Employers embracing diversity, but more work to be done

As more companies integrate diversity, equality and inclusion strategies into their workplaces, listening and leadership are among the keys to a successful program, according to a webinar hosted by Mercer Canada on Thursday.

The company held a series of special listening sessions for staff following the deaths of Black civilians during police encounters in the U.S., said Jaqui Parchment, chief executive officer at Mercer Canada, noting the sessions revealed a “huge gap in understanding” among some staff and emphasized the importance of listening to how these events have affected the workforce.

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“I know there’s many caring individuals who aren’t part of the Black community who want to share their thoughts about how they’re not part of the issues that we’re seeing today. But it’s really important to pause and just hear. Otherwise, you won’t learn as much and you risk turning off the people you’re trying to engage.”

The company’s diversity strategy has also involved an examination of its entire human resources approach to correct embedded bias, she said, citing the example of extensive requirements in a job posting and the potential effect it may have on candidates.

“We know that people of colour and people who are Caucasian experience the idea of promotion and applying for a job in different ways. If you’re a Black woman and you never see anyone who looks like you in senior management, you assume you’ve got to check every single box.”

Also speaking during the webinar, Eva Kwok, principal and diversity, equity and inclusion consulting specialist at the consultancy, cited a Mercer survey that found 70 per cent of Canadian businesses are committed to diversity yet haven’t implemented a long-term strategy. While demographic data beyond gender is submitted on a voluntary basis in Canada, she said this information can help a company craft a proper diversity strategy, including updates to benefits and retirement savings plans based on the needs of the team.

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“The key to this data collection is communicating the rationale [to staff]. What’s measured is what gets managed.”

Kathryn Torangeau, senior people and culture manager at Wave HQ, a financial software company that recently received an award from Mercer for its diversity and inclusion practices, also joined the discussion. Over the last five years, Kirk Simpson, Wave’s founder and CEO, has led efforts to hire more women and people of colour and create an inclusive workplace for all staff, she said, noting this top-down approach has enabled Wave’s diversity strategy to thrive.

“We built a team of leaders from our core that understand diversity ultimately results in a higher-performing business and the ability to engage and attract the best talent. In order for this to be sustained, it has to go beyond a performative blog or Instagram post. Leadership needs to be actively involved from the beginning and if you build a team where diversity is a priority, that commitment will follow.”

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