Home » Leveraging the Legacy: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Leveraging the Legacy: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

September 15, 2023

quote about governance education benefits for diversity equity and inclusion in the boardroom

This blog series has examined the 20-year legacy of The Directors College’s Chartered Directors Program (C.Dir.) in conversation with the Program’s founders, faculty and alumni. Now let’s look forward. Upcoming posts will explore the crucial issues facing board directors and their organizations today as captured by our ongoing discussions with program participants and graduates. 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) is a highly current topic, discussed with five highly accomplished Directors College alumni: Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta, David Tsubouchi, Baltej Dhillon, Harold Tarbell, and Margie Parikh who provide keen insights into the challenges facing minorities at the board level and the potential solutions afforded through directors’ development. How can we achieve greater diversity at the board level? What are the current barriers to entry? What role can formal director education play?

The Power of Three

In 1988, Baltej Dhillon (C.Dir 2018) made headlines by becoming the first RCMP officer allowed to wear a turban as part of his uniform. Twenty-five years later, he is managing multiple press appointments after being named Chair of WorkSafe BC’s Board of Directors. Dhillon was excited and honored to take on the role of Board Chair but felt that the considerable media attention this generated meant that his appointment was still out of the norm. Dhillon was conflicted, both grateful to be a role model for his community and disappointed that he was still an outlier. “We have to get to a place in this country where there are no more firsts. The fact that we are still having firsts is a problem in 2023.”

When Dhillon joined WorkSafe BC’s board of directors in 2017, he was nervous. The board had a massive responsibility to the province, and he felt ill-equipped and decided to enroll in The Chartered Directors Program to prepare for the role. In the Program he developed a range of hard and soft skills that have since helped him operate effectively as a board member.

The training he received readied him for his position. Still he felt a sense of anxiety, which he says most minorities in consequential positions often struggle with. “We carry this fear that we better not fall short of any expectation in that room. Because it won’t be Baltej that will be remembered. It will be that South Asian man who set the performance bar for the next South Asian man, so you better not screw-up.”  What needs to be done?

“To actually practice inclusivity requires everyone to buy in. It doesn’t just happen,” Dhillon says. There needs to be a clear plan of action. Dealing with an issue like DE&I requires more than lip service.  Research done by Catalyst Consulting, supported by our own governance findings, has shown that often it requires a supportive group of three or more directors, equipped with a shared language and common purpose, to effect change both inside and outside the boardroom.  This is where director education can help to make a difference.

Building Your Networks

2009 graduate David Tsubouchi is similarly tired with the slow pace of change. Tsubouchi broke ground in 1995, becoming the first Japanese-Canadian Member of the Ontario Provincial Parliament.  As a board member at the corporate level, he has become accustomed to being one of the few minorities at the table.

While the boards at public institutions have become more diverse over time, he says corporate boards still have a way to go. “Corporate boards are still very slow [in becoming more diverse]. It is still all about who you know.”  It can be a struggle to make it on a corporate board as a minority. Most board members are older white men, and new hires gain their positions based on relationships. Outsiders are at a disadvantage and change comes slowly, if at all. How can this process be sped up?

Tsubouchi took advantage of the flexibility of Chartered Director Program and took the Modules out of sequence, starting with Module Four, following by Three, Two, One, and finally Five. He worked with five different cohorts, and as a result, met a lot of aspiring board directors. Reflecting on his experience, Tsubouchi points to The Directors College’s large community of alumni and the growing prevalence of corporate governance education, as a potential path towards greater diversity in the board room.

Director education is fast becoming a requirement for board members in Canada, opening the door slightly for a whole new group of educated board director candidates that might not have needed connections previously. Tsubouchi says it can help set applicants apart, “The value coming out of this [program]… is having that designation of governance.”

As a board chair, Tsubouchi took part in the recent hiring of seven new directors following term expirations. Applicants were required to have completed some form of director’s education and six of the seven hires had designations from either the ICD or The Directors College. Five were women, and one was a South Asian man.

Over 20 years The Directors College together with the ICD Rotman program has amassed over 10,000 graduates. As graduates are appointed to boards and grow in connections and influence, this massive network becomes a powerful tool for change. Tsubouchi says this growing community of alumni could be used to create more opportunities for minorities at the board level, “It is still about who you know… The more people that go through [the program]- the more people we know”.

Finding Partners

Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta is a change management strategies advisor with over 20 years of experience and the founder of The Change Leadership. She believes DE&I has to be addressed at a systemic level. “It’s one thing to say ‘You want more diverse people on boards’, whether women, ethnic minorities, or any types of groups,” she explains. “But then, they don’t tend to have the opportunity. For years minorities have not been provided with opportunities, whether for education or for networking required to get on boards.”

