Leyland Cecco, The Guardian, February 12, 2021
Institutions around the world are keenly aware that it is important not only to increase diversity and inclusion – but to do so in a transparent and public way.
Which is probably why Canada’s new chief of defence staff made a proud statement this week about recent discussions at the highest levels of the country’s armed forces.
“Conversations on diversity, inclusion, and culture change are not incompatible with our thirst for operational excellence. I count on my senior leaders to champion culture change,” admiral Art McDonald, recently wrote on Twitter. “Diversity makes us stronger, inclusion improves our institution.”
Unfortunately, that stirring message was somewhat undercut by the accompanying photograph of the meeting – which showed eight white men sitting round a table.
One white woman – and another white man – were just visible on a screen showing remote participants.
The post, meant to be a nod to the military’s efforts to address its shortcomings, instead went viral for all the wrong reasons.
“Are you speaking of the diversity of hiring men with varying degrees of hair loss?” tweeted comedian Rob Gill.
“Those white guys are really diverse. Some of them don’t have hair. One of them hates cilantro,” tweeted another user.
Others poked fun at the vague, confusing “soldier speak” of the tweet.
“We may have our differences but we can all agree that we are thirsty for operational excellence. Positively parched from a lack of operational excellence. Feeling dehydrated after chatting about diversity,” wrote journalist Vicky Mochama.
As criticism and mockery piled up, McDonald, who filled the senior military role less than a month ago, later posted an apology.
“I hear your comments and I take them to heart. It’s true: the leadership … is, and historically has been, predominantly male and white. That needs to change,” he wrote. “We need to reflect Canada’s diversity at all levels. We must work to eliminate systemic racism & dismantle the barriers to career advancement that exist. We are there in mindset but know there is still a lot of work to do, and we are committed to doing it”
Canada’s defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, pointed out in a statement that the country continues to grapple with “the legacy of systemic racism, discrimination and lack of inclusion”.
“Although defence leadership is committed to increasing diversity in our ranks, mistakes like this show that unintentional bias still exists,” he wrote.