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Investing In Diversity And Inclusion Training Is A Matter of Recognizing Alternative Viewpoints

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Diversity and inclusion concerns are largely a product of our inability to recognize and value alternative viewpoints. This inability, whether it is conscious (knowing) or unconscious (unknowing), is labeled as “bias.” Let’s remember a few other things about bias. One is that bias is normal. However, it can be inappropriate. Two is that bias can exist across different social groups as well as within the same social group based upon only bits of information. Unfortunately, some bits of information may be “alternative facts” or, worse yet, “fake news.” Both of these can lead to inappropriate conclusions and subsequent actions. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) training can help to raise awareness and the potential to mitigate the negative impacts of bias. However, if done poorly, D&I training can also have the opposite outcome and can potentially hardwire biased viewpoints. Why?

Most of what we know and use to determine our response to any given situation has come from what we have either formally or informally learned through experience. In 1996, organizational behavior analyst and management consultant Margaret Wheatley and her colleague Myron Kellner-Rogers wrote that some science proposes we use only 20% of what we see from outside through our eyes to create opinions. That would mean at least 80% of the information we use to create opinions is already in our brains, informed by what we have learned. Is it possible that some of the 80% is not accurate or fully informed? Of course.

To add insult to injury, we are overwhelmed with information, which makes learning more of a chore. As a result, some suggest we are largely on autopilot when it comes to our responses to stimuli. Let’s face it, going above the 20% we see takes energy. Effective D&I training can reform aspects of the 80% of the information in our brains and raise awareness about the 20% we see. So, how can one get the highest value when it comes to training on D&I?

Jane Elliott’s controversial 1968 blue eye/brown eye experiment enlightened us to the effectiveness of her training approach. In this exercise, eye color (blue or brown) of each third-grader defined inferiority and superiority and determined whether he/she received special treatment, recognition and privileges. Brown-eyed students were the ones named as superior on the first day of the exercise. On the second day, the blue-eyed students were superior. However, Elliott’s observation was that the blue-eyed students treated the brown-eyed students with more respect than the blue-eyed students received on the first day. Her theory was that the blue-eyed students knew how disrespect looked, felt and sounded, and they did not want to inflict the same kind of treatment as they had received on the brown-eyed students. Elliott’s exercise left lasting emotional memories and learning for some of her students. Yet, it left lasting scars on some in the Riceville, Iowa community who felt they were portrayed poorly and also that the third-graders were too young for that type of training.

In parallel, the focus in the workplace is to get large numbers of employees through a few hours of D&I training that is often mandatory. Some may leave the training with a false sense of mastery relative to cultural competence and others may feel bad about themselves as they are exposed to stereotypes or power imbalances and as they are psychologically unable to access and dispel how they arrived at questionable beliefs.

So, what is a D&I trainer to do? In this example, four things come to mind. Leaders of these initiatives should ensure the training:

1. is audience appropriate,

2. has elements of consent,

3. upholds the dignity of all and

4. inspires confidence in all.

What are deficient and efficient practices of organizations with high impact D&I cultures when it comes to training? Researchers such as Franklin, Paradies, and Herring (paywalls) say that deficient practices focus solely on learning that is event-based (e.g., Ethnic Lunch Days) and solely on teaching about differences. Events such as Ethnic Lunch Days may lack repeatable and value-added lessons. Teaching solely about differences may inadvertently backfire by raising emotional distress and reinforcing stereotypes. As an example, years later, some members of the Riceville community still believe Elliott’s exercise portrays the community as bigoted.

We know and can back it up with research that D&I efforts in the workplace also come with challenges such as:

• Emotional conflict among co-workers, which may result in diminished group cohesiveness, increased absenteeism and increased turnover.

• Reduced communication.

• Lower performance.

• Lower quality due to positions being filled with unqualified workers.

Some say that D&I can be counterproductive and harmful to business, arguing it impedes group functioning and that diversity has negative effects on business performance. However, I say the benefits outweigh the challenges — especially when we address the challenges. When we do so, efficient practices prosper in organizations that possess an openly and widely communicated pro-diversity reputation. Their actions and their training align and their focus is on increasing fairness and equity. They promote training that helps people to work together more effectively and productively.

Training such as emotional intelligence, understanding the self and others, teamwork, conflict management, building trust, critical thinking, meeting and process facilitation and effective communication help minimize the inherent conflict that comes with D&I. When we invest in keeping employees’ skills up to date, we also increase their ability to bring their differences to the table when we include them. Their increased confidence and skills in effectively communicating with others increases the chances of them being present, heard and respected.

Isn’t it time to change our training practices to get the highest return on investment possible on our D&I efforts? If you think so, then also focus training efforts on helping employees to understand themselves and to communicate and work more productively with others.

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Investing in 2019? David Rosenberg has 4 letters for you: QLDS

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Chief economist and strategist David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff and Associates sits down with the Financial Post’s Larysa Harapyn to discuss investing in 2019. According to Rosenberg, some big themes will be protecting yourself from rising interest rates and inflation. Rosenberg goes on to sum up investing in 2019 in four letters: QLDS — quality, liquidity, defensiveness and selectiveness.

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Silicon Valley Billionaire Mark Stevens On Investing To Protect Against A Tech Recession

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Venture capitalist Mark Stevens has profited from tech investments but is diversifying.Courtesy of Mark Stevens

As a longtime venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, billionaire Mark Stevens ended up owning more tech stocks than anything else–primarily because that’s what he and his partners at Sequoia Capital invested in over the two decades he spent there, through 2012. The firm backed the likes of Oracle, Cisco, Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn. So Stevens, who was worth $2.7 billion on the 2018 Forbes 400 list, has been working to diversify his holdings out of tech.

