In 2023, embrace diversity, equity and inclusion in Canadian business

Before becoming an entrepreneur, I placed my professional hopes in corporate Canada. I was led to believe that every company is a meritocracy ecosystem where those who work the hardest – and wait the most patiently – are rewarded with bigger salaries and bigger titles.

But the longer I wait, the more I realize that this is not true. The glass ceiling remains intact, with visible minorities holding only 8.3 per cent of CBCA-governed board seats in 2022. I left corporate Canada because I know my worth and I don’t want to ask for permission to demonstrate my capabilities. If I want to lead an organization, I have to build it myself.

Unfortunately, many minority professionals find themselves in the same uncomfortable shoes. But increasingly, they are discovering that entrepreneurship is no longer the path less traveled. According to the Intuit QuickBooks 2022 study, an impressive 2.2 million Canadians started a new business over the past two years. I’m sure many of them are like me, wondering why they should continue to serve a biased institution that no longer serves them.

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However, as every entrepreneur knows, launching a business can be alluring and intimidating, with growth never being linear. If you are part of the marginalized population, the hills and valleys can be very steep. Statistics Canada expects businesses owned by visible minorities to see even more significant declines in demand, sales and profits in 2022.

I am inspired as always by business owners of color who fight stereotypes, bias and racism to launch their companies. But I was also disappointed with what they faced. Everywhere I look, I see greatly increased progress, entrenched barriers to entry, and exclusionary beliefs and practices.

My hope for 2023 is a faster and bolder evolution; the ultimate dismantling of systemic inequality; and embrace means diversity, equity and inclusion in Canadian business.

This looks like economic equity and entrepreneurship for business owners of color. In recent years, we have launched many of our own initiatives to provide adequate funding, such as the Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund. These targeted programs have given previously excluded groups access to the funding they need. But this is not the only path to business success. Entrepreneurs of color must be taken seriously by people in power, even if they don’t share the same life experiences. The new story must be one that allows business leaders to receive venture capital or loan approval, no matter who they are.

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Gender parity must be part of this. The space where female entrepreneurs operate is not always the one with the most investment. We are more likely to build expertise in the service sector, which has been hit hard by the economic downturn and which is losing funding to more attractive technology ventures. As a society, we must expand our definition of legitimate business, and we must think about entrepreneurship beyond male-led tech startups.

Black women are taking more risks, but we’re more likely to be “solo entrepreneurs” working from home. Without employees or an office, we often don’t qualify for funding or are dismissed as premature or unpolished when we qualify.

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We must fight for Black business representation. Even if our business is small or community-based, it’s still important. Compounding the challenges facing our company are anti-Black racism, generational trauma and neighborhood alienation. We often come from communities where we lack the social capital, networks and seed money to launch strongly. Anticipating this, how can other businesses, government officials and society as a whole lift us up and keep Black business failures from becoming self-fulfilling prophecies?

Too often, when we talk about leveling the playing field for the marginalized, we look to the distant future — as if what we’re fighting for is complex and novel. But this is a moral and societal imperative. It’s time we stop imagining this as the future and make this a reality today. That’s what I dreamed of when I started my first business, and that’s what all rising entrepreneurs deserve.

Nadine Spencer is the CEO of the Black Business and Professional Association.

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