Employers’ focus on employment equity recognized by government awards

Award-winning employers include Cogeco, Port of Vancouver, Cargill
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/05/2016

In April, the federal government recognized 32 employers for outstanding achievement in employment equity in the workplace.

While the federally regulated employers are required to engage in proactive employment practices to increase the representation of four designated groups — women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples and visible minorities — employment equity is also good for business, said MaryAnn Mihychuk, minister of employment, workforce development and labour.

“In a competitive global market, workplace diversity and inclusion provide opportunities to capitalize on the unique talents and contributions that diverse communities offer. Reflecting the rich diversity of our society in our federal workplaces is essential to growing our country’s economy.”

Cogeco focuses on communities

Among the 32 winners was IT communications company Cogeco Connexion, whose vision goes well beyond compliance with the Employment Equity Act, according to Liette Vigneault, vice-president of HR and communications in Montreal.

“It represents who we are as a company that is close to the communities it serves, and a company which is very attentive to the needs and concerns of its customers. It’s also important because they are entirely consistent with the values of the company, which are teamwork, respect, trust, dedication to serve and innovation.”

Integrating diversity into overall management practices brings many advantages, she said.

“First, it improves the delivery of our customer service, who themselves are becoming more diverse. We believe that the more our workforce represents the population, we serve better in our capacity to reach their expectations. It applies also on the product development access, our capacity to access new markets and innovation,” said Vigneault.

“We also really believe that if we create a respectful working environment where everybody feels they are appreciated, even if they are different, at some point it will increase our productivity. We’ll have more innovative solutions, of course, greater collaboration and partnership, I would say, and more effective change management. At the end of the day… the overall employee engagement will increase.”

With a focus on equity, employees feel more included, she said.

“They feel that they are an added value and their differences are considered an added value.”

To improve diversity, Cogeco has rolled out several initiatives, including a diversity week at locations in Quebec and Ontario.

“It’s an entire week of various activities such as potlucks, speakers, we invite external resources that represent our four designated groups, and we aim to promote our value, our culture, our differences, our diversity positioning to our employees,” said Vigneault. “The idea here is to break down silos between departments and encourage collaboration amongst employees and to provide also for the exchange of creative ideas.”

The 2,550-employee company also created three committees, one for each of its main facilities, with managers, employees and employees representing the four designated groups, focused on employment equity and the implementation of initiatives. These include training for HR on diversity and recruitment to eliminate barriers right from the beginning of the lifecycle of employees, she said.

“It also includes mandatory online training for all of our managers and also other kinds of co-development discussion and initiatives. Mainly, it’s all about awareness and education.”

The development of partnerships with organizations that represent the four designated groups in the community is also part of the plan, said Vigneault. And there are elements around governance and accountability.

“As an example, this year will be the first year where all of the senior management (are) going to have in their own personal objectives something around diversity, which is very well appreciated, and then… the HR department will develop some scorecards for them to really understand what’s going on and where they are, where they fit in terms of number of representation and all of it.”

As part of its recruitment strategy, Cogeco also includes diversity in its external visibility, which means including diversity statements in internal and external job postings. And an internal women’s network aims to support the career advancement of women within the organization.


Port of Vancouver maps out talent

Another winner, Port of Vancouver, is the country’s largest port and it’s also looking to become the most sustainable port in the world, according to Sandra Case, vice-president of human resources and labour relations.

“To do that, we need to access the best talent and so we make targeted efforts to make sure that we bring everyone into the competition,” she said. “When I announce our employees’ names at the town hall for the new hires, I can’t say half of them because we’re really looking around the globe for our talent and we’re getting it.”

In accessing all of the different talent pools, people aren’t blocked out because they are a certain nationality or have a certain disability, and actually get the best talent, she said.

“You literally bring everyone into the competition and then you hire the best person, so that affects your bottom line and it affects your productivity and your innovation.”

To ensure greater equity, the CEO of the 330-employee port has provided leadership in this area, particularly around gender, said Case, which means making sure women are half-and-half represented in the competition for leadership positions.

“As well, our HR team has a very diverse background so there’s no bias going into any of the interviews, and we educate our managers that they’ve got to recognize that they want the best talent, not the people who look or act like them.”

The port provides training on the topic, particularly for HR, and targeted leadership training has also helped, said Case.

“Leadership opportunities come up in different areas outside of our organization — to be on our board of trade or to represent the organization — and we use our talent map to reach out to people. Often, they’re people who might not be the corporate white male profile and… I often have the response ‘I don’t know why you’re asking me’ and my response is ‘Well, it’s because you’re smart and you work hard,’ and people are noticing that,” she said.

“But I think a lot of people who are in visible minority positions or female, or persons with disability or Aboriginal, all those categories, there’s sort of a reticence to think that you deserve a promotion or to think that you are entitled or could be a leader, even though you work as hard and are as smart as anybody else. So I would say that’s kind of a different approach too, in that we really look at our talent map and try and get people involved who are in key positions.”

As for the award, that helps the cause, said Case.

“We’re a very competitive organization, we’re competing in the world marketplace and so this has set a new benchmark for us in making sure that we win next year and improve our stats going forward.” 

Group strategy at Cargill

At Cargill AgHorizons Canada, selecting, developing, engaging and retaining diverse talent enables the company to achieve its strategic goals, according to Leslie Stanier, director of human resources in Winnipeg at the provider of food, agriculture and risk management products and services.

“Not only does diversity make the workplace more dynamic and interesting for everyone, but having an inclusive culture that builds on that diversity is what leads to successful business results,” said Stanier.

In addition, diversity has an impact on the brand as it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, she said.

“We want to attract employees who bring a broad range of diversity and prospective employees want to work for an employer who appreciates their unique perspective,” said Stanier. 

“When people with different backgrounds come together to meet challenges and solve problems, business is more creative, innovative and, ultimately, more successful. Leveraging inclusion and diversity in Cargill leads to more ideas, meaningful connections with community groups and more value for our customers. This is what makes a great company.”

The company, which has 150,000 global employees, has several initiatives to improve diversity in its workforce. For one, leadership has developed an inclusion and diversity strategy that is linked to the business strategy. There are also business resource groups (BRGs) comprised of employees who focus on recruiting, developing, engaging and retaining a diverse workforce in an inclusive environment, she said.

“Each BRG has a focus area aligned with employment equity requirements and they work collaboratively together with leadership support and governance.” 

A communication strategy supports the efforts of each group, with tactics such as monthly awareness articles distributed to employees, quarterly newsletters, lunch-and-learn sessions, a website and posters.

Inclusion training is also provided to managers, which they facilitate to their team members, said Stanier. And partnerships are developed with external organizations that support the strategy and goals.

There is a comprehensive onboarding program for new hires and Cargill employees also complete a self-declaration survey on a regular basis and. A regular employee engagement survey also asks questions about the inclusive environment. And information gathered from exit interviews is reviewed regularly to understand inclusion and diversity impacts, she said.

And when it comes to recruitment, “job postings, policies and programs are reviewed regularly to ensure compliance with employment equity requirements and eliminate any barriers to inclusion and diversity,” said Stanier.

In the end, receiving the award was great recognition for Cargill’s focus on inclusion and diversity, she said.

“It provides us with an opportunity to promote our commitment externally and internally and provides recognition for the employees that volunteer their time to increasing the diversity of Cargill and creating inclusive environment.”

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