Canadian innovation leaders launch coalition against racism

Jessica Galang
July 8, 2020

A group of 25 leaders from the Canadian tech and innovation sectors have launched the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR), which plans to create more opportunities for Black people, Indigenous peoples and people of colour (BIPOC) within the innovation economy. 

Members of the coalition, who hold senior leadership roles in startups, local government, institutional investors, national foundations, major banks, insurance companies and academic institutions, can use their extensive networks to build programs that support BIPOC communities in tech and foster talent. Claudette McGowan, global executive officer at TD, will act as chair of CILAR.  

We have brilliant people that do amazing things every day, solving the world’s biggest problems. One of the world’s biggest problems is racism,” said McGowan. “I think everyone is recognizing the time is now to think about creating new spaces for people, creating new products and services. Access is a big thing, and it is a barrier for many.”

Racism and creating inclusivity have been longstanding problems in the Canadian tech sector. A Toronto-focused 2018 report by MaRS, Feminuity and Fortay surveyed 456 tech workers and found that 66 percent of Black employees reported they had been subject to bias on one or more aspects of their identity. Meanwhile, the Brookfield Institute said in a 2019 report that participation rates in tech among Black, Filipino and Indigenous populations are low. 

The coalition's founding members include:

  • Armughan Ahmad, President & Managing Partner, Digital, KPMG
  • Monique Allen, EVP Data & Technology, OMERS
  • Andrew Chunilall, CEO, Community Foundations of Canada
  • Dubie Cunningham, Partner, ScaleUp Ventures
  • Rola Dagher, President, Cisco Canada
  • Lawrence Eta, CTO, City of Toronto
  • Danielle Graham, Principal & Founder, Sandpiper Ventures
  • Faisal Kazi, President & CEO, Siemens Canada
  • Dr. Kamran Khan, CEO & Founder, BlueDot
  • Mohamed Lachemi, President & Vice-Chancellor, Ryerson University
  • Jeanne Hwang Lam, GM, Wattpad
  • Jarret Leaman, Founder, Akawe Technologies and Centre for Indigenous Innovation and Technology
  • Humera Malik, Founder & CEO, Canvass Analytics
  • Alexandra McCalla, Co-Founder & COO, AirMatrix
  • Claudette McGowan, Global Executive Officer, Cyber, TD Bank
  • Sam Sebastian, CEO, Pelmorex Corp.
  • Mike Serbinis, CEO, League
  • Abdullah Snobar, CEO, DMZ Ventures
  • Kirstine Stewart, Executive Committee Member, World Economic Forum
  • Humza Teherany, Chief Technology and Digital Officer, MLSE
  • Susan Uthayakumar, CEO, Schneider Electric Canada
  • Rajesh Uttamchandani, CPO, MaRS
  • Yung Wu, CEO, MaRS
  • Mary Ann Yule, President & CEO, HP Canada
  • Lekan Olawoye, Founder, Black Professionals in Tech Network (Advisor)

CILAR does not yet have any concrete programs but operates with five priorities: youth skills development, job opportunities, venture and founder support, investments and community leadership. 

The organization plans to make announcements in August and says it will create a dashboard outlining its key performance indicators (KPIs) to create accountability. 

Each founding member has committed to help end anti-Black and systemic racism and to hire and support more diverse talent, employees and founders. The DMZ, a member of the coalition, announced a $1 million expansion of the Black Innovation Fellowship on June 23.

McGowan noted that, for corporates looking to tackle systemic racism, it’s important to unpack their current policies and see where they’re hiring, and establish a baseline in the same way they would any project. “Why are we so afraid to get numbers and metrics? Every company has to take a look at their own current state of affairs, their own ways of doing the work,” she said. 

McGowan said that she hopes organizations will cast a “wider net” for hiring, as remote work technologies enable people from all communities to allow companies to hire from anywhere. 

“I’ve been in the corporate word a long time... We’ve been making progress, but not enough,” said Rajesh Uttamchandani, CPO at MaRS. MaRS is providing early support to get CILAR initiatives running. “We think talent is spread around the world and with people equally. So this issue has to be about access to the opportunities.” 


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