Why Rich Donovan puts “delight” ahead of “diversity”

Donovan, Rich portraitIt was 2008 and Rich Donovan had just crunched the numbers on how many people live with disabilities worldwide.

The United Nations at the time reported the number around 600 million. His analysis pegged that population at 1.2 billion.

“I actually had to do the analysis three times because I didn’t believe the numbers. They were just too big,” he said. “It’s a pretty ballsy statement to make that the UN’s wrong by a factor of two, right?”

But he was right – and that’s the moment Donovan, founder of Return on Disability, author and past winner of the Women’s Executive Network’s 2018 Inclusion Vanguard Award, knew there was a huge, untapped opportunity touching 53 per cent of the world and worth an estimated $8 trillion.


We are proud to partner with Accenture for the Inclusion Vanguard Award, a prestigious part of our annual Top 100 Awards! In 2018, we had the absolute pleasure of honouring Rich Donovan for his extraordinary and notable actions towards diversity and inclusion in Canada. At our 2019 Top 100 Awards on November 21, we will celebrate a new winner of the Inclusion Vanguard Award, recognizing a leader who has made a remarkable impact in driving real, lasting change. The Inclusion Vanguard Award symbolizes what we all strive to achieve: a stronger, more inclusive Canada!


Today, the number of people with disabilities has grown to 1.7 billion people, yet it’s an entire market that’s historically been overlooked. “From my perspective, this is the reason why every company that faces an end consumer, every government that faces an end citizen, should put [disability] at the core of their experience design,” he said.

That’s why he’s changing the conversation.

Building a new approach

In a world where companies talk about diversity and inclusion, Donovan is talking about something else entirely: markets and delighting customers.

Not surprising, given he used to manage about $6 billion in equity as a Wall Street trader. “The trader in me decided to treat disability as a market. I went about doing the analysis as I would for any other trade,” he said.

Trading is where his diversity journey starts, first through Merrill Lynch where he helped with on-campus recruitment efforts for women and visible minorities. “But we weren’t recruiting people with disabilities. In fact, nobody was. And so we decided as a group to add disabilities to that recruiting process.”

That led to Lime Connect, a third-party recruitment organization he founded in 2006 that grew out of those efforts. They connected with other big names like PepsiCo, Google and Goldman Sachs. It’s also where Donovan learned a key lesson: “It’s not about numbers and quotas; it’s about people. And people have desires to be the best that they can be.”

Therein lies the problem with a lot of diversity and inclusion programs, he said. “They haven’t taken the time or the effort, or made the investment, to really understand how those dimensions impact their revenue formula. They haven’t started to build these changes in demand into their product mix, their R&D mix, their customer experience.”

Now, with Return on Disability, he’s leading the charge on a new way of approaching the conversation. “This is more about, how can we best serve our customers? How can we best delight our customers?” he said.

“And the way you do that is you deliver to them what they want.”

Building momentum

Donovan’s decision to start a business focused on that premise was a huge risk, especially since no one else was having those conversations ten years ago.

“When you take a risk like we did, leaving a pretty good job and building something that was totally out of left field at the time, you realize that not many people do that,” he said.

Inclusion Vanguard Award
We have honoured deserving recipients with the Inclusion Vanguard award annually, at our Top 100 Awards, since 2016.

That made winning the Inclusion Vanguard Award that much more meaningful, he added. It honours Canadian leaders, both male and female, who champion change and outstanding commitment to a broader diversity agenda within their organizations, clients and communities.

“At the end of the day, professionals don’t do things for awards; they do things for rewards. They do things for profit. They do things to better their business. But between today and the realization of the market, which could be ten years, you need some steps along the way to say yeah, you’re headed in the right direction.”

The award also signals that the conversation he started is becoming mainstream and reduces risk for others who want to follow his lead.

“It’s helpful for other companies to see this is something that you too can be successful at,” he said.

Building the future

Today, Return on Disability has 15 clients globally, ranging from multi-national banks to governments that embrace people with disabilities as valuable customers who drive growth and revenue.

Donovan’s also become an author, publishing Unleash Different last year, which chronicles his journey to Columbia Business School and beyond as a person living with a disability himself.

When he looks back on his accomplishments over the past 13 years, he’s encouraged by the change he’s seen… even if it’s slow-going.

