TTC reaches out to diverse community (National HR Awards)

Winner, Best Diversity Program
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/21/2016

By John Dujay

Being the public transit organization for one of the most diverse cities in the world should mean it’s a no-brainer the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) embraces diversity as a core value.

In 2015, the TTC began a two-year plan to centralize diversity and inclusion functions into one department, promoting Karen Kuzmowich and Valerie Albanese to run the newly renamed diversity and human rights department. The program is also part of a five-year modernization plan implemented by CEO Andy Byford in 2013. 

“The intent of the plan was to centralize and provide a framework to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives in a more coordinated manner,” says Albanese, head of diversity and human rights at the TTC. “We are early in our journey.”

The TTC — winner of the Best Diversity Program — developed a diversity and inclusion policy and rewrote all of its human resources polices to align with the new reality, while establishing a multi-module training program, complete with practical tools and resources.

“We are prompting employees and managers to consider equity, diversity and inclusion in their day-to-day decision- and policy-making and 
service delivery for customers,” says Kuzmowich, manager of diversity at the TTC.

The policy includes a diversity and inclusion “lens” that encourages workers to see things from a different perspective, a 35-page toolkit with a set of questions so employees will constantly consider diversity and inclusion in planning decisions, and an inclusive language guide to help educate workers on the most appropriate language to use. 

But the job isn’t easy. Many of the commission’s 14,000 workers are constantly moving around Toronto on a 24-7 basis, every day of the year, making communication a daunting challenge, says Albanese.

Using a wide variety of digital and traditional communication methods, the organization transmits its diversity message via an employee website and intranet, TV narrowcasting, email, printed materials, social media as well as town hall meetings and manager worker meetings.

Kuzmowich helps facilitate manager training sessions where groups discuss items such as inclusive leadership skills, unconscious bias and cultural competency. 
What really works to open the eyes of managers is a circle-of-trust exercise, she says. Participants are asked to list five people in their inner circle of trust, then categorize the demographic of each person according to race, colour and gender, and then take a look at the results. 

“They realize how similar people are in their inner circle of trust to themselves. So that really helps people to see, ‘I think I am open to diversity and inclusion but yet I surround myself with people that look like me,’” says Kuzmowich. “I sat back and there were so many moments when I just watched the light bulbs go on inside managers’ (heads).”

The managers then talked about expanding their own circles, she says.

“It was rewarding to watch.” 

On a broader scale, Kuzmowich says she has already noticed changes in many workers. One year ago, most people really weren’t familiar with the term “inclusion” but today, “we’re seeing firsthand that people understand what diversity and inclusion means for our workplace and why it’s beneficial,” she says. “The transformation has started to happen internally to change the way that we do our everyday business. 

The diversity and inclusion initiative also includes a series of mentoring and development training programs.

One includes an exchange with other transit agencies: two employees are sent to work at one of eight North American cities, then those workers bring their knowledge back to the TTC. In the next year, two workers from the other transit agency come back and work for the TTC.

Another is an internal lead program. 

“We will match employees with departments that they don’t really have a lot of familiarity with and embed them in there to job shadow and to go through some of the processes that maybe they don’t have experience with; for example, conducting performance management sessions,” says Kuzmowich.

Another example is having a worker go through the grievance process with a manager with the goal of providing “different job functions they don’t have a familiarity with,” she says.

As well, the TTC is offering a leadership fundamentals program that provides supervisors with advanced training on the organization’s changing culture, consisting of eight modules, each two to three days long.

Recruitment also became a key focus, with a goal of embedding diversity and inclusion into recruitment policies. To do so, the TTC refreshed its behavioural interview training for job candidates.

“The goal is to eliminate bias and ensure that selection decisions are completed fairly and objectively,” says Kuzmowich.

It has also created an “annual outreach schedule” so various groups become aware of TTC employment opportunities. In 2015, the commission boosted its level of outreach three times over the previous year.

But it is sometimes hard to measure the annual increase in demographic representation levels due to a low annual turnover rate of 4.3 per cent. 

“The TTC has a very high retention rate,” says Kuzmowich.

So while the numerical increase is small, “what’s important is really bringing inclusion into the equation and ensuring that the employees that are here feel included and valued in the workplace,” she says. 

A next step for the TTC will be to communicate its new diversity and inclusion policy to the people it serves.

“Customers are very aware and focused on accessibility and accommodation options available, so they see the built environment changes the TTC has been really dedicated to in making improvements,” says Kuzmowich. 

Also in the works, the TTC plans to provide more tailored, focused programs to address specific groups and job applicants.

“All of our initiatives have been very general in nature, targeted to all diverse groups,” says Kuzmowich.

But, for now, the focus remains on educating workers at the TTC, says Albanese.

“We spent a lot of time over the past two years to build the awareness and the strong foundation to ensure our employees understand what diversity and inclusion truly means.”

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