Ascend Canada Conference 2020 from the Lens of a New Canadian

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Gunjan Kafil, Ascend member

By Gunjan Kafil

On the historic day that Prime Minister Trudeau announced border closure with the US, my husband and I dashed off from Texas to Toronto covering 2,300 km of straight drive in just three days. We had to abandon our year-long pan-American sabbatical due to COVID-19 and return to safety and our new home – Canada. Our first day back in Ontario was also the start of a state of emergency in the province. Moving to a new country is hard, but moving to a new country at the onset of a pandemic is even harder. With little social equity in this thriving metropolis and a total lockdown on social gatherings, building a support system was far from easy.

But, through a friend, I got an opportunity to hear from impactful change-makers in Corporate Canada at the recent ASCEND Canada Annual Conference. What I loved most about the Conference was the well thought out program agenda. The topics ranged from the mindset of personal growth to the importance of mentorship and the value of sponsorship– covering growth personally, socially and environmentally.

Over three days, the strong line-up of eloquent speakers explored how we can identify, manage and manoeuvre catalysts of growth. Armughan Ahmad, President & Managing Partner, Digital at KPMG, and Rola Dagher, Global Channel Chief, Dell Technologies, shared the virtual stage and gave a master class in mentorship, humbly telling stories about how they learn from each other constantly. Armughan dispelled the myth that growth can thrive in comfort. He advocated that we need to learn to be comfortable in discomfort if we truly want to conquer new frontiers. Along the same lines, Rola, a long-time mentee of Armughan, spoke about the need to consistently “earn, learn and return.” It’s not enough we climb the corporate ladder; we need to send the elevator down to bring more people up.

If there is one thing we have learnt from nature, it is that we are more closely interconnected than we fully understand. Likewise, growth does not happen in isolation – we grow only when things around us grow too. For this growth to be sustainable, we need to grow as a team – a team that is fully reflective of the diversity that makes Canada so unique. The Ascend Canada conference 2020 was all about this growth journey to “connect, learn and unleash potential” and provided many actionable tips on personal branding, self-advocacy and mindfulness.

In the closing session, Raj Viswanathan, Group Head and Chief Financial Officer at Scotiabank said, “Immigrants are the most successful agents of change.” He argued that immigrants have done it at least once by uprooting themselves and can bring great skills in organizational and social change.

As Canada begins to reap the fruits of its immigration system overhaul through Express Entry, has it created sufficient infrastructure to successfully integrate and assimilate these highly skilled and trained immigrants? According to a recent report from Statistics Canada, the employment rate of immigrants stands at 78.9% compared to 84% for Canadian-born individuals. What is worth noting here is that only 35% of the immigrant employment increase was attributable to very recent immigrants (in Canada for 5 years of less).

Looking at the numbers, we know there is a gap, one that needs to be bridged for our collective progress. Now is the perfect time to fuel the ongoing dialogue on diversity and inclusion. It is not enough to have representation alone; we need to bring our diverse team members to the table where decisions are made and ensure that we listen. The call of the hour is the active allyship and advocacy for our peers in other visible minorities to progress as a community and a country.

I recently read this piece that sheds some light on how the Canadian job market marginalizes newcomer talent. As a newcomer and someone who is invested in Canada’s future, it is time we address the moose in the room 🙂