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.

The Next Diversity Challenge: Embracing Our Natural Leadership Styles

Melanie Dunn portraitWXN’s mantra is ‘celebrate differences’ and ‘lead inclusively.’ I think both of those directives are important when it comes to inspiring the people around you.

It’s an honour to be named to WXN’s Top 100 Most powerful women in Canada list and be part of an outstanding group of leaders in their fields.

All of us have overcome challenges throughout our careers, some of which are inherent to business and some of which are gender-specific. Staying true to my leadership style has not always been easy. I’m fortunate to have been 19 years with a company that has created a business environment where women can stay true to their values.

But more broadly, I would say that despite advancements, a very stereotyped image of leadership remains. By default we tend to celebrate some leadership styles over others. Women are still encouraged to be more assertive, more confident in the boardroom, willing to take more risks and make stronger decisions. In other words, the traditional characteristics of a male C-suite executive.

But I believe that is changing.

The catalyst is that with the way the world is now, we are losing a bit of our humanity. We are going to be progressively open to a whole new kind of leadership, and I think the skills we tend to align with women more than men are going to change in value. Things like empathy, collaboration and generosity: these will no longer be a ‘nice to have’ but a must have.

Women receive a lot of advice on how to succeed in business. I would argue that instead, we should be giving advice to business on how to attract women to the workforce, and start building an environment where women can be themselves. After all, this is what diversity means. If we do the same things in the same ways and have the same behaviours, then diversity is mute.

Years ago one of my account leaders returned to the office after having a manicure with a client and she felt very awkward telling me. Like it was more of a confession than sharing a successful client experience with the boss. I said to her, “Why are you embarrassed? Do you play golf? No. Just think of the manicure as a round of golf.” The light went on.

This is a small story, but it illustrates the broader point that there are legacy codes of how to be in business that don’t work for everyone. Women can be trailblazers in many ways; not just in continuing to push against the traditional means of excluding women from leadership ranks, but also in redefining what we value in leaders overall.

This year, my status as WXN winner will reinforce the goals of ‘celebrating differences’ and ‘leading inclusively,’ that have always guided me professionally. It’s important to see other people’s views, to embrace a diversity of approaches and responses and to encourage people to be wholly themselves. It is on our shoulders to create a world that truly values the idea that there are as many ways to be successful in business as there are leaders in business.

We’re very proud that Melanie is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the HSBC Corporate Executives Category. 

Do you know a female in Canada who deserves to be recognized for her contributions? Click here to learn more about our Top 100 Nominations and how to nominate yourself or someone else. It’s free!


About Melanie:

Melanie Dunn is the Global President and CEO of Cossette.

Dunn, Melanie portrait

2018 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
HSBC Corporate Executives

A highly accomplished businesswoman, Melanie has over 20 years of experience in business management and marketing communications. She is the President and CEO of Cossette and a member of the executive management team of Vision7 International, a holding company with an extensive portfolio of Communications firms in North America, Europe and Asia.

Melanie is actively involved in several professional and community organizations. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Canada Post Corporation and the Health Standards Organization (HSO). She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation.

Melanie has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and a Marketing Certificate from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).


Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden – Dr. Catherine Zahn – President & CEO, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

CENTRE FOR ADDICTION AND MENTAL HEALTH (@CAMHnews) President & CEO, Dr. Catherine Zahn (@CatherineZahn), is at the core of healthcare leadership in Canada. Not immune to feeling discrimination along her own path, Catherine is a strong advocate for mentorship and inclusion, challenges the status quo, and envisions a future where leadership reflects the populations they serve. Her support in the advancement of women in healthcare is reflected in the conscious steps she takes towards removing these barriers. Boyden’s Brian G. Bachand sat down with Catherine to talk career drivers, leadership, and the diversity challenges that continue to face us today.


BOYDEN: How have your personal passions guided and impacted you throughout your career?

CATHERINE: I’ve had a passion for helping people that dates back to my first job as a nurse’s aide. I find that being a caregiver has been a crucial factor for my success in healthcare leadership. Down the line, the transition into leadership roles was rather intuitive. As a neurologist, I could only help a handful of patients a day however, in a leadership position in neurology, neuroscience or mental health I can create the conditions that support others to help so many more. It becomes very engaging to find that you have the strength and wherewithal to do that. Although I’m in a leadership role, in my heart I’m a physician.

BOYDEN: How do you feel that translates into your leadership style?

