Awards, ‘inclusion lens’ among supports at top diversity employers

Dalhousie, Manitoba Hydro, City of Ottawa among 55 employers recognized on 2013 list

When hearing about the initiatives underway at Dalhousie University in Halifax, it’s pretty clear why the school is among Canada’s Best Diversity Employers 2013, a list compiled by Mediacorp Canada.

One of the university’s greatest strengths is its holistic view of diversity issues, according to Lisa DeLong, human rights and equity advisor at Dalhousie.

“This means more than looking at short-term measures but also through creating pathway programs for youth and students, for ensuring multiple sources of support for inclusion… (and) very strong support for diversity from senior levels in the institution.”

In 2012, the 5,000-employee university launched a Dalhousie Diversity Faculty Award program to reward faculties that hire from under-represented groups, with administration paying up to one-half of the salary, for three to five years, up to a maximum of $50,000 per year.

“We’re aiming to really take an aggressive approach to sustainable employment of these groups of individuals that have historically been under-represented in academia,” said DeLong.

An Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq Initiative at the Schulich School of Law aims to reduce structural and systemic discrimination by increasing their representation in the legal profession. This involves community outreach, financial support, recruiting and scholarships, she said.

The university is also involved with the Federal Contractors Program, established by the government to further workplace equity for designated groups experiencing discrimination in the labour market, including women and visible minorities.

And when it comes to employment equity, there are two dedicated people handling the recruitment and retention of staff and academics, said DeLong.

“They ensure that at all stages of the recruitment and retention process, they have a constant view to the employment equity framework that we have in place.”

HR also focuses on the principles of fair consideration in hiring and affirmative action, with a specific focus on Aboriginal Peoples, people of African descent indigenous to Nova Scotia, women and people with disabilities, she said.

City of Ottawa offers tools

The City of Ottawa is another of the 2013 diversity winners, with several initiatives in place such as an Equity and Inclusion Lens, developed in partnership with the City for All Women Initiative. The tool is meant to ensure the organization is systematic, consistent and coherent in its efforts to promote equity and inclusion.

The tool involves training sessions delivered to managers and staff who go through a workbook featuring snapshots of 11 different groups, ranging from Francophones to rural residents, said Lois Emberg, manager of diversity and the employment equity program at the City of Ottawa.

“It’s to get managers and staff to think, ‘Are you being inclusive?’ ‘Is there anything that you do in your area of work, in supervising or managing staff or in terms of training programs, that you might have missed that could be included so there’s no group of individuals that have been excluded?’” she said.

“The participants can actually reflect and go through the exercise and understand the principles of equity and inclusion, and how they can take this information and bring it back to their own workplace and integrate it into their day-to-day acts.”

The 17,000-employee City of Ottawa also holds a series of diversity cafés, with representatives from different communities talking about their experiences and the barriers they face, said Emberg.

“It’s a way for us to sensitize our own staff at city hall to become more aware of different cultural groups.”

Immigrants are also a priority at the organization, which partners with community associations to offer mock interview workshops, career fairs, coaching and networking events.

And the city is a member of the Employment Accessibility Resource Network (EARN), a joint initiative between service providers and employers to help people with disabilities find employment. It recently hosted a networking event for employers to increase their understanding of accommodation and accessibility.

Manitoba Hydro transitioning

Manitoba Hydro has several initiatives around diversity that helped it land on Mediacorp’s list, including a transitional employment program, in partnership with non-profit organization SCE Lifeworks, that helps high school students with intellectual disabilities gain meaningful employment.

Manitoba Hydro provides work placements for them in their last year of school.

“The program immerses students in a business setting to develop the employability and life skills that they definitely don’t have when in the student class environment, so it’s helping bridge the gap from school to their life after school,” said Kim Lanyon, Winnipeg-based recruitment and diversity department manager at Manitoba Hydro.

The company also offers an acquired brain injury program to help people who have sustained a severe brain injury. The program has up to four people per year and includes customized vocational assessments, training and job coaching.

“That one really is focused on assisting individuals who have been unemployed for several years as a result of a severe brain injury and reintegrating them back into the workforce,” said Lanyon.

Manitoba Hydro also conducts career workshops in several Aboriginal communities to increase their awareness of employment opportunities at the company, and it has developed an Aboriginal Sharing Circle so employees can connect and network by sharing experiences, best practices and recommendations.

There is also a pre-placement program for Aboriginal applicants who do not meet the requirements of trade apprenticeship programs, with paid on-the-job training and mentoring.

“Usually if they’re successful in that program, then they’re ready to bridge into our trades program,” she said.

And since the 6,300-employee Manitoba Hydro is part of a male-dominated industry, said Lanyon, the company works to support female power electricians through a formal mentoring program, a Women in Trades Networking website and a developmental program for women with limited trade experience.

City of Vancouver fires away

Vancouver has a diverse population of people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures, “so in order to best serve the public and population we serve, it’s really important to be as representative as possible within the city itself,” said Christina Nikiforuk, HR manager in the human resources and innovation and learning division at the City of Vancouver.

As a result, the organization has various initiatives that helped put it on the list of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers 2013, such as an Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee.

“Part of the work that they would be looking to do as a committee and as a group would be to address strategic action areas, including those which align with city council’s priorities and research findings around Aboriginal needs and populations,” she said.

The city’s fire and rescue services department has also created a diversity committee and participated in outreach initiatives to increase female representation. As a result, there are now 15 women on the force compared to seven in 2010, said Nikiforuk.

“There’s been a lot of public outreach efforts specifically geared to recruiting female firefighters and these have including things like career fairs at high schools, colleges and universities, enhanced outreach and partnering with different community organizations around that, such as women’s groups, sports teams, societies, school career counsellors, and holding public information sessions.”

Vancouver’s engineering services department has also partnered with the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) to offer female apprentices job-shadowing opportunities. And the department has solicited feedback from women around work culture, career opportunities and any barriers to increasing their representation in the trades.

“Obviously the feedback was extremely helpful to understand what strategies would help to increase the recruitment and retention of women,” said Nikiforuk.

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