Panel Discussion: Challenging Inequality and Building Inclusive Businesses and Organizations

A panel of employers and experts discussed racism and inequity in the labour market and practical ways that businesses can challenge the status quo to create and build more inclusive organizations. The following is a summary of their discussions.

When asked what positive change in addressing equity and diversity in the workplace would look like, Dimple Thomas, Engineering Manager, Ericsson and newcomer to Canada shared that workplaces need to mirror Canadian communities. Recounting her own experience, she highlighted the importance of representation – being able to see yourself advancing and in leadership in an organization. She was fortunate to have a manager who was also a role model and highlighted how immigrant women have a future in the organization and for her, this was a key for staying in the industry and aspiring for more. She added that the weight of being the only immigrant or racialized person in an organization takes a tremendous toll on a person.

Heidi Hauver, VP, Talent & Human Resources and HR, Leadership & Culture Advisor, Invest Ottawa & Bayview Yard, challenged employers to stop focusing on culture “fit” – and instead, move to “culture add.” In a culture add mentality, organizations can stop looking to how a person can fit into a pre-existing structure and culture, and instead look at how new staff are adding to the organization. Speaking about international talent in particular, Heidi said “we should be celebrating their experiences and cultures and tapping into those skills and experiences.”

When asked about how we can address inequity and what needs to be done, panelists agreed that the first and important step is to recognize the problem and to recognize the roots of the injustice. Peter Flegel, Executive Director, Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat, Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Branch, Canadian Heritage stressed the need to acknowledge that the barriers racialized people face today are directly linked to the history of slavery, colonization and Indigenous genocide in Canada. Peter encouraged business to understand the issues and to work to change hiring practices that continue to exclude marginalized people.

Nathan Hall, CEO Simple Story, CEO and Founder, Culture Check highlighted how racism and inequity are problems that we created and that in order to address this, “you need to change things that you are doing and change the system and environment.” He emphasized how this work is the responsibility of everyone in the organization – especially leadership and how when we don’t address inequity in the workplace and commit to change, talented employees leave.

Paulette Senior, President and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation stressed the importance of taking an intersectional lens and approach to guide inclusion work and highlighted how the pandemic has unveiled long-standing economic racism in Canada. She also emphasized the need to collect good data, particularly racially desegregated data. Paulette shared findings from the recent report Addressing Economic Racism in Canada’s Pandemic Response and Recovery and outlined key recommendations to support an equitable recovery. Speaking about how barriers impact not only people’s opportunities, but people’s psyche, she said “the system prevents us [racialized people] from others seeing our value and worth.”

All panelists highlighted how the pandemic has sharpened their own focus and resolve to continue to work to challenge the status quo and to address racism and create organizations that are truly inclusive.

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