CATHERINE: I hope to be known for how I mentor people into leadership positions. I use skills that other mentors have taught me. One of my favourite mentors once told me that to accomplish something as a leader, you have to be able to describe your vision and you have to speak to values that are greater than your own self interest. I’ve since added to that message – to know your own values and principles and never go off-brand. If you lead from principles and base them on your values and vision, your decisions will be unassailable.

BOYDEN: Talent engagement is critical to achieving success.  How do you achieve that?

CATHERINE: My ideal team is a group of people who are able to take risks and have a bias towards action, yet at the same time, work interdependent as a team. So I seek people who are highly adept or have great potential. I try to make my expectations clear. When it comes to team development, I try to be aware of where people are at in their career trajectory. I strongly believe if you’re able to maintain your curiosity of the world, you maintain your creativity, so I try to mentor people with that in mind. I’m open to the possibility that my team members have skills and experiences that I don’t have – and I appreciate receiving mentorship from them.

BOYDEN: There is more attention to diversity today but we are still far from where we should be. From your observations, what does diversity look like within healthcare? 

CATHERINE: There are groups of individuals in our society that don’t benefit from the miracles of modern science and this I know from experience. It’s important to appreciate the issue of intersectionality too. Being a woman who is a member of another disadvantaged population – for example someone with African-Caribbean heritage, or a member of the LGBTQ community – can have a much more difficult experience. I’m learning to be alert to that and work with members of these communities to correct it.

BOYDEN: How does diversity, gender or otherwise, fit within your hiring strategy? 

CATHERINE: I am in favour of setting targets and making it a priority as we want our staff and leadership to reflect the population that we serve. We are not there but it is very much in my consciousness as I strive to understand how to make our diverse organization equitable and inclusive. I’m extremely vocal in environments where we hear “We can’t just hire for diversity, we want the best people.” I counter with: “If you want the best people, why would you eliminate most of the population from consideration?”

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

CATHERINE: I think we talk about change incorrectly – we start out by saying change is so hard and in doing so we make people resistant. This influences the idea that there is an option not to change and that’s not the case. We can be inspired by change. In today’s world, what’s intriguing to me about women in leadership is that it’s clearly not about lack of skilled, experienced and competent people – after all, women are a visible majority. It’s always about maintaining power. People make assumptions about you based on your sex and have schemas about gender so, in short, the obstacle is sexism. The argument that you can’t find a woman who is strong enough or smart enough – or who wants to do the job – is simply bogus.

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

CATHERINE: Make your big vision simple and clear and talk about how it challenges the status quo. Be sure to home in on those characteristics that are valued in leadership.  To me, the most important leadership characteristics are self-awareness and self-control; good communication skills; and curiosity. Communication is so important. You must be able to present yourself intelligently, listen to people, and make meaningful and logical connections in your responses. Some of this you’re born with, some of it you learn.

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

Women’s Executive Chief Calls For Diversity to be a Government Priority

Canadian experience shows that progress on diversity too slow, even with Government support

Annalise Murphy, Sharon Horgan, Marissa Carter, Lucy Gaffney, Carolan Lennon, Marguerite Sayers, Sharon Donnery and Iseult Ward named some of WXN’s ‘Ireland’s Most Powerful Women: Top 25’

Today, 25 of Ireland’s most influential and successful women will be acknowledged for their achievements by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN).

Winners on this list include: Olympian Annalise Murphy; CEO of Leicester City Football Club, Susan Whelan; International Screenwriter, Actress and Producer Sharon Horgan; Founder and Chief Executive of Cocoa Brown, Marissa Carter; Chairperson of Communicorp, Lucy Gaffney; Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, Sharon Donnery; CEO of Beats Medical, Dr Ciara Clancy; and Co-Founder of FoodCloud, a not-for-profit social enterprise, Iseult Ward.

“Despite hosting Ireland’s Most Powerful Women: Top 25, recognising the success of women is just not enough to cause an increase in diverse representation at board levels in Irish business,” said Sherri Stevens, CEO, WXN.

“Our experience in Canada shows that even with a government-backed call for increased diversity on corporate boards, progress has been too slow.  Today, we’re still seeing representation rise by only 1-2% each year, leaving us nowhere near the national target of 30 per cent.”

She continued: “Ireland has no hope of improving its ratios without Government backing.  At present 12% of ISEQ board directors are women, with no available figures demonstrating LGBTQ, minority or disability representation.  20 of the 50 listed ISEQ companies have no female board representation.  That’s just not good enough and shows there is no real commitment to change at the highest levels of Irish business”.

“Ireland’s new Taoiseach must get behind the diversity cause and put Government resource and commitment into it,” Ms Stevens concluded.

