Why empowerment takes many forms for the Hon. Dr. Jean Augustine

You might recognize the Honourable Dr. Jean Augustine as the first African-Canadian woman elected to the House of Commons; a former MP for 13 years; the Minister of State Multiculturalism and Status of Women Canada; a school principal with two public schools named after her; the driving force behind the placing of the Famous Five statue on Parliament Hill.

And if you’ve been following WXN’s Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 announcements, you’ll know her as this year’s Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award Winner, too.

We could go on, really. Her accomplishments are as numerous as they are impressive. But if there’s one thread that winds through them, it’s one of empowering others. It’s just taken many different forms throughout the years.

Augustine the educator

Growing up in Happy Hill, Grenada through the 1940s, Augustine knew early on that she wanted to teach. In fact, teaching was her first job. So when she immigrated to Canada in 1960 to become a nanny, she was already qualified in education – but still had a journey ahead of her.

Education remained her focus early on in her career. She completed her education at Toronto Teachers College and earned her bachelor of arts at the University of Toronto. And while earning her masters of education, she taught elementary school with the Metropolitan Separate School Board in Toronto.

In the coming years, she rose from teacher to principal. Still, she never forgot her roots – or the kids she taught. “When I walk the streets and meet young people who I taught and who remember what I taught them, I feel I have made some contribution to their lives,” she told the National Post. “I feel that’s a really big achievement.”

Augustine’s now at 82 has never stopped teaching. She has two schools in her name. She continues her work with the Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment, where girls age seven to 17 learn everything from self-confidence and leadership skills to martial arts and yoga. York University’s Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora aims to advance access, equity and inclusivity in education.

Augustine the activist

After arriving in Toronto, Augustine noticed there was work to do. “There were so many things that I saw that needed activism, especially because I was an immigrant, black, Catholic woman,” she told the National Post. “Sometimes I was the only black face in the room or the only woman.”

She became active in Toronto’s Caribbean community, serving on the committee that organized the first Caribana festival in 1967. She founded the Toronto chapter of the Congress of Black Women of Canada (later becoming the organization’s national president). And she did all of that while volunteering with grassroots organizations fighting for women’s rights and combating violence against women, drug abuse and poverty.

She also spent time as the chair of the Metro Toronto Housing Authority where she provided leadership to people living in difficult housing situations.

Noted for her leadership in her community, government leaders approached her for help on important issues like the development and launch of Canada’s multiculturalism policy and training teachers in diversity and equity.

Augustine the politician

On Oct. 25, 1993, Augustine did something no African-Canadian woman had ever done: she won a seat in the Parliament of Canada.

Her work in her community and her activity in the Liberal Party put her on the radar of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who nominated her for a place in the coming election. Her stunning victory came at a time when her riding was less than one per cent African
Canadian.

In office, Augustine kept her activism going, championing a historic motion designating February as Black History Month in Canada and the Famous Five statue on Parliament Hill that honours five Alberta women who fought so that women could be considered “persons” under the law.

Before leaving her position as MP in 2006, she had served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Minister and Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, Chair of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee, Chair of the National Women’s Caucus, and in her final year, Assistant Deputy Speaker.

After leaving Parliament, Augustine did one last tour of duty as the first Fairness Commissioner in Ontario, where she set new standards for regulatory bodies on conditions for foreign-trained professionals. She stepped down in 2015.

Augustine the award winner

This year, Augustine added the Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award to her list of distinctions – and she was honoured to do so, she told the National Post.

“I’m deeply honoured that I was selected, simply because diversity and inclusion has been my life’s work,” she said.

The Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award resonated with the firm’s values and commitment to offering an inclusive environment where all people have a strong sense of belonging, can be their authentic selves, and have equal access to opportunities.

The Inclusion Vanguard award recognizes a leader, male or female, who has made a profound, thoughtful and measurable impact on diversity; who champions others; who betters the experience in the community around them. Through her work here in Canada, Augustine has done just that.

 

This award joins other accomplishments she has earned: the Order of Canada, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, seven honorary doctorates, and her appointment as Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her work in education and politics, to name a few.

Still, her work isn’t quite done yet. As she said in a response to a Speech from the Throne on Feb. 5, 2004, “I am living proof that we live in an open and inclusive society. But as long as people express that they have experienced racism and discrimination, we still have work to do.

“I am confident that the action we have already taken will benefit many generations after us. We must continue to act.”

To learn more about Jean Augustine, and our 2019 Top 100 Winners, visit our Top 100 winners page.

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.