The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion is a national charitable organization that helps the individuals and organizations they work with be inclusive and free of prejudice and discrimination. They also generate awareness, dialogue, and action for people to recognize diversity as an asset and not an obstacle. Michael Bach, the Founder of CCDI, represents a very important issue in the social profit sector. Today, he joins Douglas Nelson to talk about the institute and how he got it started.
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Canadian Centre For Diversity And Inclusion With Michael Bach
On our show, our guest is Michael Bach. He’s the Founder of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. We’re pleased to have him on the show. Welcome.
Thanks for having me.
You represent a very important issue in the social profit sector. There’s a lot that organizational leaders who tune into this podcast have been thinking about these issues and a lot to learn. Before we jump into that, tell us a little bit about the institute and how you got it started?
I was the Head of Diversity for KPMG, the accounting firm, for seven years. I had a secondment to the global firm where I was a leading diversity there. It gave me the opportunity as I came back into Canada to do a bit of reflection about what was missing in the conversation. I started doodling on the back of napkins and such. Upon returning to Canada, I said, “This is what we need.” I started socializing the concept with colleagues in different organizations or roles and talking to them about what they felt we needed in the conversation. It took off. The idea resonated with people.
In 2012, we started signing employers up and taking their money. The next thing I knew, I was quitting my cushy Bay Street job to go and run a nonprofit. It’s an idea that’s resonated. We are a one-stop shop for lack of a better term, where we work with employers. It’s on how to create inclusive work environments essentially. We are an extra set of hands that focuses on education. Obviously, we’re a very different model and that we’re funded by employers. We don’t receive public dollars. That was very important when I started the organization. For me, I didn’t want to be beholden to governments and the whims, ins and outs that happen with governments on a regular basis. We are solely funded by our employer partners. It’s been a model that’s resonated with them. I’m pleased with how things have gone thus far.
The organization has grown significantly since its founding in 2012. I want to hear the story of the day you realized that you had to quit that cushy Bay Street job and start this organization. Driven by mission, you’re making a difference. You say, “Now I have to jump.” What was that like?
It was terrifying. It was interesting. When I started the organization, I envisioned it being a volunteer job. I would keep my lovely Bay Street job and we would pay people to do the work. As I had done in a previous organization that I started called Pride at Work Canada. It became infinitely clear very quickly that we needed a leader. In the case of Pride at Work Canada, we had a very active working board. While we had a very active board with CCDI, it also became clear that we were going to need something a little more and specifically in the form of a CEO. At the time, the board was pretty blunt. They looked at me and said, “This is the job that you need to do.”
I also felt like it was time for a change for me. I felt like it was a moment when I felt like I’d done all I could do at KPMG. The firm was wonderful to me. I have no complaints about my time there. I jokingly say, “I don’t think anybody was afraid of me anymore.” Part of the job is about change, making people uncomfortable and saying what needs to be said. I feel like there were a lot of people who weren’t necessarily worried about what I was saying anymore. It was an interesting change. I would say my learning curve was very significant. I have never worked in the nonprofit space. I didn’t think of it as being any different as a Bay Street accounting firm.
How was it different?
Most nonprofits run in a way that is very much focused on the cause. That’s not my focus or at least that’s not how I do things. My experience is one of focus on business, on profit. I’ve always run the organization like a for-profit business. How that’s worked to our advantage is that we’ve been able to grow very quickly. We have been not dependent on things like government dollars, which I felt was a bit of a no-go for us. We’ve been able to find our footing without the preconceived ideas about how things should, could work. I didn’t have any of those in my head. I said, “This is how we’re going to do it.” We may be right and we may not. That ended up being a good thing for us.
That air to action, let’s move forward as we learn and continue to ask the questions, move the organization forward. Is that something that you got from your time in the private sector or is that something that was more inherent in you as a leader?
It’s definitely my time in the private sector. I don’t know anything else. I had to focus on what I knew. I’m a get-stuff-done guy. It’s the moment that I’ve seen in the nonprofit world of charities that are not focused on that or not focused on what’s our mandate, what’s our deliverable that they tend to spiral and not necessarily move things forward.Leverage your privilege for the benefit of others. Click To Tweet
What about your leadership style and the way you work? How has that changed over the last several years in the social profit sector?
That’s an interesting question. In some ways, I don’t think my leadership style has changed. I’m still the person I was before. I have a good approach to managing people. That is an approach that I used in my time in the for-profit world. I don’t feel like I necessarily changed who I was in order to do the job. One of the things I would say that is critical for me and core to my belief system is my values. I have some strong beliefs about how workplaces should function and whether I’m right or not is irrelevant. I always said in starting CCDI that we were going to have the culture that I always wanted. We have done a very good job with that, of maintaining that culture and making sure that ours is a space where people can come to work and be successful. People would say that’s one of the values of CCDI and how we do our work is that we take very good care of our people. We make sure that they are able to do their jobs and be successful.
