The Last Word

By: John Stackhouse

Here’s a goal for tech in the post-pandemic world: Fix the diversity deficit.

Silicon Valley’s deficiencies were well-known before COVID-19 upended society and have become more pressing as we’ve all come to rely on technology more than ever. The recovery will require a sharp focus on both diversity and inclusion, and Canadians can help.

Over the past quarter-century, Canada has become a global leader in diversity, through immigration, education and social inclusion. In turn, those strengths have become major Canadian exports, through a global population that is now a critical part of the world’s brain power, especially in tech.

For my 2020 book, Planet Canada, I led a University of Toronto research team that concluded there are at least two million Canadians living, working and studying abroad, including roughly 350,000 in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. They reflect the 21st century world, because like Canada they’ve been shaped by the world.

Coming out of the pandemic, that world will be reshaped by digital networks, led by individuals more than institutions and ideas that pull in people rather than polarize them. It’s a trend that will be critical to Canada’s global relevance, and to helping the world cope with cultural, social and technological differences.

Eric Schmidt, the former executive chairman of Google, told me that if the company were a country, it would be Canada— because of its diversity. While some Canadians may bristle at the comparison, the point is clear to anyone who spends a day on Google’s Mountainview campus, where you’ll hear as many languages as you might at the United Nations or in downtown Toronto. It’s the future, whether in green spaces or cyber spaces.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, originally from Tanzania and raised in southern Ontario, represents that phenomenon, and how Canadians can lead. Long before she became a leading tech CEO, she was recruited to Google by another Canadian expat, Shona Brown, who was one of the company’s first senior female executives. Both stood out because of their ability to cross cultures and bridge differences. 

The story is one you can hear at Apple or Amazon— just as you’ll find Canadians at the forefront of change in Hollywood, Hong Kong and the Hague. In his new book, Value (s), the Canadian banker and climate champion Mark Carney explains how he helped transform the centuries-old Bank of England by quadrupling the number of schools it recruited from, and dipping into programs well beyond economics. In 2017, nearly half of the 700 experienced professionals the bank hired were women, and a quarter from racially diverse backgrounds.

Carney thinks that kind of talent strategy will shape the post-pandemic economy, when innovative companies like Stripe and Shopify will look beyond the limits of geography to grow their workforces. 

Canada will be a bigger part of that mix, through a new generation of highly educated immigrant children from the 1990s and 2000s. Roughly 2.5 million of Canada’s seven million millennials were born abroad or have at least one foreign-born parent. According to Statistics Canada, the share of children with immigrant backgrounds will grow by close to 50% through the 2020s. And a growing number of the most educated millennials are women. 

Tech companies have figured out the brain gain opportunity, and expanded rapidly in major Canadian cities. Many have also tried to lure that talent south. It can be a win-win when Canadians in the Valley help bridge the world with Canada, as entities like the Canadian Consulate, the C100 and Connection Silicon Valley have done.

The post-pandemic recovery will require a lot more bridges, between more people, more sectors and more countries— and Canadians will be needed more than ever to build them.

[Bio–for Mateja only]

John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada’s leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the Office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization’s research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. His latest book, Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future, explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don’t live in Canada but exert their influence from afar.

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