Hands-on approach has Symcor celebrating diversity (National HR Awards)

Winner, Best Diversity Program
By Anastasiya Jogal
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/21/2015

Symcor has covered all the bases when it comes to developing a diverse and inclusive work environment.

“It is so embraced by our employees,” says Dee Dee Milner, senior vice-president of human resources and CHRO at Symcor. “What we found in our success over the last several years... (is) changing our culture has been driven by our employees and following their lead in grassroots initiatives.”

The diversity inclusion initiatives are largely successful due to high employee engagement. Over the past six years, Symcor’s engagement index has continued to increase, with 2014 marking the highest score at 82 per cent.  

In the most recent 2015 survey results, when asked whether Symcor values diversity in the workplace, 91 per cent of employees agreed for the second year in a row. 

The diversity and inclusion program stems into a number of events, committees and campaigns that are driven by employees.

“We’re most proud of the fact that our employees play a large role in it, and it’s very grassroots and they engage it and they are the ones running with a lot of our programs and promoting it,” says Jeannie White, manager of employee engagement, policies and programs at Symcor, which has almost 3,000 employees at 11 different sites in major cities across Canada including Montreal, Toronto and Halifax.

The company continues to improve by creating new initiatives, partnerships and making certain to measure results along the way.

“This year, for the first time, when we conducted the survey, we added inclusion demographics so that we can try to understand the workforce and what appeals to the different groups better,” says Milner.

A large reason as to why employees stay engaged is due to the hands-on-approach by the company’s CEO, Chameli Naraine, who visits all 11 sites three times per year at a minimum, says Milner. After fulfilling her fiduciary responsibilities with the managers, she interacts with front-line employees.

“She walks around the floor, and our shifts, because of the work that we do, our shifts are not typically day shifts. The majority of our employees are on an evening and night shift and Chameli will still do that — walk around and talk to them, (ask) specifically what it is they are working on and why that’s important and how it impacts our client,” says Milner, adding the practice gets the employees involved in what they are doing while sending a positive message about diversity and corporate social responsibility. 

In addition, a Corporate Executive Social Responsibility committee started last year helps the C-suite look at inclusion and involvement from employees, with various committee leaders including a Diversity Inclusion committee. They share initiative results and in some cases problem-solve potential setbacks.

Visible minorities, LGBT community

Cultural Day is one of the biggest annual events hosted by the Diversity Inclusion committee, led by Pulak Trivedi, human resource advisor at Symcor. “We do try to represent cultures that maybe are not represented, so whether that’s through food, through costume... last year we just started an international talent show,” he says. “They have (a) huge pot luck (to which) everybody brings a variety of their native cultural foods.”

“We have representation from various countries like the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Spanish-speaking countries, Latin America — it’s pretty global,” says Trivedi.

Last year, Symcor partnered with Pride at Work and they’ve been a great resource, says White. The company has sponsored some events and attended others, and employees attend events such as Pro Pride and Flare for Life.

“It’s really about the messaging to our employees that we are supporting these initiatives and also giving opportunities for them to attend,” she says.

One employee felt so safe, she even reached out to the company for help with an LGBT issue.

“She was in the process of transitioning from a male to a female and came to Symcor (to get) help in communicating and announcing it,” says Milner. 

The company, in conjunction with the employee, developed a communication strategy to announce the transition to a select number of her co-workers. The awareness sessions involved more than 170 managers across three local sites and were delivered within a week while the employee was on vacation. Clients were informed to ensure a smooth transition for the employee, resulting in positive feedback all around.

Aboriginal community

In the past year, Symcor has been taking steps to address Aboriginal diversity and inclusion in the workplace. “We partnered with the Toronto Native Women’s Centre... we put together a one-day workshop for women that attended the centre,” says White. “We did mock interviews, how to do a resumé, networking, dressing for success.”

The participants thought the workshop was very informative and appreciated the company’s support, says Trivedi, and the HR team plans to continue running the workshop in years to come.

In the near future, Symcor also hopes to recruit more Aboriginal employees to fill in equity gaps.

“We are working right now on an Aboriginal recruitment strategy,” says White.

Upper-level management regularly analyzes the gaps to put action plans in place and pinpoint whether the focus needs to be directed toward recruitment, communication or management, says Milner. 

“From a recruiting perspective, it is hard, obviously, because... everybody is not open to sharing if they are a designated group,” she says. “Therefore, our best means to providing, and allowing, increased involvement is through the partnerships we made.”

Symcor has also partnered with World Literacy Canada and an Aboriginal cultural centre in Brantford, Ont., working with Aboriginal schools to help them elevate their native language.

“We are actually going to be going into the schools and will be able to have our employees involved with it as well,” says Milner.

Persons with disabilities

For a number of years, the Calgary team has been highlighting different challenges individuals with disabilities may face. Challenges have included trying to open up a container with oven mitts on, going through an obstacle course in a wheelchair or wearing specific glasses that impact your vision, says Milner, adding the events are annual reminders not to take persons with physical disabilities for granted.

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