just ask…Diversity and Inclusion

By Kimberley Puhach

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term diversity? You might initially think of ethnicity then perhaps gender. This is likely due to the focus on employment legislation dating back to 1986 with the federal government’s Employment Equity Act. This law was intended to increase representation and create equity for groups that were under-hired and underrepresented. Women, persons with disabilities, and Indigenous peoples are considered as part of this legislation to this day.

Additionally, human rights legislation also provides protection from discrimination for protected groups as defined within the federal and provincial human rights laws.
Fast forward 33 years. What does diversity and inclusion mean today, and how are we doing?

I think we can agree that some progress has been made but there is still plenty left to do, including understanding the importance and value proposition for employers, employees, job candidates, citizens (current and future), and Canadian society at large. Diversity has – or at least should have – moved beyond legislation now that we know how beneficial it can be.

What have we learned so far and what can we now do?

If you’ve been following the Just Ask series, you’ll have noted all the articles have covered aspects of diversity and inclusion. Although these were the most topical areas, they certainly did not cover everything.

In this final article of the series, I wanted to share a wider perspective. There are compelling reasons why diversity and inclusion are an important competitive advantage and, generally, the right thing to do. Naturally, this is a big topic that can’t be addressed in a single article.

Again, I reiterate that healthy dialogue is key, and this is just a start. I invite you to continue to be curious about diversity and inclusion, and in the spirit of the series, remember you can always just ask.

Name it

There’s so much that can be considered when thinking about diversity and inclusion. Consider the full spectrum of differences within our society and how we can learn from one another to be better, together.

For the first time in our history we have five generations in the workplace. Canada has the youngest and fastest growing population in Indigenous peoples who, in the Prairies, could make up nearly one quarter of the population by 2030 or sooner. Persons with disabilities represent 1 in 5 Canadians; mental health issues are on the rise particularly in our youth. Almost a quarter of the population consists of those who identify as foreign born who are also ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse. As a woman, I represent just over half the population. The LGBTQ2S community is estimated at five per cent of the population, however many folks still do not openly identify themselves, so the statistic is likely underestimated.

What about overall skills and abilities? How about varying perspectives and experiences? What an opportunity to leverage all this brainpower and insight! The bigger question is, ‘What are we doing to create inclusive and representative workplaces?”.

Make the commitment

One of the first steps in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is to determine why you want this and how you plan to make it happen. Careful alignment to your overall strategy is critical, and authentic and meaningful effort is key to success and sustainability in this work.

The most promising practices are from organizations who make a strong statement through their commitment to diversity and inclusion. It is baked into their strategies, and executives have bought in and are leading the efforts. It becomes part of the organizational and cultural DNA with everyone committed and accountable. It’s simply the way things are done.

Engage and build with intention

A good question to ask yourself is, ‘do you know or do you think you know?’. The power of consultation and engagement with those who ‘know’ will support the overall commitment and strategy that you think you know.

You might consider forming an advisory circle of people who can share their lived experiences or perspectives about your process, desired outcomes, or even your organization’s current status. In my experience, you can’t beat personal interaction with your advisors.

Communication is key, and you can’t really over communicate when it comes to introducing new ideas or changes in the workplace. Most people need to understand the meaning behind why things are changing and understand ‘what’s in it for me.’

Small steps are a good start

If it feels daunting, that’s okay. Frankly it should, and it will. It’s worth spending the time and effort in this stage. How well you determine these first sets of goals and objectives will affect how successful and, more importantly, sustainable your efforts will be.

Once you make the commitment, integrate it into your strategies, and consult with your stakeholders. You’ll discover there are so many opportunities.

How do you begin when things can seem so overwhelming? Go back to your original reasons for starting the journey, look at your strategies and goals, and pick a few smaller areas on which to focus. This is important foundational work and is best served by engaging everyone who sees the opportunities and wants to be part of it.

Keep going

Sharing the goals, objectives, progress, and how each individual fits in the big picture will continue to drive buy-in and success. The concept of continuous improvement can foster innovation and growth and underscore that the work will always be fluid.

A common concern from employees at all levels is worrying about saying or doing the wrong thing. Often this leads to silence and disengagement rather than open, transparent, and respectful communication. Create a no-blame and no-shame mantra to keep the communication flowing.

Shout it out!

Set milestones, measure, and celebrate success while looking at ways to make it even better! Celebrate big and small and celebrate often. Celebrate ideas and mistakes as the key to innovation. Yes, it can be very complex; it can be difficult; there are costs involved; and you might feel alone in the journey, but the rewards are worth the risk.

In the end

Diversity and inclusion aren’t something that are simply nice to have. In today’s society, they’re imperatives that influence the top line, the bottom line, and the organization’s overall health.

Set your fear aside and unleash the power of diversity and inclusion one step at a time. I promise you it’s worth it!

This can be your company’s distinctive point of difference, an incredible competitive advantage in every aspect of your organization, and your employees will be happier, engaged, and more productive. When people do well individually, everyone does well organizationally.

As was the theme with all the past articles, when in doubt, just ask and keep asking.
I wish you the best of success in all of your endeavours in creating an amazing organization that is diverse and inclusive.

Kimberley Puhach is Associate Vice President, Human Resources – Western Region for Gallagher. She also serves as chair of the Mayor’s Indigenous Advisory Circle in Winnipeg, member of MAVEN Leadership Council, which aims to address gender equality in the tech sector and was recently appointed as a director for End Homelessness Winnipeg.

Thank you, Kimberley!

Dear readers,

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and this series of Just Ask was definitely a good thing.

Over the last year and a bit, Kimberley Puhach has introduced us to a number of interesting, important, and timely human resource-related topics affecting every workplace and workforce in some way. Her expertise and connections in the subject matter have helped all of us learn and explore these topics in a respectful way that seeks to help us better understand each other.

We hope that you have enjoyed the Just Ask series, and we encourage you to keep seeking out the knowledge and information that will help you and your team be the strongest and most productive possible. Remember, as Kimberley has reminded us in each column, the best way to learn and keep learning is to just ask.