New study reveals Canadian corporations not delivering on equity practices
Diverse voices within Canadian companies highlight the critical need to advance equity in corporate philanthropy
Toronto, January 24, 2023 - As the business sector prepares for a possible recession with increased layoffs and tightening of spending, the pledges companies made to support diversity are at risk. A new study by AgentsC and Imagine Canada, with generous support from RBC Foundation, reveals fundamental gaps in representation, intentionality, and leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). From the Mind to the Heart: Advancing Equity in Corporate Social Investment explores the influence of justice, access, inclusion, diversity, and equity (JAIDE) within the CSR profession, and the practices inhibiting or enabling equity within corporate philanthropy.
In recent years Canadian corporations have committed billions of dollars in an effort to move society towards greater social and environmental outcomes. While these commitments were well intended, perspectives shared by Black, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQI, South-Asian, and South-Asian Muslim professionals inside these companies have uncovered a lack of action and accountability putting these social commitments at risk of true progress.
“Many corporations engaged in community investment have great intentions”, says Mide Akerewusi, CEO of AgentsC, and co-author of the report. “Unfortunately,” he says, “the pace of change doesn't match the intentions. At times, a lack of trust and accountability within corporate leadership can stifle momentum towards community investment. This is especially concerning as we enter uncertain economic times when commitments to strengthening communities in Canada could come to a jarring halt because of economic challenges that threaten a corporation’s accountability towards justice, access, inclusion, diversity, and equity.”
- Lack of representation and intentionality is inhibiting equity: Among the key findings, the study shows a lack of representation and influence of Black and Indigenous professionals within the field. Notably, only 25% of Black practitioners reported having funding decision-making responsibility—in contrast to 96% percent of white respondents.
- DEI training is not enough: The research also highlights that diversity training taking place is not enough; there is a lack of demonstrable evidence of justice, access, inclusion, diversity, and equity (JAIDE) practices beyond positive sentiment and training. While several companies indicated support for JAIDE-oriented models (such as participatory grantmaking and trust-based philanthropy), few were able to provide clear examples of the steps they have taken to implement alternative approaches.
- Low priority within companies: According to the professionals interviewed for this study, corporate community investment is often seen to be of low importance within a company, bringing into question the authenticity of company efforts and marketing. There was also a sentiment that companies are only being spurred into change or action during a crisis.
“Research and recommendations by key partners like AgentsC and Imagine Canada are critical to the continual improvement of corporate community investment practices,” Mark Beckles, Vice-President, Social Impact & Innovation at RBC. “Our commitment to communities must go beyond just funding resources to ensuring that diverse voices and experiences are around the table. This hard work is fundamental to our collective success.”
Recommendations for Companies
The study describes a number of calls to action for companies, and highlights the importance of centering empathy within community investment strategy. To disrupt the status quo and showcase industry leadership, companies need to thoughtfully incorporate JAIDE principles into strategy and empower teams to tailor their practices to help them achieve authentic progress on their missions and a greater social impact.
- Hold a mirror up to your company, department, and personal viewpoints: Be transparent about your company’s role and function, while also demonstrating commitment to JAIDE, would avoid the pitfalls of seeming to be social washing.
- Understand and articulate the kind of JAIDE you wish to see: JAIDE means different things to different people. To fully understand what JAIDE means for your organization requires understanding the perspectives of the people most affected by anti-JAIDE practices in your company and among your stakeholders.
- Set higher expectations for corporate training in JAIDE: Promote training that is relevant and engaging across the organization, and that is continuously accounted for and assessed in terms of positive actions after training is undertaken.
- Expect the same standard from others that you espouse within your own company: Invite your nonprofit partners to engage in dialogue, to adopt JAIDE practices, and to join you in this social change movement.
- Be accountable to your commitments: Have a plan to ensure accountability of JAIDE practices. Whatever the scale of the plan may be, there needs to be clearly defined objectives, desired outcomes, roles, resources, measurements, and timelines.
Complete findings and recommendations are described in two reports and are drawn from a survey of Canada’s largest companies, interviews with diverse professionals in CSR or community investment roles, and discussions with young leaders pursuing careers in business sustainability.
Report Nº 1: From the Mind to the Heart: Advancing Equity in Corporate Social Investment
Report Nº 2: From the Mind to the Heart: Youth Perspectives and Recommendations on Equity in Corporate Citizenship
The reports are available at: imaginecanada.ca/diversity-and-CSR
This project was made possible thanks to generous support from our National Partner, RBC Foundation.
About AgentsC Inc.
AgentsC Inc. is an international, B-Corp Certified consulting company based in Toronto, Canada. Founded in 2015, AgentsC offers strategic solutions to socially and environmentally conscious organizations around the world. Drawing on the African tradition of Ubuntu (I am because we are), AgentsC is guided by our trademark principle, Equity Philanthropy™ – the belief that love of community and social justice form an essential alchemy for tackling the world’s biggest problems, as expressed through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the World Health Organization Social Determinants of Health.
About Imagine Canada
Imagine Canada is a national charitable organization whose cause is social good in Canada. Imagine Canada works to bolster the charities, nonprofits, and social entrepreneurs that build, enrich, and help to define our nation and the communities they support around the globe. For over a decade, Imagine Canada’s focus on corporate community investment research has provided a unique view of current practices and tools for effective social impact.
For further information:
Senior Manager, Marketing and External Relations