In 2019, International Women’s Day was a significant event at the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology pension plan because it prompted the launch of many new initiatives to further diversity and inclusion at the organization.

It also marked the first time the CAAT plan celebrated international women’s day, exploring how it could improve its diversity and inclusion and to recognize Julie Cays, its chief investment officer.

The CAAT also launched an innovation hub in early March that year, with its first session dedicated to looking at how it could become an even more inclusive organization. “People ideated on that and we all presented our results,” says Julie Giraldi, the CAAT’s vice-president of people and strategy development. “And the key takeaways were, we need to continue to celebrate diversity, we need to raise awareness, we need to educate and we need to provide tools to support inclusive language.”

After the 2019 international women’s day event, the CAAT plan launched a formalized inclusion and diversity committee, led by volunteers across the organization. It also launched Pride Month events and started to include land acknowledgement statements at company gatherings.

Tangible actions that stemmed from the committee’s recommendations also included initiatives to recognize different occasions like Pink Day, dedicated to anti-bullying, and Indigenous Peoples Day. The CAAT pension plan also started embedding religious holidays into its corporate calendar. “For example, if we’re having a meeting with all staff and we know that it’s Ramadan, well, let’s be cognizant of that because individuals will be impacted,” she says. “They may not be able to share in celebration.”

Overall, Giraldi is committed to creating an environment where people can bring their whole authentic selves to the work. For her, it’s key to ensure diversity and inclusion initiatives are tangible. The CAAT monitors its success through measures like employee engagement, employee net promoter scores and how many people attend the events.

“We also do a satisfaction survey after each session,” she notes. “Was it relevant? Did you take away at least one new thing that you can implement? Because to me, I don’t like lip service. I want to be part of change. I want to be part of making an organization better.”

While diversity and inclusion is a hot topic for many organizations, taking meaningful action is less prevalent, according to a 2020 report by Mercer. In fact, it found only 28 per cent of Canadian board members are actively involved or engaged in diversity programs compared to 57 per cent globally. And on the management side, 54 per cent of Canadian organizations said their executives are actively engaged on diversity inclusion and the number drops to 35 per cent for middle managers and 30 per cent for front line managers.

Angelita Graham, Mercer Canada’s Toronto office leader, is involved in spearheading the organization’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. She’s also the former chair of the Toronto Chapter’s Women@Mercer business resource group, which aims to make a difference in the lives of female colleagues though programs that cover topics like self-advocacy, career progression and mentoring.

The self-advocacy workshops, for example, empower female employees to speak up for themselves. “We find that these sessions are always very well attended,” she says. “We always have over 100 participants that are turning up at these sessions, every single time we do them.”

The organization is also dedicated to making people feel like they belong, which includes ensuring teams and speakers at meetings are diverse, as well as simple steps like being mindful of the type of food served at events, Graham notes. “It’s sometimes the little things as well as the big things that can help to create that culture of, ‘I belong in this environment.’”

Mercer also requires all people managers to participate in unconscious bias training, a practice she believes should be mandatory. “They are the ones that are impacting directly every day and interacting with our employees and what they say matters. How they treat our employees matters. How they recommend people for promotions matters, pay increases. They are very instrumental, so at minimum they should do unconscious bias training.”

This year, the training is being expanded to all employees. “We have been on our journey and each step of the way we keep adding to our toolkit as we try to be our better selves,” says Graham.

In her opinion, progress toward promoting diversity includes setting targets and having accountability. In fact, she got involved in Women@Mercer because she’s passionate about making a difference, but wanted to ensure tangible outcomes. “I really wanted to control the pen on that in terms of making sure that it’s practical for the person. When the person comes to the event, there must be something that they can take away that will be impactful and, again, utilize it.”