Director, Centre for Business Law; associate professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, UBC
In an apt turn of phrase, Carol Liao calls COVID-19 the “inequality virus” for worsening global disparities across class, gender and race. “It was only May of last year when that Bloomberg article dubbed Vancouver the anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America,” she says.
As a kid in Surrey and Chilliwack, Liao knew what she would do with her life. Although she had no idea what the job entailed, she told everyone she wanted to be a lawyer. “My family still teases me about this,” says the director of Pacific Canada Heritage Centre – Museum of Migration Society, an anti-racist nonprofit.
Liao went on to earn a law degree from UBC, practising in New York before completing a joint PhD/SJD program at UBC and UofT in 2016. She’s now an internationally recognized scholar. The head of the Centre for Business Law at UBC’s law school has taken her stand again racism beyond classrooms and boardrooms and into media interviews and op-eds, as well as volunteer workshops on equity, diversity and inclusion. She was also a steering committee member for the 2021 National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism, which brought 186 panellists and 2,100 attendees together.
Citing social movements that gained popularity during the pandemic, including Truth and Reconciliation, Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, Liao deems “ally” a verb, not a noun. “It’s about a redistribution of power,” she says. “These movements have emboldened organizations with a sense of urgency to think about the ways in which we can transform our organizational culture to ensure a safe, just and equitable space for everyone to thrive.”
Liao, who has given more than 100 talks on sustainable business and EDI, maintains that the former is directly related to the latter but also recognizes the importance of empathy in social justice efforts. “I’m often troubled by how some tend to pit equity groups against each other,” she says. “It’s not the Oppression Olympics.”
Her career was born out of an interest in studying power and systems change, she notes. Liao argues that diversity isn’t about numbers—it’s about having a voice at the table and knowing you have the ability to advance. “As our planetary problems have intergenerational and intersectional effects, the solutions and the path forward must also include intergenerational and intersectional voices.”