“Organizations and brands are incredibly complex. They’re full of people with different needs, they’re full of corporate mechanisms that we navigate,” he said. “Change on this scale is a very difficult thing to do.”

He’s seen change pick up pace for those 1.7 billion people with disabilities worldwide and the people in their lives, in products like Google’s autonomous car, Amazon’s Alexa and even Disney characters that put accessibility first. He’s seen it in his own work and the work of his clients, too.

“We’ve proven our model and our work…Our clients have put packaging and commercial machinery and technology on shelves globally,” he said.

But there’s still work to do in the market – and he’s ready to do it. “We’re still talking 15 companies out of 5,000, and that doesn’t even include government. So the opportunity’s still there.”

To learn more about the Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award and our Top 100 Awards, visit our Top 100 page.

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden With Kyle J. Winters – CANFAR

Kyle J Winters – President & COO, Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research

by Brian G. Bachand

CANADIAN FOUNDATION FOR AIDS RESEARCH President & COO, Kyle J. Winters, is mission-driven, translating individual experience into inspirational, authentic strategy. Having spent three decades in some of Canada’s leading not-for-profit institutions as an institutional ambassador and leader in fund development, Kyle is now driving forward CANFAR’s mission raise awareness and fund research into all aspects of HIV infection and AIDS. Boyden’s Brian G. Bachand sat down with Kyle to talk leadership, team drivers and the value in amplifying individual voice.

BOYDEN: How has leading mission-based organizations influenced your leadership style?

KYLE: Every mission-based organization has 1,000+ stories behind it. There are 75,000 people right now in Canada who are living with HIV. I’ve spent time speaking to people who are affected by HIV and AIDS, who have lost loved ones, as well as researchers, funders and supporters. I’ve focused on understanding how the mission has affected individuals and capturing that to lead forward. My style is to listen more and be humble enough to understand that sometimes I don’t get it right the first time. We work as a team to ensure that we are able to communicate not as one singular voice but as a choir and that each of us has a perspective.

BOYDEN: You’ve spent nearly three decades in the NFP sector. What have you observed as changes and advancements towards diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

KYLE: Diversity used to be reflected in organizations by slapping on a rainbow sticker and thinking they’re covered. At times, it even meant diversity happened in June only [for Pride month]. Now, there is a calibre of institutions and organizations that realize diversity is an economic and societal driver by stating that different and disparate voices actually lead us to a better place.

BOYDEN: What can we do to help one another succeed towards true inclusion?

KYLE: It comes from caring that is true and honest. It cannot be “I care about diversity because I think everybody else cares.” Understanding that the potential influence of diverse perspectives can produce output is an intelligent perspective and position to take.

BOYDEN: How do you innovate and stay ahead of the game?

KYLE: It comes back to diversity. The three words that I love to hear are, “Have you considered?” I know then that there is going to be a fresh perspective that I haven’t considered yet. It takes an idea to a new level—innovative, advanced and enhanced societal inclusion. I rely on the input of my team and challenge them to ensure we’re ahead of the curve.

BOYDEN: How do you inspire and build trust within your team?

KYLE: One example is our weekly reflections. I’ll throw out a new idea and each person has the opportunity to reflect and contribute to the conversation. One week it might be to turn to someone else at the table and compliment them on something they do that makes the world a better place. Another week it will be brainstorm how we can solve a particular challenge by leaning on individual strengths.

BOYDEN: How much does diversity fit within CANFAR’s mission and leadership team?

KYLE: Every person on our team is expected to demonstrate leadership on a daily basis, so diversity here is very democratic. I can best describe it as an intersection of moving pieces represented by a robust blend of culture, thought, age, gender and sexual orientation. We support and elevate each other. For example, our entire team is marching in Pride Toronto. This is not due to sexual orientation—we’re marching together because we are part of the community and celebrate diversity.

BOYDEN: Any perspectives on how Canadian NFPs can innovate together?

KYLE: Organizations that share views and values have great potential to collaborate. The not-for-profit landscape in Canada could afford much more structure and formal collaboration. At CANFAR, we see ourselves as a piece of a puzzle and there are pieces out there that are complimentary. Collaborating would mean fewer pieces for that puzzle to come together and our donors would applaud that.

BOYDEN: How would you define the differentiators that have contributed to your success?

