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Canadian Association of Broadcasters  

Westin Bayshore, Vancouver, B.C.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006  

“The Business Case for Diversity”  

By Milton K. Wong

Before I get into the substance of my address this morning, I’d like us to spend a few minutes paying our collective respects to the Squamish Musqueam and Tsliel-Watuth Aboriginal peoples whose land we’re using today. Cultivating a general feeling of respect and honour for these bands and their land is a great starting point.


Okay. Now I’ve got your attention, and you’re probably wondering what I’m up to, asking you to do something that I’m sure is quite foreign to you— something that, let’s be honest, would probably never have crossed your minds to do. After all, recent research indicates that the presence of Aboriginal people in broadcasting is considerably less than their numbers in Canada’s population would seem to indicate.

The talented communicators among you are probably noting that with this cheeky remark, I’m setting a tone here. Don’t worry, it’s not all bad news.

I began my address this way for two reasons. The first was, in all sincerity, to give respect to the Aboriginal peoples who laid first claim to this land. The second was to open your minds to what I’m going to spend the next 15 minutes talking about—essentially, the business case for diversity, but also the tension between diversity and common values, and what it means for your industry and for Canadian society generally.

In any industry, to be profitable and successful you need to establish trust within your community. You need a way to make your market feel connected to you. Take HSBC Group, for example. This bank is the biggest holder of Asian money among all banks in Canada. It’s not a coincidence. HSBC has built up trust in the Asian community. They’ve spent years understanding their clients and figuring out how to deliver what they want. There has to be a common “moral sentiment” or value in order to establish any relationship, including a business relationship.

As you are aware, Premier Gordon Campbell concluded a major treaty agreement with the Aboriginal Communities, which is heralded as a major breakthrough between the Provincial Government and the First Nations. You will recall the Premier in his first term in office, held a Referendum as to whether British Columbians should negotiate, even though the Supreme Court of Canada had clearly stated that Aboriginals have inherent rights. It is estimated that over 1 billion dollars of treaty monies will accrue to this province and our economy has already benefited from land claims negotiations. In addition to the involvement of countless lawyers and accountants, companies such as Royal Bank of Canada have paid special attention to the Aboriginal business opportunities.

So look at your clients. Who are they? What are their needs? And how can you inspire trust among them?

If they were primarily Aboriginal, you could start by offering your respects when you get together to conduct business on their land. That’s something that speaks to their values and communicates the idea that you understand something they need – respect.

Of course, as broadcasters, it’s going to be hard to view this message as something you can take to work tomorrow and begin implementing immediately. Your clients are not only Aboriginal, not only Chinese. They’re also South Asian, Jamaican, Latin and South American, European, African and many other nationalities by background or descent.

They may speak French, English, Hindi, Spanish, Mandarin or a number of other languages. They may be immigrants or Canadian-born. They are men and women. They are right-wing and left-, young and old. They are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and several other religions. They have different, sometimes contradictory, priorities and beliefs.

Globally, Canada is very unique in this regard. Some of us – from time to time, believe that as a country we are too accommodating and we should rein in our differences and become more homogeneous. On the other hand, world leaders such as His Highness the Aga Khan, Spiritual Leader of Shia Ismaili signed an agreement with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to establish the “Global Centre for Pluralism” in Ottawa. His Highness has studied Canada’s social philosophy of multiculturalism for over 30 years and he is convinced that our way of life and our intuitive ability to accommodate each other is a model to establishing civil societies throughout the world. His Highness is personally investing millions of dollars in establishing this institution, so that our Canadian values will become a beacon to societies through out the world. This is a profound statement about Canada, made by a world leader, who is dedicated to the human development of third world countries.

I agree that Canadian values can be exported to the rest of the world over time. I’ve been studying and speaking about the many facets of multiculturalism for a couple of decades now, and over the years, I’ve come to believe that there are basic human rights that transcend geographical and cultural borders. For example, in recent decades we’ve seen a “rights revolution” take place, characterized by the emergence of gender rights, language rights, Aboriginal rights and children’s rights – to name just a few. Notwithstanding all the global conflicts confronting us, I believe there is a common moral sentiment emerging.

For media organizations, considering the relationship between diversity and common values, it is important to know who your audience is—and if you can’t reflect that understanding in your programming—then you stand to lose that audience and all the associated benefits. There really is a business case for diversity. Let’s get into that a little more.

