Improve Diversity by Taking a Chance (Blog Post)July 16, 2014
Diversity is all about opportunity.
My father is a family-law lawyer, but not the best businessperson. He had an investment in a nursing home that was almost in bankruptcy. I came home from Columbia University to negotiate with Desjardins, my parents’ financial institution, and convince them to give us a chance to turn it around. A second chance. When Desjardins’ manager asked me who from the family would run it, I said, “My mother.” I saw my mother as a brilliant woman who had not had the opportunity of an education. The manager first saw a 52-year-old woman without an education or experience. But I knew that she had the right skills to do the job. To his credit, Desjardins’ manager agreed.
That was in 1993. Today, at 72, my mother is still the soul of the place. Now with more than 50 staff, she turned around that collapsing business and, in doing so, saved our family financially. Desjardins is happy and is now in the process of extending new credit to double the size of the nursing home.
In the same way, I’ve seen exceptional results from women at McCarthy Tétrault who were given opportunities not based on what they have done, but on what we know they can do. One real opportunity can entirely change a person’s career. One thing that all of us have in common is the ability to give opportunities to people and to be thoughtful about how we do it.
This became even more apparent to me four years ago when I was new to McCarthy Tétrault’s Toronto office and the role of CEO, and found myself in a meeting about diversity with a group of our associates. When asked the question, “If the firm could do one thing to enhance diversity, what would it be,” our associates told us that diversity is all about opportunities. The opportunities to have first and second chances. They said we need to provide clear, honest feedback that would allow them to get a second chance. So, over the last four years we have worked hard to build a culture of feedback and we have made substantial progress.
I am using this to illustrate that if you want to enhance diversity, you have to work on all aspects of the culture. You need an environment where excellence, teamwork, trust, and accountability are promoted and rewarded.
At McCarthy Tétrault, we are committed to working hard on all of these cultural aspects. Moreover, we are committed to providing opportunities. I encourage you to do the same. Make sure you stretch a little sometimes to give an assignment to someone who can do it, and not automatically to the person who has executed that sort of mandate before. Providing new opportunities to a wider range of people is how we can truly enhance diversity.
Think about one opportunity that you can provide, and take a chance on someone.
Marc-André Blanchard is the Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations. He was formerly the chairman and CEO of McCarthy Tétrault.