KYLE: Taking time to enjoy life. As a leader, I want others to understand that while I am rigorous about what I do and enjoy the good work accomplished, I also enjoy my life. I tend to laugh often and find joy at work.

BOYDEN: What advice would you give someone striving to lead?

KYLE: Any time my work is acknowledged, I share that recognition with all those who contributed. There’s a team of people working with me, volunteers who support us and thousands of donors. So don’t keep the spotlight for yourself—recognizing all of the people who contribute to the success shows true leadership.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

About the series:

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden is a feature series highlighting leadership, talent and diversity discussions with top leaders of today. The series focuses on topics and themes with a purpose to inspire women and our diverse community to lead. Talent Talks also appears on the Boyden website.


About the author:

Brian G. Bachand, Partner is part of Boyden’s Toronto team. A global leader in executive search for over 70 years, Boyden is committed to excellence in leadership and values diversity as an essential force towards achieving this commitment.

Twitter: @BbachandG @BoydenCanada

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden Featuring Maureen Jensen – Chair & CEO, Ontario Securities Commission

Maureen Jensen – Chair & CEO, Ontario Securities Commission 
by Jessa Chupik & Joanna Goncalves

THE ONTARIO SECURITIES COMMISSION Chair & CEO, Maureen Jensen, has taken on the challenge of regulating capital markets participants in an era erupting with disruptive technologies. She has navigated her career by rising through the ranks in mining, followed by a move into capital markets regulators. Now at the helm of the OSC, Maureen is driving diversity in the boardroom. Boyden’s Jessa Chupik and Joanna Goncalves sat down with Maureen to talk leadership and the power of diversity.

BOYDEN: How has your career path shaped your leadership style?

MAUREEN: I am very practical, which comes from my science background, and believe in staying informed. I surround myself with incredibly smart people who are intellectually curious. I lead by weighing their opinions, gathering information and then moving forward with an informed decision.

BOYDEN: How are you navigating the OSC through this disruptive time for industries?

MAUREEN: The financial services industry is in the midst of disruption. Our rule framework is based on face-to-face interaction with people. Now consumers increasingly prefer digital methods to getting things done. It’s not surprising to me that people who prefer to arrange a ride with an app or order products online, also would rather invest through a robo-advisor. Dealers want to deliver these faster, mobile services, but the current framework doesn’t always mesh with these emerging business models. This is one of those fundamental changes that has to take place, and we need to balance it so that investor protections are in place. We’re working directly with the FinTech community, specifically through our OSC LaunchPad program, to ensure that regulation is in step with innovation.

BOYDEN: OSC is well represented with a diverse management team and more than 50% women on its board. How does diversity, gender or otherwise, fit the OSC’s mission?

MAUREEN: Our mission is about fair, efficient markets and strong investor protection. To be able to balance so many interests, it’s important to understand different aspects of the business, consumer protection and the capital markets. The diversity initiative was started by our previous chair, Howard Wetston, who looked at this as a fairness issue. This was not about window dressing—this was about having different conversations at the boardroom table.

BOYDEN: Is one woman enough to add a diverse perspective in the boardroom?

MAUREEN: I know a lot of powerful women directors who have been the single voice. In that role, they widely advocate for what they think is the right thing, but their opinion is then perceived as the woman’s view instead of a board member’s view. As soon as you have two or more women, it becomes less about gender. It is about realizing equality amongst board members.

BOYDEN: What do you see as the tangible benefits of having a more diverse leadership team?

MAUREEN: Gender balance at a board level is critical for governance. Having different viewpoints at the table helps ensure you don’t end up with groupthink, which is a detrimental practice for any corporation, public or private. We need diversity to have well-managed companies, which is vital to our economy and vital to Canada’s future.

BOYDEN: Since the introduction of “Comply or Explain,” we have seen some incremental improvement in terms of the representation of women in executive officer and board roles within publicly listed companies. Are you satisfied with the progress so far?

MAUREEN: “Comply or Explain,” along with other proposed federal and provincial targets, are starting to move the needle, but progress is slow. While many of Canada’s largest companies understand the value and are making meaningful improvements in this area, there remain many public companies in Canada that really don’t see this as anything more than the securities commission meddling in their affairs. That is really quite unfortunate.

BOYDEN: What are the obstacles preventing greater representation of women in these critical roles?

