Martine St-Victor: MLB home run holds lessons for rest of us

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We must remain vigilant against efforts to roll back the progress made in recent years on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

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I don’t follow Major League Baseball games. But I like the business of baseball and enjoy the history of the sport — particularly since last month, when MLB finally incorporated the statistics of the Negro Leagues, consequently making baseball’s record books more accurate.

The Negro Leagues came to be in response to the MLB’s exclusion of Black players in the 1900s. When baseball legend Jackie Robinson donned the uniform of an integrated team after playing in a Negro league — the first Black player to do so — the jersey had “Montreal” stitched on it.

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With the integration of statistics from the seven Negro Leagues, the MLB is not rewriting history. Rather, it’s acknowledging previously ignored history. And with that, Major League Baseball is bucking a worrisome trend: the erasure of progress.

In Montreal last April, I moderated a panel called Diversity and Performance: Redefining Canada’s Investment Landscape at the Canadian Club of Montreal. The three panellists hailed from leadership in business. Years ago, Annick Charbonneau launched Accelia Capital, a venture fund whose mission is to invest in innovative companies owned or led by women. Jean Vincent has devoted his career to developing financial tools adapted to the specific needs of entrepreneurs from First Nations. And Will Théagène, an expert in investments and founder of Citadelle Capital, focuses on eliminating inequalities and raising funds for businesses owned by members of diverse communities.

One of my most pressing questions to Charbonneau, Vincent and Théagène was simple: “What worries you?” Their answer was unanimous: the possibility of a halt to the progress seen since the social reckoning of 2020.

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Their worry is also mine. And with reason. DEI programs have been attacked in numerous opinion articles in various Quebec and Montreal newspapers. Here, as in the rest of Canada, there has been a knee-jerk reaction to the initials for diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as a backlash to implementation of such policies by various organizations. Often absent from these opinion pieces about what they deem unfair is nuance and the context that DEI exists to correct systemic (not systematic) imbalances in hiring and promotion practices of qualified people from diverse backgrounds, for example.

These types of attacks echo some of the unravelling happening in the United States.

In Texas, for example, a new law prohibits, in part, mandatory diversity training. Several large companies across the U.S. have eliminated diversity, equity and inclusion positions. I find it even more troubling, as it was recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, that DEI objectives are disappearing from the annual reports of some of these large companies. Gone are the promises that DEI measures were a business priority and a moral imperative. The problem with the absence of written targets focused on representation in the workforce and in management is that it makes it difficult to keep tabs and hold companies accountable.

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Targets are important, which we understand in Quebec. In its act respecting the governance of state-owned enterprises, the government of Quebec stipulates that the number of women on boards of directors must be at least 40 per cent of the total number of board members. That is part of the government’s efforts to “establish corporate governance principles so as to strengthen the stewardship of state-owned enterprises with a view to enhancing the effectiveness, transparency and accountability of the officers and bodies that make up their management,” as written on Publication Québec’s website. In applying this act, Quebec is a model for other jurisdictions. But this must continue beyond state-owned organizations, and the act’s principle — beyond its proposed percentage — should be applied to more than just women.

I fear that the most recent U.S. trend in business will cross the border like political ones already have. Our vigilance is a must. Continued progress relies on it.

Martine St-Victor is the general manager of Edelman Montreal and a media commentator. Instagram and X @martinemontreal

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