Employers recognized for diversity

Jazz Aviation, National Bank, Stikeman Elliott make annual list
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/26/2012

With 5,200 employees across Canada, Jazz Aviation represents a wide range of diverse backgrounds — something it is very proud of, said Terri Green, HR manager, based at the head office in Enfield, N.S.

To show off and celebrate the company’s diversity, “heritage maps” of the world — decorated with different coloured dots placed by employees to indicate where they and their ancestors were born — were hung at all Jazz locations.

“(We wanted) to let employees know that we are diverse and generate conversation,” said Green. “We put them in areas where we have a lot of employees, so it might be a lunchroom or a crew room, and it really does generate conversation and that’s one of the best things — to get people talking about it and letting people be themselves.”

This initiative is just one of the many programs at Jazz that helped it place on Canada’s Best Diversity Employers list by Mediacorp Canada. The list recognizes 50 employers from across the country with exemplary diversity initiatives in five employee groups: women; members of visible minorities; persons with disabilities; Aboriginal Peoples; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) peoples.

Jazz has also worked with the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) — the union that represents its airport customer service agents — to create a women’s advocate role. It has three female unionized employee advocates as well as a couple of management advocates who have gone through an extensive training program to offer support to other female employees, said Green. Employees can connect with an advocate in-person or by phone.

“It could be around anything from spousal abuse to problems integrating in the company,” said Green. “It’s become almost like an add-on to our EAP (employee assistance program). They have the option of going to an EAP or they can choose to talk to someone who does the same thing they do, and that’s comforting to some employees — they want to talk to someone who’s in their line of work.”

National Bank

At National Bank in Montreal, which also placed on the Best Diversity Employers list, all senior managers have specific targets for diversity, said Evelyne Bundock, vice-president of talent management at the 19,000-employee bank.

Each senior manager is responsible for completing an action plan that addresses specific groups underrepresented in their business line — such as women, people with disabilities or visible minorities — and carrying out strategies to achieve the targets.

The market for IT candidates is mostly male so National Bank has been working on improving the representation of women in senior leadership jobs, which was one target the senior vice-president of IT gave himself, said Bundock. While he had eight vice-presidents in total, all but one was male, so he set the goal of adding one female vice-president per year.

“He actually hired two women in the first year — he was actually in advance on his target... in adding senior women leaders in IT which is not an easy task,” she said.

National Bank also has a structured program in place around amicable dispute resolution specific to diversity issues. Whenever the labour relations or employee relations department is asked to intervene in a conflict, it always identifies the ones related to diversity and seeks out a dispute-resolution representative to help implement a specific intervention approach, said Bundock.

This is very helpful because often management doesn’t feel comfortable managing these types of conflict so a representative helps them have open dialogue around the issues.

“And it’s making sure we’re addressing the right issues,” said Bundock. “For example, somebody might think they are a victim of racism when, in fact, it can be related to something else, this is just scratching the surface, so we’ll make sure we go deeper in the conflict.”

One reason diversity is very important to National Bank is because it feels very strongly that companies with more diversity perform better, she said.

“When you’re in retail, having a workforce that represents the client, it’s much easier to make sure that you’re really providing the right service to your clients when you have people who understand them because of a similar background.”

Stikeman Elliott

Stikeman Elliott’s community outreach program is one reason the Toronto-based law firm placed on the Best Diversity Employers list. Stikeman Elliott reaches out to different at-risk communities where students don’t normally consider law as a potential career option, in an attempt to make it seem less intimidating, said Wesley Ng, a partner and member of the firm’s diversity committee.

“The key is to make it less foreign to them because it’s something they can think about and think, ‘I could do that too’ and that’s what we really want to convey to them,” said Alethea Au, an associate at the firm who is also a member of the diversity committee. “Even though it might not be something that’s done by a large proportion of people in their community, it’s still something they can do if they wanted to.”

As part of this community outreach, high school students tour the law firm to get a taste of the corporate legal world and have their questions answered by the lawyers, she said.

Stikeman Elliott, which has 1,200 employees, also has a program that offers coaching to women returning from maternity leave, which Au has used and found very helpful, she said. Every lawyer who goes on maternity leave can meet with a coach near the end of her leave to discuss topics related to career development and work-life balance. They can work together to identify arrangements to accommodate child care, flex-work arrangements or possible role or responsibility changes, said Au.

“Returning to work is often a stressful time because you don’t know what’s expected of you, you don’t know whether you’ve been out of practice for enough time that you should be concerned… The coaching service addresses each person’s leave on an individual basis (because) with every person who has children and decides to come to work, it’s a very personal decision and not a one-size-fits-all scenario.”

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