This piece was written by Jamie Kramer, who works in the Human Resources department at the Corporation of the City of Windsor. For more like this, see our gender equality newsfeed.
I remember when the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative was passed at Windsor’s City Council for one reason: after being questioned about its purpose for almost two hours, a young woman approached me and told me that she was excited by the promise of hope it gave her. From this brief interaction, I knew it had already succeeded.
Over the last few years, internal focus groups were conducted to grasp what public employees in the city of Windsor in Ontario, Canada needed to feel engaged, valued and heard. The result? A corporate wide diversity and inclusion effort to assist in more effectively understanding and addressing the needs of everyone in our unique and diverse community.
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Windsor’s diversity and inclusion initiative is a planning and consultation process being undertaken to provide a structured yet flexible framework to allow us to better understand, engage, serve and respond to the needs of our increasingly diverse community.
We are aiming to systematically identify and address both corporate and community wants and needs through a series of measurable action items with a definitive timeline for implementation. This has included comparing our workforce census data to that of the 2016 Canadian Census — and finding out that our workforce has a statistically significant higher population of bilingual (and even trilingual) individuals.
Governments are mirrors of broader society
Governments are mirrors of broader society — their structures, staffing complements and practices have the potential to set the tone for the community, other institutions and employers. The City of Windsor recognises the critical role civic leadership has to play in promoting diversity, inclusion and positive race relations.
To really lead change in the community, I realised that we needed to expand our definition of diversity beyond what is “visible” to those underlooked and underserved aspects of marginalisation.
Diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups of people from one another. Our definition of diversity includes culture, LGBTQ+, First Nations, accessibility, gender based equity, racism, socio-economic class, mental health and wellness, addictions and abuse — and the intersectionality of all of these aspects.
Moreover, diversity means respect and appreciation for these differences and the ability to bring diverse perspectives, work experiences, lifestyles and cultures to the corporation.
Becoming a more diverse and inclusive workplace is not just about hiring people who have differences, but also creating an environment that allows people to bring their unique thoughts and identities to work to enhance the cultural and diversity competence of the workforce at large.
Working to have diversity in our workforce reflective of the community allows us to foster the differences of thought, opinion, and experience that allow us to better meet the diverse needs of our customers and constituents.
January 2019 marked the six month anniversary of implementation of the initiative. In this time, I have engaged staff and community to begin to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion.
Everyone is afraid of change if it isn’t done properly
I have worked to make the initiative less intimidating by making diversity fun, through programs such as “blind date with a book”, an ongoing film festival and a networking opportunity for female employees.
The first six months of implementation have been extremely successful — we had a 30% response rate to our workforce census, began eight employee resources groups, and hosted numerous events bringing together employees all over the corporation.
But it sometimes has been an uphill battle for people to understand the importance of this — and other — diversity and inclusion efforts. There has been pushback, as is expected with any type of change, but this has been addressed individually and on a broader level.
I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone is afraid of change if it isn’t done properly — especially when it comes to culture shifts. Every new policy or change to the status quo will be met with resistance. It is important to handle this in a positive way and to keep moving forward. If we want to do better as a public service, we need to truly represent those who are in our community.
I have now been contacted by numerous municipalities, non-profit organisations, and other government entities to answer questions about design, definitions and implementation. We have become a new standard for this type of effort.
To make the initiative a success internally, it was crucial to me to make it clear that even if one person was positively affected, it was a worthwhile venture. With over 100 employees currently involved, and more volunteering to participate every day, it has exceeded my wildest expectations — and will only continue to increase from here. I can only hope that we meet the promise of that young woman.
(Picture credit: Unsplash)