of arguably equal or greater importance: the difficulties and challenges of Asian-Canadians.

“We share a superordinate heritage under which diversity and uniformity coexist simultaneously. We must look to find solutions and build solidarity to move forward.”

Over the past year, the rise in hatred, discrimination and violence towards members of the Asian diaspora across the globe has exacerbated the already devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has placed members at a greater risk of danger and scapegoating, and at its worst, members of the Asian diaspora have faced incidents of overt racism. In Vancouver, a city known for its historic Asian-Canadian presence, hate crimes against Asians have increased by 717 per cent in just one year according to a report by the Vancouver Police.

While I am fortunate to have not fallen victim to the tragedies that many are currently facing, the stories and experiences of other members of my community have nonetheless resonated as questions around ethnicity, citizenship and race have become increasingly relevant in my day-to-day life and existential identity. I suddenly became more conscious of the things that I’ve taken for granted by virtue of living in a multicultural nation.

The experiences of every Asian-Canadian throughout the course of this pandemic have been different but we share a superordinate heritage under which diversity and uniformity coexist simultaneously. We must look to find solutions and build solidarity to move forward.

This year’s Asian Heritage Month presents us an opportunity to come together to deliberate on ways we can take action to address the issues that continue to challenge us, and reflect on the significance of having Asian heritage in Canada.






Jamila Kanji, Associate Consultant

IN THE 1980s, my parents packed up the life they knew and moved from East Africa to Canada, leaving their home, their culture, their family and friends. They had nothing but a few bucks and a whole lot of ambition, driven to build a better life for themselves and their family that had yet to grow. They worked hard in the day, studied into the night, shopped at local thrift shops, saved nearly every dollar they could and were no stranger to racial discrimination.

“Despite multiculturalism being a core principle of Canada, we see stereotypes being used to define us in ways that do not define us at all.”

I am proud to have parents that immigrated to Canada, who put everything on the line for my brothers and I, even if that meant we needed to arrive at the airport earlier than others because we would be “randomly” checked at security; even if that meant there were certain areas we couldn’t visit without being batted a look or something much worse; even if that meant I needed to answer an umpteenth number of times that I am in fact Canadian; and even if that meant I would statistically earn less money than a non-visible minority woman.

Our story is not an anomaly. It is the story of so many hard-working, dedicated individuals, who have left a prior life to start a new journey — who sought a safer country in a time of civil upheaval elsewhere — only to be judged on their accent, questioned about their “real name,” and offered less money for opportunities they are exceedingly qualified for. Despite multiculturalism being a core principle of Canada, we see time and time again the wearing of hijabs and turbans debated in provinces; we see stereotypes being used to define us in ways that do not define us at all.

Is progress being made? Yes. Can we do better? Absolutely. I’m hopeful that future generations can walk the halls of schools and work and truly know they are just as valued as their non-minority counterparts. Although they will need to work hard, I hope they see themselves adequately represented in film, literature, company boards and beyond.

Asian Heritage Month gives us a moment to reflect on the work that’s been done and all the progress that needs to follow. Even more importantly, it provides a renewed appreciation for those who, like my parents, ventured into the unknown with nothing but hope and prayers for something better.






Sabeen Thaver, Consultant

COMMON ADVICE GIVEN to new immigrants from Asian countries is, “Don’t think you will get the job at the level you are working at now. You will need to step a level down to get a job in Canada”. Very often, new immigrants find they have to take jobs that they are over-qualified for because they are lacking in “Canadian” experience. The biggest hurdle faced by newcomers to Canada is finding jobs in the field and level they are qualified to work in. Many companies experience hesitancy in accepting these professionals in the workplace, and the challenge stems from the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion.

More than one in five Canadians are foreign-born and about six in 10 recent immigrants were admitted to Canada under the economic category. Economic immigrants are selected because of their outstanding academic and professional successes, and these immigrants chose Canada because they are looking for a safer country with economic opportunities.

The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) — a group that supports organizations in becoming more inclusive and helps newcomers expand their professional networks, thereby allowing immigrant professionals to reach their fullest potential — identifies two key factors that influence the success of an immigrant’s career path: the middle managers’ influence on an immigrant’s sense of inclusion and performance, and the executives who establish the vision and strategy for the organization. This perspective is informed by existing evidence, as well as interviews with middle managers and diversity and inclusion leaders, some of whom are immigrants themselves.

“Companies and organizations that do not embrace diversity and true inclusion free of prejudice and discrimination risk getting left behind.”

“I was interviewing for a minimum-income job and I asked a hiring manager if there was any position where my marketing and communications skills would be more relevant. The manager told me that I don’t have Canadian experience, and that I had to start somewhere,” wrote one participant.