For further media information please contact:

Catherine Logan /// 086 811 4785 /// catherine@stratcom.ie

Laura Egan /// 086 081 7778/// laura@stratcom.ie



WXN creates a list of Winners through research and the counsel of the WXN Advisory Board. Ireland’s Most Powerful Women: Top 25 Award Winners are in the following categories:

Business Leaders Award

This category recognises eleven women who hold the most senior positions in Ireland’s largest companies.

WXN creates a short list of Nominees through broad research, including research of the Top 40 companies by turnover and employee numbers as defined by the Irish Times Top 1000 companies of 2016.

  • Catherine Duffy, First Female Chair, A&L Goodbody
  • Louise Foody, Global Marketing Director, Kingspan
  • Lucy Gaffney, Chairperson, Communicorp
  • Aisling Hassell, Global Head of CX, Airbnb
  • Carolan Lennon, Managing Director, open eir
  • Catherine Moroney, Head of Business Banking, AIB
  • Dr Nuala Murphy, President, Icon Clinical Services, Icon plc
  • Dr Grainne Quinn, Chief Medical Officer & EVP, Perrigo Company
  • Marguerite Sayers, Managing Director, ESB Networks Ireland
  • Julie Sharp, Head of Group HR, Bank of Ireland
  • Susan Whelan, CEO, Leicester City Football Club 

Entrepreneurs Award

This category recognises three women who own and run some of Ireland’s largest independent companies. Nominees must actively manage the daily affairs and own at least 20% of the shares of the company if it is private or at least 5% of the shares of a publicly-traded company.

  • Marissa Carter, Founder, Cocoa Brown
  • Alison Cowzer, Co-Founder, East Coast Bakehouse
  • Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, Founder, Sugru 

Public Sector Leaders Award

This category recognises four women who hold senior positions and are making an impact on the public sector in Ireland and/or Europe.  Winners cannot currently be elected by the voting public and must be Irish but do not have to be based in Ireland.

  • Eileen Creedon, Chief State Solicitor (up to 18th June, 2017, who is now subsequently being sworn in as a High Court Judge)
  • Sharon Donnery, Deputy Governor (Central Banking), Central Bank of Ireland
  • Dee Forbes, Director General, RTE
  • Justice Siofra O’Leary, European Court of Human Rights

Trailblazers Award

This category recognises three women who have ignored boundaries and burst through barriers.  Each Winner is the first or only Irish woman to achieve such a notable accomplishment.   Winners may have furthered the cause of other women through their work, or they may have established a precedent for others to follow.

  • Danni Barry, Ireland’s only female Michelin-starred chef
  • Professor Lydia Lynch, Associate Professor, Trinity College Dublin; Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School
  • Iseult Ward, Co-Founder, FoodCloud

Arts, Sport and Entertainment

This category recognises three women who have added to the recognition and reputation of Ireland through art, music, literature, broadcasting, journalism, film, the performing arts or sport.

  • Selina Cartmell, Director, The Gate Theatre
  • Sharon Horgan, International Screenwriter and Actress
  • Annalise Murphy, Olympian

Future Leaders

This category acknowledges Women under 30 years of age who have successfully started their own business. Nominees will be assessed on their company turnover and number of people employed, plus the scalability and future potential to grow.  Overall originality and innovation will also be considered.

  • Dr Ciara Clancy, CEO, Beats Medical


Winners are introduced to the Hall of Fame upon receiving their third Award.  This allows new future leaders to emerge in subsequent years, while still recognising and honouring the achievements of these great women.

  • Bronwyn Brophy VP, Early Technologies, Medtronic, EMEA
  • Sharon Buckley, Commercial Director, Musgrave
  • Caroline Keeling, CEO, Keelings
  • Rosaleen Burke, MSVP Quality, Boston Scientific Endoscopy, Urology and Pelvic Health, Global Sterilization and Distribution
  • Siobhan Talbot, CEO, Glanbia plc


The Women’s Executive Network (WXN) is an innovative networking, mentoring, professional and personal development organisation which informs, inspires, connects and recognises its global community of more than 22,000 women, men and their organizations.

WXN enables its partners and corporate members to become and to be recognised as employers of choice and leaders in the advancement of women. It hosts Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards and Ireland’s Most Powerful Women: Top 25 Awards.

Founded in 1997, in Canada, WXN became Canada’s leading organisation dedicated to the advancement and recognition of women in management, executive, professional and board roles.

In 2008, WXN launched in Ireland, followed by London, UK in 2015, creating an international community of female leaders.

WXN is a Founding Member of the Canadian Board Diversity Council, dedicated to increasing the diversity of Canada’s corporate boards.