It’s an important measure of the health of an organization as the people feel that they can come to work and be successful. It’s not always the case, both in the private sector and in the social profit sector. What do you think the social profit sector has to learn about issues related to diversity and inclusion?
The social profit sector, I would describe it as the shoemaker’s children. There is a belief that because it is that, social profit sector, that we’re above those issues, like, “We’ve got this figured out. We know.” There was a report done by the Mowat Centre a couple of years ago on the demographic representation of nonprofits in Ontario. Overwhelmingly, they found that most nonprofits were run by middle-aged white women. That is no offense to middle-aged white women, but there’s a lack of diversity within the sector as a whole. If you don’t acknowledge that we don’t have it right, it’s not perfect. If you don’t start from that place, how are you ever to improve? There is room for improvement within the sector, but there has to be a willingness to accept that. In fact, we don’t all have it right. We need to be willing to examine that.
What advice would you give to someone who’s sitting on a board of a reasonable size or large size social profit organization that realizes they have an issue with inclusivity and diversity? Where would you recommend they start?
It depends on where the organization is. If you’re a board member and you start being the noisemaker, that could be quite alienating. At the same time, it’s important that board members in the social profit sector hold their organization’s feet to the fire and make sure that you’re living your values. Being the noisemaker is not a bad thing. It won’t make you the most popular kid in school, but that’s not the point. Make sure that you are forcing the issue and asking the important questions. Getting the organization to explicitly say, “Here’s what we’re going to do about it.” It’s important that there is action with this stuff. It’s not simply saying, “We’re an inclusive organization.” What does that mean? What are you doing about that? What does inclusion look like?
More often than not, and this is not in the social profit sector, this is in all sectors. We get these employers that say, “We’re a diverse and inclusive employer.” You look at the organization and it’s a whole bunch of white guys. Saying it is not enough, you have to have action there to determine how you’re going to affect the change. Board members are in a wonderful and precarious position and that they have the ability to ask the questions and make sure that there’s a plan of action to see it happen. You have to be willing to stick your neck out on that.
What advice would you give to the person sitting next to the noisemaker? A lot of the boards in the work that we do with boards across the country and in the United States that this is an issue that comes up. It’s usually 1 or 2 members of the board who raise it. There is an aversion or a distancing that happens by those individuals, colleagues around the board table. You’ve got the noisemakers. What’s the advice to the next person that’s going to join that saying, “We can’t say this, we have to do something about it?”
It’s important to support your colleague, particularly if that colleague is a person of color or a person with a disability or indigenous person, whoever. I am a white man. As much as I am a man who lives with a disability and I’m gay, it’s important for me to use that privilege that I have of being a white man to make sure people are heard. If someone says something that you know is about a lack of diversity, a lack of focus on diversity in the organization, you have a responsibility to make sure that people are listening to that. It’s leveraging your privilege for the benefit of others. It won’t make you popular, but at the same time when the dust settles and the change is made and you see how your organization is functioning better and how you’re able to access talent better and deliver on your mandate better, you will be popular because you’re the one who stood up and said, “We need to listen to this.”
I like what you said that being popular is not the point. It’s about getting these important issues on the table and action taken on them. For a lot of our audience who are organizational leaders in the sector, they can look at their boards and many board governance tables across the country say, “We need to better reflect our community. We need inclusion and diversity to be a part of what we’re doing both on the board and within the senior leadership of the organization.” A lot of executive directors and CEOs hear that and they agree with that. This is true, but it doesn’t rise to the level of a strategic imperative because of budgets and mission-driven issues that they’ve got. What would you say to the CEO who always ends up being the first thing on the list that doesn’t get done?
That’s a tough one. It’s one that certainly we see a lot of. I would say that diversity and inclusion work may not directly connect to your mandate, but it directly connects to how you run your organization. It directly connects to who you hire, who you service and how you service them. There is a direct correlation. While it may not seem the most important thing on the agenda, you need to prioritize it if only because if you don’t, the risk is significant. It’s important to say, “I know this is going to cost us some, but it is absolutely a priority and here’s why.” I would say this not just in the social profit space, but in any organization, what’s the business case?