MAUREEN: There are four things. Firstly is the low turnover on Canadian boards and that is the same globally. Secondly, there is a mind-set that collegiality trumps strong viewpoints and due process. The third thing is recruitment processes have typically looked at a very narrow group of people within small networks. Lastly, our view of leadership in Canada at the senior company level has always been so narrow, which makes the whole board pool quite small.

BOYDEN: What advice would you give someone striving to lead?

MAUREEN: Take some risks. If you want to serve on a board, understand how a board works. Every person has something special about their past and career they can bring to the discussion—it’s important to understand the unique value you bring. When it comes to rising in a company, nothing beats hard work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to recognize that. It’s important to know what drives you, make it visible and to surround yourself with people who will empower you for the value you bring.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

About the series:

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden is a feature series highlighting leadership, talent and diversity discussions with top leaders of today. The series focuses on topics and themes with a purpose to inspire women and our diverse community to lead. Talent Talks also appears on Boyden website.

About the authors:


Interviewers – Jessa Chupik & Joanna Goncalves

Jessa Chupik, Principal, Social Impact / Higher Education Practice, and Joanna Goncalves, National Director of Marketing and Client Experience, are part of Boyden’s Toronto team. A global leader in executive search for over 70 years, Boyden is committed to excellence in leadership and values diversity as an essential force towards achieving this commitment.

Twitter: @humanehr @Joanna_mbg @BoydenCanada

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden Featuring Janet Kennedy – President, Microsoft Canada

MICROSOFT CANADA’S PRESIDENT, Janet Kennedy, has led the remarkable transformation of the organization from a PC—centric business to a cloud solutions and innovation leader. Declaring diversity in technology as a personal passion and fostering a learning, ever-evolving culture, Microsoft Canada has become a diversity champion and innovation hub under Janet’s stewardship. Boyden’s Ian Collyer and Joanna Goncalves sat down with Janet to talk leadership, diversity, talent, and how she works to ensure women in tech are on the rise.


BOYDEN: Technology and innovation are clearly passions of yours.  How much has that led you throughout your career?

JANET: You’re lucky when you find a job that you actually have passion for. I’ve been in the industry 30 years now and I lived through what I consider the three biggest eras—from when Bill Gates declared everyone would have a PC at every desk and in every home, then the Internet exploded, and now mobile apps and the transformation of the Cloud. It’s been a lot fun and I’ve learned it’s not just about the company—it’s about the culture.

BOYDEN: What factors would you say have contributed to your leadership style?

JANET: My parents, both teachers, believed education was everything. That was part of my culture and shaped me to always continue to learn. That is especially true in this industry. Since coming to Microsoft Canada and moving to Toronto, I think I have grown as a leader for so many reasons—especially because of the way Canada really embraces diversity.

BOYDEN: Microsoft is involved with a range of new disruptive technologies in what is a fast- changing market with many new competitors. How do you ensure your organization is ready and nimble enough to tackle these new opportunities?

JANET: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been widely quoted saying “we don’t want to be the know it all culture, we want to be the learn it all culture”. That actually is what it is like to work here. Not only do you always have to be learning new things, you also need to show that you can handle the pace of change. Part of it is to recruit and hire people who love to learn and are very open to change. Another part of it is our culture of learning.

BOYDEN: Microsoft Canada’s leadership team is an outstanding example of gender diversity75% are women! How does diversity fit into the organization’s vision and strategy?

JANET: I’m very proud to lead such a diverse leadership team. I believe that when you see it top-down, that is when we really live it. Everyone here is truly passionate about diversity internally but also for Canada and that is why we lead the way with programs such as Ladies Learning Code, Hour of Code, YouthSpark Programs, and DigiGirlz Camp. I’m so very proud to say Microsoft was honoured by Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) with the Company of the Year Award, which recognizes organizations for being a leader in diversity and women’s advancement.

BOYDEN: As a tech leader with 30 years’ experience across North America, what have you observed in Canadian tech talent and, more specifically, for women in technology?

JANET: As a sector we are still nowhere near where we should be—52% of women graduate from Canadian universities yet we are at 28% of women in technology. We have made some progress but the pace of our progress is not acceptable. By 2019, 172,000 jobs of will go unfilled because we have a gap in tech skills.  Research shows girls are just as enthusiastic about tech as boys until about middle school. That’s why we put so much effort into these programs to involve young women, encourage technology as a career, and demonstrate that in today’s world, everything is tech.

