Brookfield innovation report shows Canada needs higher-quality data on equity, diversity and inclusion

Jessica Galang
March 10, 2021

Canada lacks the high-quality data that researchers need to understand how inclusive our economy is and its relationship to innovation, according to a report from the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The report looked at how different demographics participated in the innovation economy and whether opportunities and prosperity were distributed equally. It found that data was especially lacking for the Indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities along with people with disabilities.

The Inclusive Innovation Monitor, which uses Statistics Canada and OECD data, tracks the performance of over 30 indicators of innovation, equity and inclusion to highlight the relationships among these variables. Brookfield has also published an accompanying interactive tool, which it calls Canada's first.

The report compares Canada’s economic performance compared to OECD peers. While the data comes from pre-COVID-19 sources, the Brookfield Institute points out that COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities. For example, experts are already warning that women and economically marginalized groups could be left behind in the post-pandemic recovery.

With the innovation economy playing an important role in economic prosperity, it’s important to track who the beneficiaries of that prosperity are, and identify why there are gaps for certain groups. While highlighting inequalities and areas of opportunity through data, the Monitor also demonstrates the limitations of Canadian data.

Existing data limits research on diversity and inclusion

The report found that some of our existing data is problematic. For example, Statistics Canada often uses the term “visible minority” and “non-visible minority,” an oversimplification of marginalized or underrepresented groups. Visible minority is officially defined as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour” by the federal Employment Equity Act.

“The non-visible minority category is this weird mashup of groups that makes talking about them quite hard,” said Joshua Zachariah, co-author of the report, in an interview with Research Money. “It's Indigenous people, it's white people, it's people who are mixed all lumped into this one group that you're struggling to make any sort of real statement about because there’s a lot of people with very different experiences.”

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Dr. Sarah Saska, CEO of Feminuity, a consulting firm that helps companies build diverse teams,  notes that marginalized people are not always a minority. “Women are marginalized due to sexism, but are not a minority in Canada,” she says. “However, women are underrepresented in leadership both in the labour market and politics.”

Very little data for LGBTQ+ people, Indigenous communities and people with disabilities

The report notes that there is a lack of data among several groups, noting a “near-total absence” of data on opportunities the LGBTQ+ community has to participate in and benefit from an innovation economy. There should also be more frequent data on the economic participation of people with disabilities, the researchers say. Among the most recent, per the report, is 2017, where StatsCan data notes that while labour force participation for Canada’s population as a whole was 80.9 percent in 2017, it was just 62 percent for people with disabilities.

Indigenous groups are also poorly represented in data. The report says the 2016 Census did not completely enumerate 14 reserves and settlements, partly due to disruption from natural disasters, but also concern among Indigenous groups about how data would be used.

“Historically, there has been a lack of respectful relationships between researchers and Indigenous communities,” says Saska. “Plans have been developed with little to no input from Indigenous communities, and data has long been used to justify and sustain erasure and racist actions and policies.”

Existing data shows gaps in wages, leadership roles and entrepreneurship

The existing data shows significant gaps between gender identities and racial groups that may be limiting innovation in Canada.

Women’s lack of representation in leadership shows in some of the report’s findings on Canadian women’s entrepreneurship. The gap between the rate of self-employed women whose businesses have employees, compared to self-employed men in the same category, is larger in Canada (3.43 percentage points) than in the OECD generally (3.26 percentage points).

Referencing the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2020 report, which compares the relationship between entrepreneurship and economic development, Zachariah says there is clear ambition among Canadian women to start businesses, but compared to other countries surveyed, “not only does Canada not do well in general, but the gender gap is a lot higher."

"That is concerning," he says.

Even with increasing levels of education among women, a salary gap between women and men still exists. Women in Canada are 17.5 percentage points more likely to have a post-secondary credential than men in Canada, but in 2016, men in Canada earned an average of $C17,954 — or 47 percent more — in wages, salaries and commissions than women in Canada.

The report’s findings on the intersections of race and gender comes from Brookfield’s own analysis from past reports. While Canada’s technology-intensive occupations have a large deficit between women and men (in 2016, there were 584,000 more men in tech occupations than women), they tend to be more racially diverse than the employed labour force as a whole, according to Brookfield.

“You don't have a well-functioning economy if not all people have opportunities to participate and benefit” — Dr. Daniel Munro, co-author of the report and senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy

However, wages for women and “visible minorities,” as StatsCan defines them, in the tech sector also tend to be lower than those of men. In 2019, Brookfield found that visible minority women receive lower compensation than men across all visible minority groups — on average, $10,900 less than their male counterparts in tech occupations. At the same time, non-visible minority and Chinese women, with average salaries of $71,480 and $73,430 respectively, do earn more than many visible minority men in tech, especially among Black, West Asian and Korean men.

“It's hard not to reach a conclusion other than that there's systemic racial bias in these kinds of occupations,” says Dr. Daniel Munro, co-author of the report.

Moving beyond tech and including all occupations across Canada, on average, Indigenous people made C$10,349 less than non-Indigenous people with differences varying by region. Those who identify as Black earned C$35,580 on average in 2016, or C$13,386 less than those who do not identify as a visible minority.

In the same time period, the data says those who identify as Korean, West Asian, Southeast Asian, Latin American, Filipino or Arab had incomes in 2016 that were C$10,000 or less than incomes for those not identifying as minorities.

Opportunities to incorporate better data

Zachariah and Munro say they plan to continue the work of the Monitor. As part of a Munk School course, Munro is working with graduate students to expand it, including possible indicators on digital infrastructure and inclusion, though there is no timeline for a second edition.

In the future, researchers may be able to incorporate more fulsome data. StatsCan, for example, announced in July 2020 that its Labour Force Survey (LFS), which measures the country’s unemployment rate and other labour-related issues, would begin including data on specific populations.

“In the LFS, even now, visible minority is not the term being used and not the way it's being defined,” says Zachariah.

Saska says the Monitor could also derive insight beyond individual disparities to consider external forces like bias and discuss the quality of people’s experiences in the workplace beyond wages. For example, the Monitor could look at discrimination claims filed, hate crime reports or representation on board and executive positions for different demographics and intersections.

Overall, the researchers hope the Monitor can be the start of more conversations looking at the relationship between economic growth and inclusion.

“You don't have a well-functioning economy if not all people have opportunities to participate and benefit,” says Munro. “You don't have great benefits to distribute if the economy and innovation isn't itself working right, so it's important to have both of these conversations at once.”


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