IKEA Canada’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are helping employees step into the shoes of their fellow workers and highlighting how DEI and employee mental health are inextricably tied.

“A big part of who we are is stories,” says John Williams, the organization’s DEI lead. “We really believe stories matter because they shape how we see ourselves and everyone around us.”

Indeed, the DEI initiatives focus on storytelling in order to create a culture of diversity and well-being that’s anchored in the company’s policies and processes, he says. Following the discovery of mass graves at former residential schools, IKEA stores in Edmonton and Halifax collaborated with Indigenous artists to host the first-ever Cree and Mi’kmaw showrooms in 2021.

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This led to IKEA Canada’s reconciliation action plan, which will see continued collaboration with Indigenous communities; education on Indigenous culture and issues; and the creation of mentorship, recruitment, training and employment opportunities within those communities.

Last year, the organization’s global DEI leaders participated in an anti-bias training program, which will be cascaded down to their respective country and unit leaders. And in 2022, it’s providing anti-racism training to employees through a Black-owned virtual reality training platform.

“We put people at the forefront of everything that we do,” says Williams. “And we know, if our co-workers aren’t happy, then nothing else matters. After all, when employees have a sense of inclusion and feel they can be their authentic selves, they’re happier and . . . their productivity at work increases.”

Resetting relationships

A fulsome DEI strategy contributes to a sense of safety and belonging at work, which is strongly connected to mental health, says Nora Jenkins Townson, founder and principal of human resources consultancy Bright + Early.

By the numbers

85% of employees said their employer prioritizes DEI a good or great deal.

74% said they feel their employer is putting the right amount of effort into these initiatives.

64% of employees said they believe DEI is very or extremely important.

Source: WorldatWork survey, 2021

“If employees don’t feel safe, accepted and that they belong, it’s going to have an impact on how they feel and show up to work.”

Read: IKEA Canada continually building on DEI initiatives to support employees

Many employers are becoming more aware of this connection, she says, citing examples like the provision of paid time off, more inclusive benefits, resources for working caregivers, additional counselling services, accessible workplaces and accommodations for people who have disabilities.

In the wake of 2020’s global social justice unrest following the murder of George Floyd, DEI at work moved from the back burner to the front, with most employers resetting their relationships with employees, says Greg Power, president and chief executive officer of Weber Shandwick Ltd. in Canada. “It’s deeper, richer and it’s got more dimension because the world has changed so much. If companies aren’t progressing as they should in diversity, it will have outcomes on everyone that are not positive in terms of well-being.”

IKEA Canada is creating a DEI ambassador program, says Williams, noting senior leaders are also rallying around the topic more than ever and are incorporating DEI and mental health into their business functions.

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There’s a war for talent, so job candidates are seeking a connection to values, belonging, acceptance and safety, says Jenkins Townson, with candidates from all backgrounds looking for signs that employers are welcoming, understanding and are providing a safe working environment.

“In recruitment, the first thing we talk about are the people that work for IKEA,” says Williams. “Our co-workers’ stories matter and I think we do a fantastic job amplifying underrepresented voices and those untold stories.”

Lauren Bailey is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.