Diverse Nation: Unlocking the Potential of Inclusive Innovation

In the 21st century, in one of the most important pillars of a vibrant economy, Canada has a problem. Innovation is suffering. Instead of reaping the benefits that diversity, equity and inclusion can bring to the innovation sector — advantages it sorely needs — we dilute our deep talent pool by blocking contributions from major segments of the population. At every step along the innovation journey — from learning to launching a startup to bringing a breakthrough to market — the harder it becomes for certain racialized groups to succeed, and for women especially. In this multicultural country, the business of innovation is still very much a man’s game, and for the most part, a white man’s game.

The numbers tell at least one side of the story. While women outnumber men in most post-secondary degree programs, the gender balance flips after graduation and becomes evermore lopsided. Women trail men in the tally of postgraduates who land internships in the innovation sector. Women are less likely to become decision-makers, senior managers or business owners. At the entrepreneurial stage, the gender disparity is difficult to overstate. Only one of every five startups in Canada is led by a woman, and female-led firms receive barely a sliver of the venture capital funding pie.

This dynamic is even more pronounced for women of colour — and also for both men and women from Black and Indigenous communities. A lack of mentors, role models, opportunities and even basic information has hamstrung their progress, and so too has the egregious persistence of prejudice and discrimination from the education system straight through to capital investments.

“The definition of innovation is the implementation of new ideas, and the intent is to move us forward. Yet without effectively addressing and changing age-old issues — like who has a seat at the technology table — outdated norms and prejudices are going to continue to impede the pathways toward success,” says Nigela Purboo, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Onyx Initiative, which seeks to close the gap in the hiring, retention and promotion of Black post-secondary students and recent graduates in corporate Canada. To stay ahead of the curve and be competitive, businesses require fresh young, industrious thinkers. And as Purboo adds, those thinkers need access and opportunities in order to share their unique knowledge and creativity.


Half of the young women who do go into tech drop out
by the age of 35.


Median seed round Black women received in 2020
(the national median was $2.5 million).


The vast majority of investors in Canada are male and white.

  • Author: Carolyn Abraham | Freelance writer
  • Author: Nora Underwood | Freelance Writer
  • Researcher and data analyst: Sana Maqbool
  • Data analyst: Nigel Biggar
  • Editors: Kathryn Hayward, Guy Nicholson
  • Research associate: Heather O’Brien