“If the past few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that organizations’ Diversity and Inclusion strategies really need to have the goal of driving systemic change, because that’s where society is driving us,” says MESH/diversity Co-Founder and CEO, Michael Wright. “That’s what we do – help organizations understand how their behaviour and culture engage with the ‘invisible system’ that exists holding up those things that keep people down: racism, sexism, heterosexism. Our program helps our clients take specific proven steps to drive a positive change in a systemic way.”
Opportunities NB (ONB) places a strong focus on maintaining a high-performance culture — it is what drives us. That is why we were eager to learn more about the New Brunswick-based MESH/diversity, its philosophy, its values, and its people.
ONB: Can you give us the ‘origin story’ of MESH/diversity?
Michael Wright: That begins with Dr. Leeno Karumanchery as it’s his work that our offerings are based on. Leeno is a sociologist engaged in diversity and inclusion work for 28+ years now. His doctorate is in anti-oppression and equity studies, and his first two books were on anti-racism. He was the first person in the world, as part of his doctoral dissertation, to connect racism, sexism, etc. to trauma. Take the term ‘trauma’ for a second and retranslate that to ‘painful memory’, but then multiply it by hundreds of thousands of times in the same way and that translates into enormous trauma.
After leaving academia, he started his own consulting practice. On top of being our Head of Behavioural Sciences, he is a professional facilitator, keynote speaker, and author.
Leeno noticed before anyone else how Emotional Intelligence (EI) dovetails beautifully into the challenge of diversity and inclusion, both at an organizational and societal level. He also recognized that he could do great D&I work with a client, but if that client’s internal champion left the organization, things often reverted to the old ways. Diversity and inclusion training, done in a non-systematized way, doesn’t hold up.
That is the birth of MESH/Diversity. It was about taking that work and building something that would last within an organization. Our program centered around our software and our approach help embed diversity and inclusion into the fabric of any organization.
What have these past few weeks meant for the company?
Public sentiment has shifted in such a positive way. It’s devastating that it took the death of another person to create this shift, but it really feels as though it has been an inflection point. More and more people are recognizing that things need to change at a societal level. It is easy to spot the person wearing a white hood or the person waiting outside an LGBTQ+-friendly club to attack someone for who they are. If it was just about those people, the system would not be able to persist. What it takes for this system to propagate itself is for kind, good-hearted, ethical people to participate in a system that they don’t know they are part of.
MESH/diversity’s goal is to expose that ‘invisible system’ to people. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it and it seems that after George Floyd, people are beginning to get a glimpse into what they never saw before. It’s no longer enough to simply say “I’m not racist”, we need to be actively anti-racist. This applies to all the “isms” of course, race is simply the issue that’s front and centre right now. We really feel like a critical awakening is happening.
Certainly, demand for our services has increased, both from new and existing clients. It’s heartening; this is the work that Leeno has been doing for 28+ years and that we have been doing for six. CEOs are now using terms like anti-racism and anti-black racism and the language is finally becoming normalized.
You’re from Woodstock originally. Tell us about operating from Toronto with a heavily New Brunswick-based team.
Most of my career has been spent working for New Brunswick companies yet working out of province, so this is nothing new for me. We have a great team in New Brunswick, including our CTO Jason Aube in Moncton. COVID-19 has not been too disruptive for us, as we are completely virtual. Our team works remotely from Toronto, Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, and Woodstock,
ONB support has been phenomenal. Dr. Karumanchery is a world-class speaker often on stage at conferences. We always knew he was world-class, but as a small team, our ability to travel to those conferences has been crucial for us in terms of driving both our brand recognition and our sales funnel. And now everyone is learning just how world-class Leeno is in the field of Diversity and Inclusion.
Being able to get him in front of those audiences is essential and ONB has helped make that happen. Post-COVID-19, we have moved towards our own virtual sessions. Again, our team works virtually so it’s been an easy adjustment.
I am a big believer in New Brunswick and the opportunity it holds for us and for any company. What we’re doing is vital for New Brunswick. We all recognize that growing our population is essential. Fortunately, most of us realize that increased immigration is needed if New Brunswick is to grow and thrive in the coming decades.
We know that a focus on diversity and inclusion is not just good for positive societal change, but for the health of our economy. It is essential that people see our province as a welcoming and inclusive place to live and work.
Learn more at meshdiversity.com.
Written by Jason Boies