Canada’s Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities highlights the exchange of experiences between Brazil and Canada

Kamal Khera says that having more women working in companies and individuals with diverse backgrounds in senior positions is important for decision-making and business

By Deborah Oliveira

Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice. The phrase comes from Kamal Khera, Canada’s Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities, who took part at the end of November in the third Global Forum Against Racism and Discrimination, held by UNESCO in São Paulo, and the second edition of the Brazil-Canada Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Forum, held by the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce (CCBC) at its headquarters in São Paulo.

The Canadian government is committed to investing in initiatives that support inclusion and promote of diversity, as well as the fight against racism and discrimination in all its forms. Minister Khera highlighted the importance of collaborating with other countries to address the global challenge that racism and discrimination represent and Canada’s commitment under Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy, the International Decade for People of African Descent, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to continue to address racial inequities.

Born in New Delhi, India, Kamal Khera was ten years old when she arrived in Canada with her family. After graduating from York University, she worked as a nurse in the oncology unit at St Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto. She ran for the first time in 2015 and was elected as the Member of Parliament for Brampton West. Since then, she served as Minister of Seniors, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue, and as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health.

During the interview at CCBC’s event, Minister Khera spoke about her personal journey, as one of the youngest women ever elected to Parliament and the youngest Minister in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, and about the main challenges and achievements since 2015.

As one of the youngest ministers to hold a position in the Trudeau government, could you tell us about the importance of diversity in your journey? How can your personal experience inspire other young women?

When I was elected in 2015, I was 26 years old, making me one of the youngest women ever elected to Parliament, and the youngest Minister in our government when I was appointed in 2021. As a South Asian woman, there weren’t many people in politics who looked like me at the time. We committed ourselves to creating spaces for women, people of color, younger people and others, making it possible for them to embark on future political journeys. I can never understate the power of representation; having someone who looks like you in a position of power is very important.

I always say that diversity is a fact, in Canada or Brazil, but inclusion is a choice. We have to be very deliberate in making those choices if we really want to build more inclusive countries and communities.

When we won in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed for the first time Canada a cabinet with gender parity – 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men. When you bring people from different backgrounds together around the table, it brings more knowledge and perspectives and yields better results. Having more women at the table led us to implement a $10-a-day childcare program, which not only support Canadian families, but also enables more women to enter the workforce in Canada. So everyone benefits from inclusion, our communities do and Canada does.

I’m happy to see more women of colors and from diverse backgrounds in politics, and to see more young people coming forward to be representatives at different levels of government. We all need to create these opportunities for people.

In 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched the 50-30 challenge to make workplaces in Canada more diverse and inclusive. The Women in Business survey conducted by Grand Thorton in 2022 shows, for example, that women now occupy 32 per cent of senior management positions globally. What actions are the Canadian government taking to increase the presence of women and diverse people in better positions with better pay?

Since we launched the 50-30 challenge, challenging Canadian companies to achieve 50 per cent of corporate board positions held by women and 30 per cent by other under-represented groups—including racialized persons, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ2+ community – over 2,500 companies and corporations have come forward and accepted the challenge. There’s a lot more work to be done to attract more companies and corporations, but this demonstrates how crucial the choice of inclusion is in the corporate sector as well. Having more women working in companies and individuals with diverse backgrounds in senior positions is important for making the best decisions, and consequently, achieving the most meaningful results for everyone.

With the growing focus on ESG, companies need to include diversity and inclusion as a priority in various positions, such as women occupying positions on company boards. Why is evaluating the adoption of diversity and inclusion in companies crucial to their success?

Because we are seeing positive results in companies from the adoption of more inclusive business practices. We need to track this data and these results so that we can show the rest of the world that having diverse people around the table is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do for compagnies, as it leads them to make the best business decisions.

How can Canada contribute its expertise in diversity and inclusion to making the workforce more equal within Brazilian companies?

There are many opportunities for Canada and Brazil to partner. During my trip, I met with the Minister of Racial Equality, Anielle Franco, to talk about those opportunities to collaborate to fight racism and create equal opportunities for all people living in Canada and Brazil. I also had the occasion to talk with CCBC members, and I was delighted to see how diverse this group is. There are immense opportunities for our countries and our businesses to build stronger commercial connections.

Without a doubt, Canada has a lot to share. At the UNESCO Global Forum, I spoke about how, in Canada, we launched our first Anti-Racism Strategy. It’s a whole-of-government approach to address racism and discrimination and serves as a roadmap for how our government can be more inclusive and representative of our Canadian diversity. We’re also making specific investments for equity-deserving groups, through our Women, Black, and Indigenous Entrepreneurship Strategies and Funds, providing them with access to sustainable funding, capital and opportunities to thrive and grow businesses. So there’s a lot that Canada can share with Brazil, just as there’s a lot that Canada can learn from Brazil. With CCBC and this marvelous group, we can work together to guarantee opportunities for everyone.