This is my learning in the social profits space is the term business cases. It’s terrifying to people. If you cannot articulate for me exactly why this matters, you are losing the game before you even start playing. You have to be able to tell me why it matters, not just me, but you have to be able to articulate. I’m imagining everybody calling me to tell me their business case. Being able to articulate it is critically important. We get people calling us and saying, “We need to do unconscious bias training. My usual response to that is, “Great. Why? What’s determined that you have to do unconscious bias training or did you see something on YouTube about unconscious bias training and you think it’s the bee’s knees? What’s the case?” Every social profit organization should look at the business case. What is the case for change? If you have done your job right, what you will find is that the case is so strong and it is such an imperative that you won’t have a choice but to move forward.If you have done your job right, you won't have a choice but to move forward. Click To Tweet
The cost of not doing anything is so much greater than taking the positive action that you’re describing. One of the things I wanted to ask you about because I was intrigued when I saw it is the unconference. Can you tell me a little bit about what that is and how people might be a part of that?
As the standard, we thought we needed a conference. In our first year of doing the conference, which was not our first year in existence. In 2014, we tried out four different models, one in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. In each city, we tried something different. In our last city, which was Vancouver, we had two presenters for the whole day. They each took half the day and one topic. It was hugely successful and people loved it. As somebody who has attended more than their fair share of conferences, I don’t have any interest in going to a conference where all I hear is talking heads and death by PowerPoint. We started doing D & I: The UnConference, because it’s the opposite of a conference.
You’re going to come. It is an intense learning experience. It is one topic for the whole day where you will have one or two facilitators, not ten. Nobody moves around to plenary sessions or anything like that. It is this intense learning. People come away from it tired but having explored a topic. The UnConference for 2020, which will happen in the winter of 2020, is on cultural competence. It’s a very important topic. The participants will have a full day on cultural competence and they come away from it with some real tools for the toolkits of how to take it from theory into practice within their respective organizations.
It’s something that people can learn about. As we come to the end of our conversation, one of the questions I ask every founder who comes on the show is if you had the chance to found this organization again, would you do it? What would be different?
Yes. Would I do it differently? Absolutely. What most people don’t know is that I started the organization out of my bank account. I’ve never said this publicly, but because of the way things turned out, we ended up getting things going very quickly in 2012. We had a staff person that we had to hire right away because we were doing some work. I didn’t have a bank account to pay her out of. We didn’t have revenue from our partners yet. I was paying for everything out of my personal bank account. I’ve since been paid back all of the money that I invested in the organization. That’s the one thing if I could go back in time that I would change that we took our time. We were more thoughtful in our process. We made sure that everything was where it was supposed to be when it was supposed to be. Otherwise, I would do everything the same.
That makes me smile. Starting out describing your leadership style is very err to action. Let’s get things done. That is pretty much the most extreme example I’ve heard of an organization starting out of the founder’s bank account because there wasn’t time to get things organized. Thank you for sharing that.
It wasn’t intentional. It’s not like I signed up for that. I believed so strongly in what we were doing. I thought, “We don’t have time to wait around and get the paperwork done.” Starting a nonprofit, there’s a lot of paperwork. We rushed ahead, got things done and figured it out afterwards.
You’ve given people a real taste of this issue from your perspective on the social profit sector. If people want to learn more, how can they learn more about the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion?
They can visit our website at CCDI.ca.
One of the takeaways I hope everybody reading has from the show is the goal of diversity and inclusion of a healthy culture in the social profit space or anywhere is to create a space where people can come together and be successful. Michael, thank you so much for all the work you do to make that more possible for people across the country every day.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you for being on the show.
- Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion
- Pride at Work Canada
- D & I: The UnConference
About Michael Bach
Michael Bach is nationally and internationally recognized as a thought leader and subject matter expert in the fields of diversity, inclusion and employment equity, bringing a vast knowledge of leading practices in a live setting to his work. He has deep experience in strategy development, stakeholder engagement, training and development, research, solution development and execution, employee engagement, data analytics, measurement and diversity scorecards, targeted recruiting strategies, marketing and communications, Employee Resource Groups, Diversity Councils, and diversity-related legislation (Employment Equity Act, AODA, etc.) among other skills and experiences related to field of diversity and inclusion.
Prior to taking on this role he was the National Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for KPMG in Canada, a role he created and held for the past 7 years. Additionally, Michael completed a 2½ year secondment as the former Deputy Chief Diversity Officer for KPMG International.
At KPMG Michael was responsible for the overarching diversity strategy for the firm’s operations in Canada, including the development and implementation of all diversity-related programs and initiatives. During his tenure, KPMG received several prestigious diversity-related awards – including being named one of Canada’s Top Employers for Diversity and one of Canada’s Best Employers for New Canadians. KPMG is the only organization that has won both awards in all five years they have been awarded.