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Michael Bach, CEO of Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion(CCDI)

A subject matter specialist in Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA).

Michael, Can you tell us about yourself?

I’m Canadian, so let me start by apologizing for no apparent reason. It’s in our DNA. I’m a subject matter specialist in Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA), and I’ve been working in the space for 15+ years. I worked in IDEA as the national leader for KPMG Canada for seven years and was the Deputy Chief Diversity Officer for KPMG International for 2 ½ years. In 2012 I started the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion and CCDI Consulting and joined the organization in 2013, where I’ve been ever since.

I have another 15+ years of experience working as a volunteer with traditionally marginalized communities, specifically with LGBTQ2+ peoples, people with diverse abilities, women, and immigrants. I have a genuine passion for the topic of IDEA and love that my passion and my profession are the same thing. It means I get out of bed every day and love going to work and that I don’t take a lot of breaks, which is an issue I’m working through with my therapist.

I’ve been married to my husband Mike for 11 years… and yes, I’m in a same-name relationship.

Michael’s website: https://michaelbach.com

How did you start your career in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion in Canada? 

Since I was a young adult (or old teenager, depending on your perspective), I had done what is now called DEI or IDEA work. I volunteered with different community organizations from the time I was 19 because my parents had raised me to believe that I had a responsibility to help make the world a better place. But back then, it was a “job,” or at least it wasn’t a job I wanted because it paid so poorly.

Cut to many years later, when working at KPMG, I helped start [email protected], the firm’s Employee Resource Group for the LGBTQ2+ population and their allies. That got the attention of senior leadership. So one day, I went to the head of HR and told her that if the firm was serious about diversity and inclusion, we needed full-time resources, and I wanted the job.

She sent me away to write a business case (frankly, I think she was trying to get rid of me), which I did, and they gave me the job. That was 2006, and I haven’t looked back.

Michael, Tell us about a personal experience on why our world needs more Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, especially in Canada? 

I came out as gay when I was 17, to the shock of… no one. Yet it still was a rough time to come out, considering it was 33 years ago. As the years have passed, I’ve seen the world become more inclusive… for some members of the LGBTQ2+ communities, but not for all. It’s one thing to be a 50-year-old gay cisgender man (although I also identify as gender nonconforming, but that’s another story); it’s an entirely different experience to be a Trans* woman of color. In the US, in 2021, 30 states have tabled or passed legislation to prohibit Trans* people from playing sports in high school and college based on their gender identity. That’s not something that directly impacts me, but it reminds me that we have a long way to go to have an inclusive society for all. We have an inclusive culture for some, but I believe that exclusion for one is exclusion for all.

What does diversity mean to Michael Bach?  

To me, IDEA is about the things that make us unique. It’s about something more than representation. I believe it’s essential to consider representation – the number of women, people of color, people with diverse abilities, indigenous people, LGBTQ2+ peoples, etc. – but that tends to be a bit limiting because we’re just counting people. What we need to do is make people count. We need to focus on the I in IDEA – inclusion – to make sure people feel like they belong. If people from diverse backgrounds don’t feel included, not only will they not thrive in your workplace, but they won’t survive.

To do that, we need to understand that everyone is diverse, including straight white, able-bodied men. That’s not to say they’ve been marginalized or underrepresented. Let’s face it; white guys have had it pretty good for the past few thousand years. But it is to say that they need to be part of the solution, or we’re not going to get very far.

What is your proudest moment as a DEI professional?

I would have to say the work we’ve done at CCDI and how the organization has become the pre-eminent center of excellence on IDEA in Canada. We’re being recognized globally as a model that works. In our first year, we struggle to get 25 employer partners (de facto members). Now in our 8th year, we have over 500 employer partners, and that number grows every day. I had a vision, and it’s exciting and humbling to see how others get that vision and want to be part of it. I feel like CCDI is my legacy and that it will exist long after I am gone. And that makes me feel pretty proud.

Why is DEI important to you as an individual?

I’m gay, I identify as gender nonconforming, and I live with an invisible disability. Does there need to be more? Seriously though, I have this overdeveloped sense of fairness. I look at situations where people aren’t treated fairly or equitably, which pisses me off. And when I’m pissed off, I fight, even if that fight isn’t mine. 

I’m also a heartless capitalist and look at situations where people aren’t being given the same opportunity as bad for the economy. Consider this: if you have someone who moves to North America from another country and in their home country, they were a neurosurgeon, but they are driving for Uber in their new country. Without going into all the math, in the United States and Canada, on average, that person would be paying about $4,000 in tax a year driving for Uber. If they could work as a neurosurgeon, they would be paying more than $40,000 in tax. They would also have a lot more disposable income to spend. So not allowing immigrants to work in their chosen profession is just bad for the economy. The same is the case for women making 0.80 cents on the dollar compared to men doing the same job. And so on. DEI is good for our economy and our country. And that’s why it matters to me.

If you could change one thing in terms of D&I, what would that be? 

This isn’t an easy question. There’s so much I would change.

If I can only have one… I want every employer of 1000 people or more to hire a Chief Diversity Officer, reporting to the CEO and with a seat at the executive leadership table and give them a budget and staff. They would need to have the accountability and authority to focus on IDEA in every aspect of their organization. If every employer did that, and gave into the change, we would see a massive shift in a very short period of time.

What is stopping your community, organization or company from achieving a more equal and equitable world? 

My organization isn’t a good example for this question because we live our values every day. We certainly have an incredibly diverse organization, and I’d like to believe it’s very inclusive. I also live in Toronto, which is the most multicultural city on the planet. Beyond bragging rights (and while we Canadians don’t do a lot of bragging, we take it in where we can), it means that we are forced to examine and tackle issues of inequity regularly. It’s not perfect, but we’re getting there.

For my clients, I would say that the most significant thing stopping them from achieving a more equitable world is themselves. Notoriously we see organizations doing “IDEA light.” It’s a “program,” or worse, “potluck lunch.” A potluck lunch is not an IDEA strategy – it’s lunch.

Most employers don’t get the complete picture. They don’t see the multitude of touchpoints where IDEA can and should come into play. Like when they have a big IDEA focus on their people and then run an advertising campaign that is entirely white models. The most significant barrier to a more equitable world is us.

If you could say one thing to the leader in your community, organization or your company about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, what would you say?

So many things come to mind, most of which start with “pull your head out of your ass” and/or “it’s not about you!”

The other thing I would (do) say is IDEA isn’t a “program.” It isn’t something you can just “do.” It’s a journey without a destination. IDEA, when it’s done properly, is something that layers over everything an organization does. It touches so much more than your people; customers, suppliers, community, brand, marketing, advertising, real estate, technology. Everything has an IDEA component to it.

Why did you want to do this DEI interview?

I have never met a microphone I did not like. But seriously… I love what I do, and the best way I know how to help the world is by professing the gospel according to Michael. To do that, I need a congregation. So that’s what this is about. If you’re reading this, you are now indoctrinated and should start following me on social media. Don’t fight it. You know you want to.

Anything you want to share with our Diversity Social readers?

I wrote a book, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t suck. It’s called Birds of All Feathers: Doing Diversity and Inclusion Right. It’s a best-seller (Amazon, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star) and recently won an award (2020 Silver Nautilus Award in the category of Rising to the Moment). Many people have read it and say they like it… even if they’re just appeasing me. I take the compliment where I can get it.

My next book is called Alphabet Soup: The Quintessential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion, which will be released March 29, 2022, and it promises to be another barn burner, as the kids (in the late 1800) say.

You can learn all about me, my books, join my mailing list to get my monthly newsletter, watch my weekly vlog and just generally creep on me at michaelbach.com.

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About the author

Susanne Ricee

Susanne Ricee is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory