Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as a Competitive Advantage?

This panel discussion explores DEI as a competitive advantage and address some of the growing backlash against current DEI programs. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives can offer organizations a significant competitive advantage by harnessing a wide range of perspectives, experiences, and talents. This diversity fuels innovation and creativity, essential for problem-solving and product development. DEI practices also enhance company reputation, making organizations more attractive to a diverse workforce and customer base. By prioritizing equity and inclusivity, companies see improved employee engagement and retention, as team members feel valued and empowered. Additionally, embracing DEI expands market understanding and reach, enabling businesses to effectively cater to a global audience. Despite these benefits, critics argue that these initiatives can be ineffective, tokenistic, or even discriminatory themselves. The panel addresses these concerns, discussing how DEI efforts can be more impactful in today’s global context.

Marcelle Laliberté is a practitioner and researcher with strong managerial roles across diverse fields, ranging from the military to financial services, and now focused on Higher Education. A strong record in creating and leading new impact-focused organizations promoting and supporting student development and success through a holistic approach to student engagement in and out of the classroom. With a doctorate in Education and areas of research focus on student engagement, social justice, diversity, and inclusion projects, some of her current work has been on how commitment to public service shapes university leadership response to national reforms; increasing the visibility of women in Aerospace as subject matter experts; creating learning communities comprised of universities, business and people to address topics surrounding Inclusion and Belonging in Higher Education, and measuring the social impact of universities within their communities. Strong multicultural background based on North American and European experiences allows her for comprehensive work within a multicultural environment across a wide range of programs.

Sema Burney is a dynamic consultant and seasoned professional in the areas of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)with over 20 years of experience in the field. Born and raised in Quebec, with parents from South East Asia, Sema has always had a passion for diversity. In 2010 she founded Burney Consulting, a boutique-style firm offering services to organizations seeking to build a more inclusive workplace, where everyone can belong. Armed with an MBA and a background as a former CPA, Sema has collaborated with executive teams and leaders to develop and implement DEI strategies that drive organizational growth and innovation. She has worked across Canada and globally in a wide array of industries and sectors and with employees at all levels. Renowned for her engaging speaking style, she has delivered over 400 hours of training on various DEI topics.

Jaxa Gohil has over 27 years of work experience in various areas and functions, her last fulltime role was heading HR for a Technology company, and now works as a Consultant in the areas of Leadership Development/Coaching and Diversity & Inclusion. She believes HR is the custodian of the culture in an organisation and plays a key role in the success of an organisation, partnering with the business effectively in a good way by understanding the needs and being open and always doing what is good, right & true – People & Business, finding the balance. People is something she is passionate about and aligned to the business needs has always been her focus. She comes from a Technology Background, has worked in Operations and has always worked closely with HR and the having taken up a HR role she got to understand the nuances from a very different perspective and actively worked on how to bring the two better together. Learning and Development is where her passion lies.

Flavian Rhode has focused his career on advancing LGBTQI+ rights globally, demonstrating adept strategic leadership in spearheading multi-country programs. As the Executive Director of Positive Vibes Trust, a prominent African queer human rights organization, Flavian’s visionary guidance has expanded the organization’s impact across Africa, Southwest and Northern Africa, Asia, and Central America over the past nine years. At its core, Positive Vibes Trust is dedicated to addressing inequality, exclusion, and the invisibilization of marginalized communities. Through collaborative efforts with rights holders, partners, and key stakeholders, Positive Vibes crafts meaningful processes that tackle both the consequences and root causes of these injustices. By challenging and reshaping existing systems, Positive Vibes endeavours to create a more equitable and inclusive world for all.

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