“If we do have a tech recession, there could be a 30% to 40% hit. I’ve tried to diversify into healthcare, energy—fossil fuel as well as alternative—multifamily real estate and senior housing,” he says. “Over time I’m trying to build a family-office portfolio that looks a lot like an endowment.” He’s also put money into some European funds and retails funds.

What about the idea of a tech recession? Stevens doesn’t expect one in the next 6-12 months, but he is prepared. “At some point you’ve got to believe there’s got to be a recession, maybe two years or more away.”  Silicon Valley does feel frothy, and the traffic has gotten worse, which is a possible indicator of an overheated situation, Stevens says.

He points out that it’s been 17 years since we’ve had a “tech wreck”; the 2008 recession was triggered by financial and mortgage issues rather than tech. “Anyone under age 40 in Silicon Valley has by definition never been through a tech recession. You have these entrepreneurs who think the world exists at zero-percent interest rates and you can raise money at ungodly valuations and that’s how the world works. Those of us who’ve been through two to three of these cycles know that’s not how it works,” he says.

Given that scenario, his advice for retail investors is straightforward. “I get hit up for stock ideas all the time. I tell people who are not in the investment business that the best thing they can do is invest in ETFs,” says Stevens, citing their low cost and the tax efficiency. He also suggests investing in a variety of bonds with a variety of maturities—2 years, 5 years, 30 years—and municipal bonds if you want to avoid taxes. “The cardinal sin is investing in things you don’t know about. People look at companies and technologies, and they invest too late. It’s like getting up on a surfboard after the wave has passed.”

Stevens says his own investing mistakes were mostly the stocks he wishes he bought earlier. That includes wishing he bought Apple when the iPod came out and buying Facebook when it went public.  He’s also bet on some startups that failed, which happens on a regular basis for venture capitalists.

Looking ahead in tech, Stevens is optimistic about two areas specifically. “The next big wave in tech is AI and machine learning,” he explains. Next up: finding companies across different industries deploying these technologies.

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A $1.7 trillion fund manager says investors questioning merits of investing in Canadian oilpatch

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One of the largest foreign holders of Canadian energy stocks says investors are turning away from the country, frustrated over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s failure to get pipelines built to ease a record discount for oil-sands crude.

In a letter to the prime minister, Darren Peers, an analyst and investor at Los Angeles-based Capital Group Cos., warns investors and companies will continue to avoid the Canadian energy sector unless more is done to improve market access.

“Capital Group’s energy investments are increasingly shifting to other jurisdictions and that is likely to continue without strong government action,” Peers wrote in a letter dated Oct. 19. “I hope that your government will be even more proactive in securing market access which will assure the competitiveness of Canadian energy companies.”

Capital Group, which runs about US$1.7 trillion in global assets, has a lot at stake in Canada’s oilpatch. The firm holds more than US$30 billion of investments in Canadian companies, and is the largest shareholder of Suncor Energy Inc., Enbridge Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., and Keyera Corp.

The firm also has significant stakes in other names including TransCanada Corp., Cenovus Energy Inc. and Whitecap Resources Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg as of June 30. Peers, a Canadian, says he’s responsible for nearly US$6 billion of investments in Canadian energy companies. He declined to comment beyond the letter.

Vanessa Adams, a spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, said the government will continue to support the energy sector.

“We understand that market access is an essential component to Canadian competitiveness, and that is why we are working hard to expand to non-U.S., global markets,” she said.

A Capital Group spokesperson said the letter represents the views of one energy analyst, rather than those of the firm.

While he lauds efforts by Canadian firms and the government to lower emissions and develop energy assets in a “socially responsible way,” Peers says policymakers need to do more to help drillers get crude to global markets. Canada’s oil trades at a record discount because companies from Kinder Morgan Inc. to TransCanada have been unable to get new pipelines approved.

“Market access is critical to an investment in a Canadian energy company and if that continues to be under threat, global investors will seek opportunities elsewhere and Canadian companies will be further impaired,” Peers wrote in the letter. “Increasingly, investors are questioning the merits of investing in Canadian energy and with that, Canadian companies will struggle to access capital, create jobs, develop resources and provide a significant revenue stream for the country.”

The Trudeau government has supported some pipeline projects, including Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion to ship more oil to the Pacific Coast. Kinder pulled the plug on the project in May amid growing criticism from environmental groups and the British Columbia government. Trudeau was forced to buy out the project, and is now re-doing consultations in a bid to press ahead with it.

“Despite the Canadian government taking over the Trans Mountain pipeline project and showing some resolve, no major pipeline project is yet assured and now Canadian companies are being financially impaired,” the letter states.

The industry’s frustration has mounted after Canadian oil prices plunged to a record US$50-a-barrel discount to the U.S. benchmark last month. Encana Corp.’s founder and former Chief Executive Officer Gwyn Morgan said he’s “saddened” his former company pursued a deal to buy U.S.-based Newfield Exploration Co., blaming Trudeau’s environmental policies.

GMP Capital Inc.’s CEO Harris Fricker, who runs one of Canada’s biggest independent investment banks, said this week the roll-out of legal cannabis is a prime example of how Canada can get things right, while energy shows how the country sometimes gets it wrong.

“Cannabis is a poster child for how to do it,” Fricker said Monday in an interview at Bloomberg’s Toronto office. “Oil-and-gas is a poster child of how not to do it.”

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