We’re living in a global age. Even when you’re not running a multinational company that does business on four continents, diversity has become a business imperative. People expect organizations to be staffed with cross-cultural workforces that can bring in fresh viewpoints and help fellow employees understand the perspectives of people from different cultures.

When workforces at traditional corporations fail to include people who have lived in other countries, have traveled extensively, or who belong to varied cultural backgrounds, their business is bound to suffer.

I’ve come across studies that show as many as 85 per cent of consumer purchases in the United States are made by minority groups, including women. Minorities are the “majority” in six of the eight largest cities in the U.S., and in 15 states. The landscape is similar here in Canada. The North American market comprises of more minority groups than anything else. Without people from those groups on your staff, you risk becoming irrelevant to your audience.

In my example of HSBC, I was trying to show that customer loyalty is really cemented when your target market can see that the people working in your business speak their language—both literally and figuratively.

Even if your organization has no business to conduct globally and no need to send minorities into international negotiating sessions, diversity still matters because your customer base cares about it. Diversity is a value that has been widely adopted by Canadians. It’s worked its way into our collective psyche and national identity. Canadians, even middle-aged white male Canadians, want to do business with organizations that can show they value equal opportunity for diverse groups of people.

As a businessman, I do understand the importance of profits and growth, I don’t however, want these factors to be the main reason your industry should embrace diversity. I’m much more interested in the power of media to shape the kind of society we all live in. With that power, I believe, comes a set of social responsibilities.

Generally as Canadians, we are not appreciative of the quality of our rights and freedoms. Many of you read as I did, that Canada ranked second in the world in upholding the rights of individuals – much to the surprise to many of us. There is an important role for the media to reinforce the values of our society we so much enjoy and take for granted.

One of the many ways to do that is by upholding values like social justice, equality, diversity and inclusion—the values that are apparent when our newspapers, magazines, televisions and movie screens succeed in depicting the true faces of our society.

If our mainstream media compromise these values that are intrinsic to democracy, they can effectively silence democracy itself.

It is provocative and tempting to argue that the United States is no longer a true full functioning democracy. For a period of time, until recently, the media seemed quite reluctant to critique the Bush Administration’s anti-terrorism policies.

As a key instrument of democracy, the media plays an important role in shaping the way we think about our place in society. They also shape the way we think about immigrants and visible minorities, and their places in society. When our media resorts to negative stereotyping, or portrays minorities as irrelevant or invisible, they are tossing a wrench into the wheels of democracy. They are falling down on the job. It’s socially irresponsible journalism. I recognize that the Canadian Association of Broadcasters is committed to promoting a more diverse workforce. And that’s great news.

I want to quote several statistics that inform me that for the most part, editors, producers, managers and creative directors are Caucasian – and they are making the decisions.

In 2000, a study out of Quebec’s Laval University showed that 97.3 per cent of Canadian journalists across all media are white. 1

According to a study out of Ryerson University in Toronto, “the number of people from diverse backgrounds that are employed by media outlets in Canada has only gone up from 2.56% to 3.4% in the last ten years.”2

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada estimates that Canada is home to more than 200 different ethnicities, that immigration accounts for more than 50% of our population growth—a figure projected to double by 2025—and that by 2017, more than half of Canada’s population will be visible minorities.

If I take these statistics at face value, it would seem that there is a disconnect with the face of Canadian media in relation to Canadian society. Furthermore, it would seem that the Canadian media industry is not relevant to the reality of Canadian society. However, I am suspicious of the accuracies of these statistics. We have a host of multicultural channels; CBC programs have ample representation of various ethnic groups; We have Channel M out of Vancouver, in additional what seems to be hundreds of ethnic newspapers across the country.

Inclusive journalism can build links between mainstream and minority communities. Which is how we come back to what I said was one of the key difficulties confronting us as a society today: the tension between cultural diversity and common values. The more bridges we build between mainstream and minority cultures, the greater our shared understanding will be—and the greater our opportunities to create a society characterized by peace and social justice.

By embracing other cultures, broadcasters are in a unique position to strengthen the fabric of our society and the state of our democracy, and to encourage peace and goodwill in our communities. You’re in a position to show our children what it means to be global citizens and to give them the background they need to get ahead in an increasingly cross-cultural world.

Broadcast media have an incredible amount of power and influence over people today—especially young people. You have the power to create feelings of belonging and unity, to strengthen our democracy and promote an open society.

Thank you.


2. Angela Spadafora, “Focal Point: Ethnicity and the Media.”

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