When you board a bus, streetcar or subway train in Canada’s biggest city, chances are the driver will be a man.

Keisha Campbell, the Toronto Transit Commission’s first-ever chief diversity and culture officer, is aiming to tackle the lack of female transit operators and many other diversity, equity and inclusion challenges at North America’s third-largest transit system.

“When you think about the ‘she-cession’ and you think about how women have been impacted by the pandemic and you think about the connection between economic prosperity and the ability to buy housing in Toronto and all of these things, the TTC is a great employer,” she says.

Read: TTC appointing first chief diversity and culture officer

“We have great health benefits, great dental benefits ,a pension plan and really a lot of our operators are proud to spend most of their career with our organization. So when you think of the tangible impact of the families and looking at the stats . . . maybe we’re not actually making the case for us to be considered for women. There’s a bit of an awareness building that has to happen.”

As of 2019, 15.9 per cent of TTC employees identified as women, 40.8 per cent of employees identified as racialized, 0.9 per cent identified as Indigenous and 1.2 per cent identified as having a disability, according to a December 2020 report to the transit commission’s board. Meanwhile, the report noted, “a 2019 Toronto/Ontario census benchmark of 48.7 per cent, 48.8 per cent, 0.8 per cent and 9.6 per cent respectively, [shows] the TTC needs to make significant strides in order to be representative of the city it serves.”

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As a key part of her new role that started on April 1, Campbell’s aiming to more than double the number of female operators to at least 40 per cent of transit operators by the end of this year and says the TTC is on track to meet that goal. To attract more female operators, she’s taking a multi-pronged approach that’s focused on working with her team to promote the transit commission as a female-friendly employer. As part of building that awareness, the TTC reviewed its recent recruitment efforts and has launched online campaigning and information sessions to let women know “that this is actually a great, rewarding career.”

She sees recruiting a more gender-balanced workforce as just the first step, with an eye on long-term retention of the commission’s approximately 16,000 employees. “When you bring those great women in or racialized [people] or anyone, . . . you have to have an environment where they can flourish and have a career. So you have diversity at the forefront, then live in the way that the culture of inclusion is there day to day.”

Campbell’s new role involves leading a team of about 90 people on a range of public and internal issues, including human rights and investigations, diversity, talent management, fare inspection and TTC special constable complaints. As part of that wide-ranging mandate, she’s in the process of building a new diversity group of 16 people who’ll focus on a range of equity issues, including consulting, educating and policy for both employees and the public.

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“The TTC truly connects the city from Rexdale to Chinatown to Koreatown, so we’re all being connected through our system and we really want to live and breathe through the communities that we move through every day.”

And Campbell says things are changing, not just at the TTC, but for employers and employees across Canada. Since March 2020, several events — from the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic to the murder of George Floyd in the U.S. to the discovery of mass graves at former residential schools in this country — have sparked not only conversation but the start of real change.

“George Floyd, COVID, some of the things we’ve seen on the anti-Asian racism side and just people’s heightened awareness has changed things in the diversity and inclusion space,” she says. “I would say before, honestly, things like race, they weren’t conversations you had at the boardroom table.”

And while Campbell’s seen her fair share of “performative stuff” over the past 17 months, she says many employers, including the TTC, are committed to walking the walk, not just talking the talk. “What George Floyd — and I hope we don’t forget his legacy — what he’s done is he’s actually created a space for those conversations to happen and people being open to learning and understanding what their part is in changing the narrative and changing the experiences of different groups and heightened awareness.”

Read: Canadian employers continuing DEI efforts one year after murder of George Floyd