BOYDEN: What can leaders do today to move towards greater diversity and inclusion?

JANET: Making sure you always have a diverse team doing the recruiting, which will help contribute to more diverse hiring. As for inclusion, once you hire women, you need to keep them and encourage their best work. One way of doing that is a flexible workplace. Overall, you have to figure out a way that works for a woman and her family.

BOYDEN: What launched your career in technology?

JANET: I was good at math and was planning to be an accountant until someone at my university encouraged me to go for it and take engineering. So because someone took the time in my 20’s to tell me that that would be a good opportunity, I’m here today. Along the way I’ve had some pretty amazing sponsors that helped me understand what is possible. That’s what you need when you’re young.

BOYDEN: What advice would you give someone striving to lead?

JANET: You get noticed when you do good work but from there you need to raise your hand, tell people what it is that you want, and what you are willing to do. And then go for it!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

About the series:

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden is a feature series highlighting leadership, talent and diversity discussions with top leaders of today. The series focuses on topics and themes with a purpose to inspire women and our diverse community to lead. Talent Talks also appears on Boyden website.

About the authors:


Interviewers – Ian Collyer & Joanna Goncalves

Ian Collyer, Partner, Global Technology Practice, and Joanna Goncalves, National Director of Marketing and Client Experience, are part of Boyden’s Toronto team.  A global leader in executive search for over 70 years, Boyden is committed to excellence in leadership and values diversity as an essential force towards achieving this commitment.

Twitter: @icollyer22  @Joanna_mbg @BoydenCanada

Ladies in the Lead: Global TV Creates New Series with All-Female Team of Writers, Directors and Producers

The spotlight is shining on diversity and inclusion in the North American film industry and though we’re not where we should be in gender equality—Natalie Portman recently admitting that Ashton Kutcher made three times more than she did in No Strings Attached—there have been steps in the right direction. Ashton Kutcher backing Natalie’s choice to speak out, putting a focus on men to help close the gap, is one example. Another, is the recent collaboration of an all-female team of Canadian film industry talent to write, cast and direct the upcoming Global TV series, Mary Kills People.

The controversial drama follows the story of Dr. Mary Harris (played by Montreal-native, Caroline Dhavernas), a single mother and ER doctor living a double life helping terminally ill patients with assisted deaths. She works outside of the boundaries of the law, so that her patients can go out on their own terms.

It’s not the first time a team of women came together to create incredible TV, but it was important for the executives at Corus Entertainment and Global to put not just the right people, but the right women, in the roles to make this show truly come to life.

Watch the Ladies in the Lead Featurette


Lisa Godfrey, VP of Original Content at Corus Entertainment says:

“When we first read the Mary Kills People script we were blown away – it was nothing we had seen before and we immediately greenlit the series. We saw this as an ‘event series’ – an original show – something that Global had never done before. The marketplace is very crowded, so we did something very different and unexpected by bringing what felt like a premium cable drama to Global.

What we loved was the unique voice and vision that the Creator, Tara Armstrong brought to the project. Right from the get-go, we felt this was a strong female-lead drama that deserved a strong female team. Together with eOne, we committed to pairing Tara with the best in the business, so we knew Tassie Cameron was the perfect partner & mentor for the project and Holly Dale, the perfect Director. From the top down, in front of the camera and behind it, we also added a strong female writing room and creative expertise in many other key creative and business roles.

As a company, Corus has been leading the charge on ensuring our productions are well represented with strong diversity and we will continue to commit to foster production teams that embrace this approach.”

According to a 40-page report prepared for the Canadian Unions for Equality on Screen by Dr. Amanda Coles, a Canadian scholar in cultural management, women make up less than 20% of all directors in Canadian film. This stat is echoed by a 2015 study titled Women in View on Screen by Rina Fraticelli.

According to Fraticelli, in front of the camera, women are also severely under-represented, with only 36% of leading roles occupied by women when a man is in the director’s chair. When a woman takes the chair that number jumps to 55%.

The good news is the stats are climbing as female talent in Canadian film and TV are stepping into the spotlight.

The six-episode series premieres Wednesday, January 25th at 9pm ET/PT on Global TV and you can catch the first five minutes of the show, here: