Manulife Financial Corp. and its subsidiary John Hancock is educating and thanking its employees for continuing to work hard amid these tumultuous times.

This is the second year the companies have given staff an extra day off since a global coronavirus pandemic was first declared in March 2020. And this year, the company also held an afternoon of “reflection and learning,” featuring keynote speeches, a fireside chat and webinars focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, including allyship and how to become better advocates for change.

Read: Manulife giving 35,000 staff day off as thank you

“The thank-you day is really understanding that our employees have experienced a dual pandemic,” says Michelle Taylor-Jones, vice-president of global diversity, equity and inclusion at Manulife and John Hancock.

Amid dual pandemics of the coronavirus and global social justice unrest, she says staff have continued striving to elevate the organization’s customer reach and its employee resource groups’ grassroots efforts continue driving the company’s DEI initiatives forward. “This is a way that Manulife can reward our employees for all the great work that they’ve done over this significantly difficult year. . . . [And] launching an afternoon of reflection . . . is an opportunity for all of our employees to go on a self-journey and a self-learning around DEI.”

Both employers and employees have been grappling with how to address systemic racism around the world following the murder of George Floyd last May. And here in Canada, the grim discovery of burial grounds at Kamloops Indian Residential School, as well as the killing of four family members in London, Ont., in what police have called a targeted attack on Muslims, has highlighted that work also needs to be done on this side of the border.

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

This year, the DEI-focused afternoon was held on June 17 and the day off was held on June 18 to “support our team in observing two important days” — Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery and was just made a federal holiday in the U.S. on June 19 and Indigenous People’s Day in Canada on June 21, according to a press release.

Last summer, as Black Lives Matter rallies were being held around the world, Manulife unveiled its leadership and recruitment goals to increase the representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour across its North American businesses. To date, the company has achieved 52 per cent of new graduate hiring as BIPOC talent in 2020, double the goal set last year; created DEI interview guides for hiring managers; created bursary, internship and summer work opportunities for BIPOC students; and launched several partnerships to deepen its ties to BIPOC communities.

While Manulife and John Hancock have taken many concrete steps in recent years when it comes to DEI issues, Taylor-Jones says this will be a journey that company leaders and staff will continue on together. “Employees are feeling empowered, they are feeling excited that the company is in a place of elevation and transformation.

“I like to say this is not a sprint, this is a marathon. This is journey work, this is work that we’ll be doing for quite a long time — our employees are committed. We have elevated our commitment around DEI to really be embedded in our operation and our employees are super excited that we are here and we are in a place of transformation.”

Read: Employers embracing diversity, but more work to be done