Does merit trump diversity? Can’t both coexist and in fact, isn’t it possible that an individual’s merit is enhanced by that individual’s background, skills and experience?
These questions rolled through my brain as I read yesterday’s Financial Post article, Firms adopting diversity policies but few commit to targets for women on boards. The suggestion is that increasing diversity in membership of corporate boards may have a negative impact on the effectiveness of those boards. Some corporations are hesitant to set targets for gender diversity on their boards, the lawyers interviewed explained:
…the most common reason given by companies for not having a policy or targets to encourage gender diversity was that there was a commitment to selecting candidates based on merit.
There it is: the underlying belief that merit is incompatible with gender diversity.
It’s no secret that I firmly believe the legal profession would be greatly strengthened and more effective in delivery of legal services if it were more representative of the diversity of skills, backgrounds and experiences of Canadian society. (I’ve previously written about it here, here, here and here.)
I believe it because there is good evidence to suggest it is true. I believe it because I see it around me. I believe it because I am a woman in the legal profession. I believe it because I need to as the mother of a daughter.
Last week I was fortunate to attend the swearing in ceremony for Manitoba Provincial Court Judge Lindy Choy. These issues came to the fore through a number of remarks made by those congratulating Judge Choy on her appointment.
But it was Sofia Mirza, President of the Manitoba Bar Association, who directly addressed the link between diversity of the legal profession and merit in her remarks to Judge Choy:
Your appointment to the bench is also an important example of the diversity in leadership in our Province which supports that representation on the Bench, reflects the diversity of the citizens of Manitoba.
As the MBA’s first visibly ethnic president, and as a first generation Canadian myself, you are an inspiration to me, of the leadership advancements that can be achieved in our profession. We are blessed in an exciting year where the CBA President, MBA President, Past President of the Law Society, CEO of the Law Society, Dean of the law school, her Associate Dean’s, and the last four appointments to the bench are all women. We have come a long way in our profession and have much to be proud of.
In closing, there is one more important point that I would like to share with the example that your appointment has set for all of us. Appointments are based on education, communication skills, employment skill sets, and experience, to name a few of the factors that are considered. The point I am trying to make is that appointments are based on merit, not gender or the color of one’s skin. Those characteristics did not serve as barriers in the advancement of your career. Your merit is what spoke. You are an example of what shattering the glass ceiling is all about.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.