October 15, 2020
By Canadian Business
When Chris Barrett was promoted to CEO at Hamilton-based Operatic Agency three years ago, he knew something seriously needed to change. His “aha” moment came when he and his team realized that the fast-growing creative digital agency needed to do more to reflect the diverse clients they served. For Barrett—a white, 39-year-old executive in a competitive industry—diversity wasn’t just a metric in his mind, but a key part of growth for the business. “I honestly believe that having a culture that embraces diversity and inclusion plays a big role in innovation and creativity,” he explains. “A variety of perspectives enables you to achieve unique solutions to complex problems.”
The company currently employs 30, of which 12 are women, six are BIPOC team members and five are LGBTQ+ employees. A mid-sized boutique agency, Operatic (No. 167 on Growth 2020) counts entities like Toronto’s One King West Hotel & Residence among its clients, as well as million-dollar franchises and multi-location businesses across North America, such as Dave & Buster’s, M&M Food Market and Weight Watchers.
The agency’s commitment to diversity has helped it stand out, Barrett says. Nowhere was this more apparent than earlier this year, when his team helped a high-profile lifestyle client expand its audience (and sales) by incorporating more inclusive language and campaigns that appealed to the brand’s non-white shoppers.
“Diversity among our ranks helped us recognize and solve a problem that the client needed [solved],” he explains.
The business case for diversity isn’t new to our times. Over the years, there has been no shortage of papers looking at how diversity impacts the bottom line. But a May 2020 study by McKinsey, titled “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters,” found that “the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.”
The paper also revealed that during unprecedented times, diversity matters even more since “companies whose leaders welcome diverse talents and include multiple perspectives are likely to emerge from the crisis stronger,” it added. “There is ample evidence that diverse and inclusive companies are more likely to make better, bolder decisions—a critical capability in the crisis.”
Conversely, the McKinsey report suggested that firms who were considering eliminating inclusion and diversity (I&D) initiatives should think twice about the damage it could do to their overall brand. “Some companies appear to be viewing I&D as a ‘luxury we cannot afford’ during this crisis. We believe such companies risk tarnishing their licence to operate in the long term.”
Amad Abdullah has seen first-hand how diversity can help a company grow and stay relevant. “If you want to be competitive, you have to think competitively,” he says, which includes hiring people with “different experiences and skills.” As the president of KW Signs—a Kitchener, Ont.-based company (No. 171 on Growth 2020) that makes wire frames, stands and real estate sign holders—he’s proud that his team of 30 boasts 26 BIPOC employees who speak 13 languages. It’s that diversity that allows him to quickly hire great talent that others may overlook, he says.
Say that KW “wanted to hire five or six people quickly, just temporary for a couple of months. A lot of companies have to go through an agency or recruitment centre or spend money on some ads,” Abdullah explains. “We have the ability to hire people with different ideas and skills quickly because we have so many people from all different cultures.”