Authentic Engagement or Pseudo Efforts?

Welcome to my blog. The purpose of the blog is to share my experiences of implementing equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives in the Canadian workplaces. Moreover, to provide a safe space for readers to share ideas, critique and dialogue around social justice issues. I have worked as a diversity and inclusion advisor for over two decades in a variety of organizations and observed that while many employers flaunt their commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) implementing pose multiple challenges. One of the problems is with the terms itself. For example, the word diversity means different things to different people. For some diversity refers to preference for decaffeinated over regular coffee, whereas, when I invoke the word diversity, I refer to inherent diversity (characteristics that I am born with); diversity is also about our identities, ethnicity, race, culture, abilities and sexual orientation, just to name a few. There is also acquired diversity, for example, I have lived in three different continents, taken dozens of courses on social justice and continuously attend webinars and speak with a diverse group of people to gain insights into their lived experiences. Diversity can also refer to thought diversity. So, the next time someone suggests that they want to hire for diversity be sure to inquire what the terms means to them.

Inclusion refers to valuing human differences: inherent, acquired and thought diversity. I have often noticed that employers hire for diversity but on board for assimilation. This is to say companies declare their commitment toward diversity on the job ad; however, the employee soon finds out that the company operates according to the North American standards and does not recognize differences. Equity means there is a recognition that there are imbalances in the system therefore we need to address and correct them.

Rubber Hits the Road

To put it in practice, one of the companies I worked for provided paid bereavement time of approximately three days for the death of an immediate family member. Eight percent of the workforce were Indigenous and for many of them the language around immediate family posed challenges as some of them were raised by an extended family member. Negotiating paid bereavement time was very difficult and at times the employees took personal vacation or time off without pay. While unions were aware of the discrepancy neither the employer nor unions adjusted the policy. I am reminded of the golden versus platinum rule. The golden rule stipulates that we treat everyone the same or treat people ways in which you wish to be treated; whereas the platinum rule requires we treat people ways in which they wish to be treated.

One particular organization defines diversity as all human differences and inclusion refers to valuing human differences. So, what exactly does this mean? On the one hand, we can say that as human beings share common characteristics such as a physical structure that includes tissues, cells, organs, nervous system, soul, body and mind. This is to say that human beings think, feel, and have emotions. On the other hand, human beings also have distinct identities. For example, I identify myself as a heterosexual, able body, middle class, woman of colour. In addition, I come from a collectivist culture, family and friends take priority over work and socializing with friends and volunteering in the community is important. Consequently, when I go to work, I want to build trusting relationships with my colleagues, have a sense of community, where we work in a collaborative manner.

To make it even more simple for those who are new to the diversity world, I want to be greeted by my colleagues in particular my direct supervisor and senior leaders. I need to know how my job is aligned with the company’s vision, mission, values and strategic plan. I want my supervisor to assign meaningful work that is aligned with my experience and education. I want regular, timely and constructive feedback. I certainly do not want to wait for twelve months to hear about my progress. In addition, I want growth opportunities, access to training, conferences and learn how to navigate systems. I want to learn about both lateral and vertical career ladder. I want a mentor who values my social identity, thought diversity and provides opportunity where I sit at the policy table and shape policies, programs and practices. Therefore, simply having a policy on diversity, equity and inclusion without action is deceptive and essentially a hoax.

Starting next week, I will start demystifying the top seven myths around EDI. Stay tuned.