About The Awards – Ireland’s Most Powerful Women: Top 25:

Every year the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) identifies and celebrates the outstanding work of 25 Irish women.  These are women who, by their success, encourage others to follow, be ambitious and to succeed.

To mark this year’s awards, WXN is hosting two events: A Leadership Summit which is an afternoon of professional learning for members of the network; and an Awards Dinner during which the winners receive their awards.  Together, more than 650 senior professionals will attend the two events.

Talent Talks with Boyden Featuring Robert J. Deluce, President & CEO of Porter Airlines

by Brian G. Bachand & Kevin Gormely

WXN and Boyden Talent Talks 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.

PORTER AIRLINES PRESIDENT AND CEO, Robert J. Deluce, credits exceptional customer service through a dedicated team as critical to being one of Canada’s great success stories. With a vision to bring back features from the golden age of air travel, Robert’s mission was to enhance the traveller’s experience in every aspect. Game changers in their own right, Porter now leads an initiative to bridge the diversity gap in the industry. Boyden partners, Brian G. Bachand and Kevin Gormely, sat down with Robert to talk leadership, diversity, talent, and how Porter is expanding as a global player.

BOYDEN: Porter recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Over that period, Porter has become known as one of the most innovative airlines in the industry. What was your vision and how has it been realized?

ROBERT: Ten years has gone by very quickly. We set out to change the way airlines were regarded and how aviation was viewed. To some extent, we wanted to bring it back to a point where passengers looked forward to travelling. It has taken a lot of attention to detail and it’s been a lot of fun. We now have 1,400 team members and everyone has played a role. As CEO, you have to be mindful of all aspects of business and detail, but it is not something you can do by yourself. It requires everyone’s involvement as a team.

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

ROBERT: We built the airline with the idea of speed, convenience and service, but today more than anything the service aspect of the business is what really defines us. Everything we do is designed to enhance the travel experience. The lounges and amenities on board are a throwback to earlier times, while also using technology to further enhance the passenger experience. Certainly all of these things, including our unique location at Billy Bishop Airport, work in tandem to give passengers a sense of value.

BOYDEN: How does this translate into your leadership style?

ROBERT: I like to get out on aircraft and go to airports. I like to meet and greet passengers and our own team members. We established some core values here that we all live by: everybody being valued as a person. Having a passion for it as well. What makes you get up, stay late and follow-up? At the end of day, you really shouldn’t be in anything you’re not passionate about.

BOYDEN: This is a tough competitive business. Political challenges, regulatory hurdles, talent management. What do you think drives your team?

ROBERT: You come to realize, no matter what happens, you have to have a really good team on board. You need everyone to have a clear understanding of how they positively contribute. Today is a sunny day, but a day of heavy snow or some other irregularity will happen. We are remembered for how we treat people when they miss a flight or their journey is disrupted by some other issue. Ensuring your team is empowered to do what has to be done is critical—treating people with respect and dignity is key to our culture and our success. We are essentially a customer service organization and if you don’t have happy satisfied customers, you don’t have much going for you.

BOYDEN: What is unique in the Canadian market for leadership diversity within transportation/aviation?

ROBERT: The aviation industry in general lags behind others. It is an industry that has been male dominated, particularly in certain segments. While this has changed over time, it was pretty much accepted in the past that pilots were male and flight attendants were female. We have put a lot of attention toward making sure that we make progress. Our “Women Soar at Porter” program was established to bridge that gap in all aspects –pilots, aviation engineers, senior management and the board of directors. Do we have more work to do? Absolutely. The key is ensuring you get right back to grass-roots, bringing awareness of the industry and its value as a career option.

BOYDEN: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

ROBERT: My father always said: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you apply that in customer service, there isn’t any situation you find yourself in that can’t be dealt with using this core principle. Another would be building credibility, as a corporation and as an individual. Being good to your word and following through. That is pretty fundamental to success.

BOYDEN: Porter recently announced a new partnership with Emirates. Looking ahead, what can we anticipate to hear more about from Porter?

ROBERT: Yes, we have select key partnerships with companies that share our culture and core values and expand options for our customers. We are also working on concepts such as U.S. customs pre-clearance at Billy Bishop Airport. All this will enable us to offer more to our customers. We feel honoured to be in the top 10 international airlines for Condé Nast Traveller and Travel + Leisure, but it’s humbling at the same time because hard work got us here and we need to continue working at it.


This interview has been edited and condensed. It also appears on www.boyden.com.

Brian G. Bachand, Partner and Kevin Gormely, Managing Partner, are part of the 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 @kgormely @BoydenCanada