Integration and Representation Matter

Integration and Representation Matter

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Margaret Chapman has a lot on her mind — and on her plate — these days! Not only is she the new Chair of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, she and her business partners recently purchased Narrative Research, recently rebranded from Corporate Research Associates (CRA), one of Canada’s top market intelligence and market research companies. In addition to being COO and Partner at Narrative Research, she’s also an avid volunteer, marathon runner, and active musician — but more on that later.

As we sit down together in Margaret’s sunny office on Bayers Road, her dog Betty flops in a sunbeam on the carpet next to her chair.

“I ask people questions for a living,” Margaret explains. “We find out what people think with surveys and focus groups and interviews and engagement sessions and all sorts of methodologies. And we turn those insights into stories that will help our clients.” She’s looking forward to bringing her information-gathering skills to her new role at the Chamber.

One insight in particular has galvanized Margaret to set diversity, inclusion, and integration as her key priority as Chamber Chair. “I have access to data in my job,” she says, “and I was pretty disheartened by a study from February 2019 that tells us 55 per cent of Nova Scotians think
we should have fewer or the same number of immigrants from other countries.”

The same study found that 42 per cent of Nova Scotians believe the province needs more immigrants. Margaret is quick to point out that while this is an improvement over 2013, when only 28 per cent of Nova Scotians said we needed more immigrants, “those numbers make me think we have more work to do. I’d like to get to a place where the majority think we need more newcomers from outside Canada.”

The Halifax Chamber has long prioritized immigration and youth retention as critical solutions to the demographic challenges facing Halifax and Nova Scotia. “One of the things I’m excited about is helping people of all different backgrounds feel welcomed and integrated into all parts of society,” says Margaret. “You know that saying about being invited to the dance versus being asked to dance? That’s what I’m talking about.”

“It’s getting better, but the challenge is getting people to make Halifax their permanent home. It’s not just hiring people from a different background or hiring an immigrant; it’s making sure they feel part of your culture and your community.”

Margaret believes that business owners in Halifax have a responsibility to help shape newcomers’ experiences, whether they come from across the country or across the world. “The Chamber is a leader. People look to us on key issues and we have access to thousands of people through our events and advocacy work.”

“There’s a difference between being friendly and being welcoming,” she adds. “How do we move as a business community from being friendly to being truly welcoming?”

Being conscious of how we interact with people who are not in our close circle is an important first step, and Margaret and her business partners Margaret Brigley and Peter MacIntosh put their money where their mouth is at Narrative Research. “We just hired two people who were studying here and are now new immigrants,” she explains. “As we onboard these new employees, I’m thinking about how we can ensure they feel part of our culture at Narrative Research. It can’t be just a select group of people going for lunch together or doing activities outside of work.”

“All it takes is asking the question: What can we do to help you feel comfortable here? Don’t wait for the person to ask you — because many people won’t.”

“Having Margaret at the helm is tremendous,” says Chamber President and CEO Patrick Sullivan. “At the Chamber, we talk about all kinds of immigration and integration into the workforce. It’s not just new Canadians and new Nova Scotians. We also need to be more inclusive to underrepresented populations like African Nova Scotians and Indigenous people. Indigenous communities have the fastest growing youth demographic in Canada. We have to make sure they have access to education and labour market readiness and are represented in the workforce here in Nova Scotia.”

Patrick’s also pretty happy about the incoming Chair’s impressive skill set and access to information. “Margaret has data!” he laughs. “So what I’m looking most forward to is that she can put us in a great place when we have questions about what the population is thinking and how we can change their minds or help them understand our work.”

Margaret’s interests as Chamber Chair extend beyond including and integrating new Nova Scotians. She’s also passionate about social enterprise and social procurement practices. “I think we can be more mindful of who we do business with and how we support local businesses. Are there social enterprises we can buy from and do good while making purchases? I think there’s a misperception that buying from social enterprises is more expensive. It’s not. Getting social enterprise on the radar for procurement is important. These businesses help people be included, learn job skills, and become more self-sufficient.”

She points to the decision of the Halifax Convention Centre to buy rolls from Stone Hearth Bakery, a social enterprise run by MetroWorks, an organization that has helped thousands of people overcome barriers to employment. “They’re getting a great product, and helping people to learn skills and get jobs,” says Margaret, who’s also a volunteer with the organization.

Speaking of volunteering, Margaret spends a lot of time making Halifax a better place. In addition to being Past Chair of both MetroWorks and 2b Theatre, she volunteers with Hospice Halifax and sits on the Dalhousie MBA Program Advisory Committee. “Volunteering is one of the ways I started to feel part of the community when I moved here. It’s important for organizations to have diverse people volunteering and helping. I was at Shelter Nova Scotia last week visiting their new kitchen and learning about their Adopt-a-Meal program.” Narrative Research is going to “adopt” some meals and serve them at Metro Turning Point, an emergency shelter for men experiencing homelessness in Halifax.

And did I mention that in her spare time Margaret plays the violin with the P.E.I. Symphony Orchestra, Nova Sinphonia and a local string quartet? “I also run and do the Cabot Trail Relay every year,” she adds. “I’ve run three marathons.”

How exactly did this Renaissance woman end up here in Halifax? It’s a long story, with stops across the country and around the world. Margaret was born in Saskatoon and grew up in Vancouver. After earning an Associates Degree from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto in violin performance, a BA in philosophy from Simon Fraser University and an MA in print journalism from the University of Southern California, she found herself working as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

“I started out as a journalist and to me there’s a lot of overlap with my career today — they’re both about the desire to uncover things and talk to people,” she muses. Fast forward a few years to 2007, and Margaret and her husband move to Halifax from England when he accepts a job as a philosophy professor at Dalhousie University.

The rest, as they say, is history. Five years ago, Margaret joined the Board of the Halifax Chamber. She has chaired the Membership Committee and served as a member of the Fostering Private Sector Growth Task Force. In spring 2018, she became Vice-Chair, and next year will serve as Past Chair after completing her one-year term as Chair.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time on the board,” she smiles. “I’m really excited about taking on the Chair role. It’s kind of like my job in that I get to hear about the huge variety of things going on in the city. I’m interested in making Halifax more vibrant and a great place to be.”

Patrick Sullivan is sorry to see Cynthia Dorrington, the Chamber’s first African Nova Scotian Chair, finish her term, but he’s excited to work with Margaret. “Having a new Chair every year keeps us fresh and moving forward and focused,” he says, “and having a fresh pair of eyes is great.”

As for the future being a little more female at Canada’s oldest Chamber of Commerce, Margaret will be only the fifth woman to serve as Chair in the 200 years of Halifax Chamber history. And this is almost certainly the first time that two women have served consecutively as Chair. (Although the Chamber staff is just shy of 90 per cent women.)

To Margaret, this is another important way the Chamber demonstrates diversity as a core value. “There’s been a priority at the Chamber Board in ensuring diverse representation, and that will continue. I think making sure boards across the city have diverse representation is really important. You get better conversations — more challenging conversations — when you have different people at the table.” She cites the roaring success of the Chamber’s annual Wonder Women conference as proof that events and advocacy efforts that speak to different constituencies are critical.

“When you look at who attends events, you’re starting to see more representation of diverse groups,” says Margaret. “But you have to keep working at including and integrating all these different communities so people keep coming back.”

“You have to keep seeing yourself at events and on boards and in leadership positions. It takes time and hard work, but it’s critical to our success as a city.”

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