“The most frequent advice given to immigrants who would like to progress within an organization is the ‘you should be grateful’ mindset. This is biased advice — you should feel comfortable to ask for more — whether in terms of salary or responsibilities,” wrote another. These biases will not be addressed by one-off training sessions, but require broad and sustained commitments from inclusive middle managers who hire and advance diverse talent and celebrate diverse perspectives. Similarly, executives need to empower middle managers to identify issues that hinder inclusive behaviour.

One thing for certain is Canada is in a strong position to make the most of immigrant professionals that have global experiences. With middle managers and senior executives forging an inclusive strategy for their companies, they will benefit from providing opportunities to this diverse workforce. Companies and organizations that do not embrace diversity and true inclusion free of prejudice and discrimination risk getting left behind.

In building its budget, the federal government is asking different questions this year. Will Corporate Canada provide a different answer?

IT IS BUDGET SEASON in Ottawa and the town is rife with speculation on the timing of the next federal election and how the government’s commitment to build back better will take shape. Predicting when Canadians will next go to the polls is a favourite pastime in the salons of our nation’s capital. Between now and Budget Day on April 19, we can expect a daily dose of deep analyses of leaders’ statements, the impact of possible budget measures on public opinion, and what it might all mean for the electoral outcome in West Nova, Shefford, or Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill.

“If the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of a strong public sector, it has also shown that governments acting alone will not get the job done.”

Setting aside the horse race for a moment, it is worth considering how this year’s budget season differs from years past. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed profound flaws in the delivery of essential health and social services. Entire industries have been brought to their knees. And governments everywhere have had to acknowledge that conventional policy responses simply are not sufficient to meet the challenges we face. If the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of a strong public sector, it has also shown that governments acting alone will not get the job done. Canada needs nothing less than a whole-of-society approach to rebuilding our economy and rethinking public policies.

At least rhetorically, the federal government seems to have embraced the opportunity for wholesale changes in a number of policy areas. Building back better has given it licence to consider new approaches to energy and climate change issues, income and employment supports, and infrastructure.  But completing those transitions will require strong partnerships with businesses that also embrace the opportunity for transformation.

In fact, the government has already begun to lay out their expectations. Over the last year alone, they created a new 50-30 challenge to increase diverse representation in corporate Canada, set in motion a new public-private Sustainable Finance Action Council to help scale sustainable finance in Canada, and directed the Canada Infrastructure Bank to work with the private sector to expand rural broadband and invest in clean power generation. The key question will be whether the government succeeds in finding those partners.

Throughout the pandemic, countless Canadian businesses have proven they are up to the challenge.  They have adapted to the realities of the pandemic and developed new products, delivered new services and organized themselves in new ways. But too often, those businesses are being let down by policy advocates whose asks of the government fail to reflect the undeniable fact that the world has fundamentally changed in the last twelve months. Many of their budget demands in 2021 sound like the productivity and competitiveness agenda of the early 2000s or the innovation agenda of the early 2010s dressed up in COVID-19 clothing.

Fortunately, a growing number of Canadian business leaders understand the shift that is required of them. They know that looking beyond quarterly reporting toward a purpose-driven approach to running their business is table stakes to partnering with government in this post-pandemic world. They come to the discussion with a willingness to adapt and with skin in the game. They are concerned with their business’s contributions to the well-being of all their stakeholder groups, and they value equity, diversity and inclusion as guiding principles to drive their development. Equally importantly, they know that this government has the political will to usher in broad, systemic changes impacting various sectors. Those who do not commit to change may have change imposed on them.

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark often reminded his advisers that, when engaging in policy debates, one had to choose between making a point and making a difference. Making a point allows an intervener to focus exclusively on the needs of their business or their sector, undiluted by external considerations. The ask is straightforward, but it leaves the intervener on the outside looking in. Success is possible, but the intervener has less agency in shaping the decision.

Making a difference, on the other hand, requires of the intervener that they articulate their contribution to solving the policy problem, not just the benefit they are seeking. It requires openness and flexibility, and alignment with the public good, not just private gain. It is those interveners who become trusted and influential partners. And it is their efforts that are more likely to be reflected in Minister Freeland’s words on April 19 and government action in the months and years to come.

Whether it comes in the spring or fall, the federal election campaign will be a temporary distraction from the serious, long-term thinking that needs to happen if we are to recover successfully from the pandemic. The real story to watch will be how courageous our public sector leaders will be in changing their approach to public policy challenges, and how creative the private sector will be in responding to the call.

Thinking Beyond the Numbers

THIS YEAR’S THEME for International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge”, a direct appeal to question and confront gender bias and inequality where we see it. It’s a noble call to action but a difficult thing to do in practice — discussions about equity, diversity and inclusion often elicit strong reactions, particularly in corporate settings.

“Making gender equity a priority means being more than just performative — it means challenging the idea that equity means parity alone.”

As a result, corporate Canada has tended to lean heavily on the numbers. Proportionate representation — or parity — between men and women has become the gold standard of gender equity around the boardroom table. Parity is clear. It’s measurable. And frankly, saying you have gender parity is one heck of an issues management strategy.

However, talking about amorphous ideas like culture, acceptance, respect, and inclusion is a lot more challenging. Messy even. But it’s also necessary. Making gender equity a priority means being more than just performative — it means challenging the idea that equity means parity alone.

To be clear, on the parity front Canada is nowhere near perfect. We appear to do relatively well, ranking in the top 20 of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index as one example.1 However, our efforts to bridge the gender gap remain very much a work in progress. In January, a Globe and Mail investigative series called “The Power Gap” grabbed the attention of Canadian public and private sector companies.2 It found that across publicly owned corporations, governments, municipalities, and universities, there were “dramatically” more men in high-paying jobs, on executive teams, and leading organizations.

But this was only part of that story. Another key finding in the series was that women face other challenging barriers to success. Reporter Robyn Doolittle relays the story of a female fundraiser who was punished for speaking up against a male executive who was bullying her. She speaks of a scientist who was refused research funding but was asked to appear in promotional materials for her organization because they wanted to appear “more inclusive”. Doolittle also tells the story of an administrator whose boss revoked a promotion because he was frustrated she was pregnant.

A lack of women in leadership roles may be partly corrected with parity. But the roots of the other barriers are cultural and structural in nature. The people within these institutions committed the acts, but the culture and structures within these institutions allowed them to happen.

That’s the problem with talking about parity alone — it gives institutions an “out”. A company might say it is meeting its obligations because it has equal numbers of men and women in certain positions. But what if these women are being paid less than their male counterparts?  What if they are being given less challenging or lucrative projects? Or they are being sidelined when it’s time to lead the company presentations? Public-facing numbers rarely account for these types of details.

That is exactly why parity policies need to be accompanied by real cultural and structural changes too. Behind the numbers, marketing slogans, and exceptional success stories, are less obvious but equally high barriers that need to be challenged. And that requires organizations to take a long, hard, introspective look at themselves — something that can be awkward, uncomfortable, or even risky to do.

But if organizations did this important work, what kinds of barriers might they find?

There are a litany of possibilities, and every organization will be different, but they might find that their existing human resources structures don’t encourage — or worse, foster fear — of speaking out when inequity is experienced or identified. Higher-ranking employees may be given the benefit of the doubt when concerns are raised. Colleagues may be type casted as “squeaky wheels” for coming forward. Colleagues may bring forward an issue but be told to address it themselves.

With high-intensity workplaces, there may be an expectation that employees stay late at the office, come in on weekends or take limited time off. But this kind of flexibility is usually only an option for those employees who don’t have children, family members with complex needs, or other responsibilities during their off hours. A lack of flexibility – whether in terms of when work is completed during the day, or where this work can be accomplished – can be a very real obstacle for caretakers, a significant number of whom are women.

Like many Canadian institutions, an organization may also find that pay equity is a concern. Statistics Canada reports that women are, on average, earning about 0.89 cents for every dollar a man earns.3 Some cases are more dire than others.4 As one example, a recent look into Canada’s largest law practices revealed that female equity partners are earning 25 per cent less — around $200,000 — than their male colleagues. A lack of transparency on salaries and a lack of clarity on performance targets both contribute to the gap. But culture also appears to be a factor — through her work, Robyn Doolittle found numerous studies that revealed that women tend to be judged more negatively when they try to negotiate their own salaries.

An in-depth look at an organization’s workplace culture might also reveal that its leadership has tended to prefer certain characteristics, ways of acting, ways of speaking, or even certain people, over others. The easiest, but by no means only, example is that of an “old boys club” that encourages or even promotes the stereotypical behaviour of one specific group. At best, long-engrained cultural norms like these can make people feel like outsiders. At worst, they can create environments where harassment and bullying can fester unchecked.

These are only four short examples, but you may have noticed that parity isn’t the magic bullet solution to any of the problems identified — cultural and structural changes are. The good thing is that making cultural and structural change — while impacting women and BIPOC individuals most positively — actually benefits everyone. We can all get behind a human resources process that acts when a concern is raised. COVID-19 has proven we can all get behind more flexible work times and spaces. Addressing pay equity ensures a level playing field and embracing a more open culture allows all of us to present our truest selves at the office.

Change requires concerted effort and time, but embracing it can improve an organization’s standing, from staff retention, to morale, to financial performance. None of this work is easy, but it’s worth it. This year, when we think about International Women’s Day, we should commit to change where it matters most and challenge ourselves to start thinking beyond the numbers.


