As a “symbol of our collective sorrow,” IKEA Canada lowered its flags in response to the news of the grim discovery of mass graves at former residential schools in this country.

The home goods retailer has also been talking with several Indigenous-led organizations to development its reconciliation strategy and has shared resources, including via its employee assistance program and the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.

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

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic just over 16 months ago, everything from the unequal distribution of vaccines around the world to the murder of George Floyd in the U.S. to the discovery of mass graves here in Canada has put diversity, equity and inclusion issues front of mind for many employers and employees.

Well before the pandemic, addressing DEI issues within the workplace and the larger community has been a focus for the retailer, says John Williams, equality, diversity and inclusion leader for IKEA Canada. “We’ve been doing this work for a while now. For us — for IKEA and our brand — equality is really a fundamental human right. . . . We’re really a values-driven company and we really believe every individual should be treated fairly and be provided every equal opportunity regardless of their background or their identity.”

As part of its ongoing efforts to ensure equal opportunities for all employees, the Swedish company launched a three-year equality plan in early 2020 for its almost 220,000 employees around the globe. Here in Canada, DEI issues have also long been a key priority of its human resources department, leading the company to create its first-ever DEI leader in 2019. Williams joined IKEA Canada as its current DEI lead this March and frequently collaborates with his global counterparts on projects and goals.

“We have this ambition to become a world leader in equality and to really have a positive impact in all areas of the business and society,” he says. “I think that’s why we launched an equality plan to really take this bold step forward in terms of what we’re working towards.”

Read: Keeping it simple: IKEA’s DPSP reinforces founder’s values

Its global equity plan aims to take some big steps forward, with the goals of achieving equal pay for work of equal value by the end of 2021, as well as reaching 50/50 gender balance in every unit, level, board and committee. At IKEA Canada, 51 per cent of its managers and 51 per cent of employees are female and its management team is gender equal, according to its website. IKEA Canada was also part of the United Nation’s first high-level panel on female economic empowerment that aims to “help unlock potential for women to fully participate in the economy and achieve financial independence.”

As Williams eases into his new role, he’s focused on looking at DEI issues through many lenses. “We aim to reflect the diversity of all our markets and create this kind of inclusive culture where everyone can be themselves regardless of what background they come from. Some of the focuses we’ve had are gender, diverse abilities, age [and] nationality.”

On World Refugee Day last month, IKEA Canada announced a new partnership with ACCES Employment to launch a national refugee skills for employment program. During Black History Month this February, it joined the growing list of employers that have signed the BlackNorth Initiative pledge.

And on the heels of Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter rallies last year, IKEA Canada launched several initiatives in June 2020, including new training for managers and an expanded partnership with the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion to develop resources and education for employees. It’s also offered staff trainings on inclusion and unconscious bias. IKEA Canada also continues to communicate with several Black-led organizations as it works towards the retailer’s global commitment of increasing ethnic, racial and national diversity at all levels of leadership in 30 countries by 2024.

Read: IKEA Canada signing BlackNorth pledge, expanding DEI efforts

IKEA has also joined the Workplace Pride Foundation and Stonewall, which are both focused on supporting inclusion of LGBTQ2S+ employees. And it co-created and endorsed the UN standards of conduct on tackling discrimination against LGBTQ2S+ people in the workplace and in the community. Additionally, the global DEI group recently created a transgender inclusion toolkit focusing on the use of pronouns and inclusive languages for leaders to use with employees from that community.

Williams is also working on implementing a DEI ambassador program and working on community resources groups that align with the Black North pledge. And IKEA Canada routinely uses internal and external digital communications, such as Twitter and Instagram posts, of its approximately 7,300 employees across Canada to “elevate and amplify . . . voices from our BIPOC community,” he says, adding tackling DEI issues is a marathon not a sprint. “We really believe in meaningful action and change and collaborating with our co-workers on this work every single day.”