Akpoveta first got involved with The Chartered Directors Program as a student. Born in Nigeria and educated in the UK and US, one of the reasons she considered taking the program was to integrate herself into the Canadian system, as well as learn and expand her network.  One year after taking the program, she is working with The Directors College as a board member for The John Ware Institute, a not-for-profit that works with black leaders and entrepreneurs in Canada.

Founded during the pandemic, The John Ware Institute works to address the systemic issues that prevent diversity at the boardroom level. The institute provides black leaders and entrepreneurs with not only board opportunities, but also the proper training and education needed to be successful board directors.

In 2022, The John Ware Institute partnered with The Directors College. The Directors College committed $210,000 in funding towards a scholarship for black board directors running until 2025. The scholarship addresses another barrier facing members of marginalized communities attempting to become certified board directors: the cost of education. Companies often cover the program cost for their board members, while aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs tend to fund themselves, which can be a barrier. Akpoveta says the partnership between the John Ware Institute and The Directors College has been a success. “[The Directors College] has been a great partner, in terms of helping us get more people through the funnel, so that we can have more opportunities for more people. A critical step in addressing systemic barriers.”

Finding Your Mentors

2015 graduate Margie Parikh is a governance consultant based out of B.C. who helps organizations with DE&I and climate issues. She sits on the boards of Lift Impact Partners and the CRA and is a mentor for Get On Board, Dress For Success, and Fora. Organizations like Fora and Get On Board help emerging leaders from diverse backgrounds, make connections, and ultimately get opportunities to sit on boards. Parikh says there has to be a greater focus on mentorship (and how to do it effectively). “Mentoring as it has been done in the past, tends to favour the already ruling class, let’s say, because we tend to gravitate towards people who look like us and feel like us. It is more comfortable.”

Parikh is also a part of the Module Five board simulation. She participates in the simulation as a role player and in the breakdown sessions provides students with valuable insights navigating the boardroom based on her professional experience.

Parikh says that mentorship programs should be required and more intentional about promoting diversity. The goal is to get as many people of diverse backgrounds through the pipeline, connecting with others, learning and gaining career opportunities.

Understanding Stakeholders and Rights holders

Harold Tarbell has served as Tribal Chief on the U.S. portion of Akwesasne Mohawk, and is the owner of the Aboriginal consulting firm, Harold Tarbell Facilitation. He is also a practitioner for the Chartered Directors Program, involved in Module Two and he discusses how boards should recognize their stakeholders, how indigenous communities are rights holders, and what that entails.

Throughout his career, Tarbell has aspired towards a reality where indigenous people sit at every table, involved in the decisions that affect them. He says there must be a structural change for indigenous people to gain the proper amount of representation at the board level. “How do you make sure that you have indigeneity at every level? You have it on the board. You have it in your senior leadership team. You have it in your supervisory team, and you have it in your labor force.” He also suggests organizations create or partner with Indigenous advisory circles or reference group to broaden the conversation and act with an indigenous perspective in mind.

Tarbell recently enrolled in this year’s Chartered Directors Program, wanting to become a certified director. He says programs like The Chartered Directors Program can help inspire members of marginalized communities, showing them a possible path to their goals, “It’s about creating that sense that this [a position on a board] is a future opportunity.”

The Chartered Director Program is significantly more diverse than when it first launched. While those initial cohorts consisted of mostly older white men, today’s classroom is a mix of gender, race, orientation and ethnic backgrounds and ages. As younger generations join the conversation, they bring new perspectives and possible solutions for a fast-changing corporate environment. Issues like the emergence of new tech, AI, and climate change require innovative thinking impacting  director education and the ongoing development of the C.Dir program.

Our thanks to:

Baltej Dhillon is an Experienced Commissioned Officer with a demonstrated history of working in Intelligence, Emergency Management, Prevention, Intervention, Disruption and Enforcement. Skilled in Management, National Security, Project Management, Diversity and Inclusion as well as dynamic team building.




David Tsubouchi is an author and former politician, regulator and Integrity Commissioner. He was the first Japanese Canadian to be elected to office in Canada and has served as the MPP for Markham for two terms and has held cabinet posts in the Ontario Legislature including Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, Solicitor General, Chair of Management/Treasury Board and Minister of Culture.



Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta is the founder of The Change Leadership; a community, series of conversations and conferences, for the purpose of preparing leaders, change makers and organizations to lead and respond to change better and faster in today’s fast-paced and disruptive business environment.




Margie Parikh is a Chartered Director with over two decades of board experience leveraging her expertise in ESG and Climate governance, DE&I, finance and risk oversight helping senior leaders to navigate and capitalize on opportunity in increasingly fast-changing, highly regulated environments.




Harold Tarbell is a member of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne and served as the Tribal Chief on the U.S. portion of Akwesasne from 1987 to 1990. His comprehensive experience with cultural, technical, and political issues related to Indigenous nations enables him to facilitate the advancement of Indigenous people in today’s society while supporting their cultural identity.