For reimagining societies — and businesses — we need the power of design

FOR MANY DECADES, there has been a clarion call for designers around the world to put their methods, design thinking, and strategic foresight, to use in addressing the biggest problems facing our societies. Designers have applied their skills to create products, services and systems that are environmentally sustainable, support economic participation at all levels of society, and are inclusive and respectful of different needs and cultures. Now, as we consider the profound inequities laid bare by COVID-19 and the world we want to build post-pandemic, there is a crucial role for design.

In every facet of our world, the current crisis has revealed these kinds of human needs, from the precarity facing too many of our neighbours to the undervalued contributions of our front-line workers.  In the world of business, organizations are addressing societal issues through a renewed focus on corporate purpose and a greater role in the challenges we all face.  It is time for the public and private sectors to put the power of design to work in addressing these issues with input from and collaboration with the communities that they serve.

“At its best, design focuses on the needs of users and engages them in the process of defining problems and testing solutions. Fundamentally, design is linked to purpose, as both are concerned with the motives for decision-making and its wider effects on communities and individuals.”

Design is the intentional, creative, and technical practice of translating human needs into practical solutions. It is also stakeholder driven and forward thinking, accounting not just for the needs and uses of today, but also those of the future. At its best, design focuses on the needs of users and engages them in the process of defining problems and testing solutions. Fundamentally, design is linked to purpose, as both are concerned with the motives for decision-making and its wider effects on communities and individuals.

For example, designers from Black, Indigenous and racialized communities are bringing their life experience and sensibilities to creating designs that are inclusive and meaningful to businesses, consumers and communities.  OCAD University undertook a Black cluster hire of five additional faculty in 2020 under the leadership of Dean Dori Tunstall, the world’s first Black female design dean, allowing it to more effectively teach and research inclusive design. The university has also built its Indigenous design capacity. During Black History Month this year, the prestigious College Art Association and the Advertising and Design Club of Canada are exploring the contributions and methods of Black designers.

We need not look very far to find examples of design “in action,” being used to address the issues of today. Recently, the leadership of the European Union has embraced the “New European Bauhaus movement,” which is focused on encouraging designers to use their craft in the interests of a more equal, resilient and sustainable Europe post-COVID. This movement intends to combine thoughtful design with sustainability, balance function with beauty, and bring together entrepreneurs and creators to address climate change through large-scale solutions in buildings, transportation and resource-efficient digital innovation.

There are other examples to which we may turn. Movements like the New Bauhaus borrow assumptions from Bruce Mau’s 24 Principles for Designing Massive Change, which emphasize generosity, social inclusion, and environmental awareness. Mau’s work underlines the transformative nature of conscientious design and its potential to improve quality of life and address major challenges.

Aside from these applications, there is no escaping the role that transforming our physical spaces will play in our COVID recovery. We simply cannot allow “business as usual” to dominate our response. “Business as usual” thinking has gotten us where we are today. It will take bold thinking to reconsider the way we prioritize the use of space and how we share it.

When it comes to corporate purpose, design can support organizations as they reorient themselves in a new world — first and foremost through the design thinking process and tool kit. Design thinking brings together a diverse set of stakeholders and sources to ideate solutions. Needs are identified, problems framed and solved. It supports creative brainstorming processes drawing from talent at all levels within an organization, at times from both within and outside, and ideally representing multidisciplinary knowledge and perspectives: exactly the inputs needed for meaningful consideration of purpose.

Using a set of techniques ranging from observation and data gathering, to sketching and brainstorming, participants identify issues and opportunities to create multiple strategies. They establish prototypes that can be tested, eliminated, or enhanced in a rapid process, gathering, and integrating feedback from stakeholders. The goal is one of continuous improvement in a context of constantly changing conditions. Inclusive design and generous design are integrated into the process to ensure needs and voices of diverse individuals and groups are addressed to define needs, questions, goals, and outcomes.

While these approaches clearly apply to technical innovation, they are equally viable to organizational innovation. Design thinking helps groups understand if they are asking the right questions for their context and problem. Design thinking encourages participants to exercise empathy, that is to imagine situations from different points of view. Design thinking can result in solutions that address economic disparities and inequity while opening up access to talent, and new markets.

What’s more, we’ve already seen design thinking employed across the private sector, to great effect. IBM has adopted Design Thinking in a dramatic reworking of its strategy as it pivoted towards service design and delivery of AI driven business systems, a shift that improved return on investments. The Mayo Clinic applies design thinking to understand how patients experience health care, examining the user experience in detail and then placing doctors and designers together to sound out their approach to care, prototype and then launch a revitalized patient-centric care journey.

As we consider the changes to our world and the role for the private sector in it, business and policy leaders must consider the applications of design and design thinking. These applications are made all the more important by COVID-19, when companies and entire sectors face the need for creative strategies that can both manage through the crisis and find opportunities for post-COVID innovation.  Design and its constituent tools can be used to stimulate creativity, innovation, and contextual awareness as our society and our businesses consider the future and their place within it.