Top diversity employers expanding range

Larger list of winners with ‘stronger stories’

Manitoba Lotteries has a language bank that identifies employees who speak other languages and can act as interpreters for customers or employees. About 200 people and 37 languages are involved and those who participate are recognized by the president each year.

“It has a business reason and it also is very supportive of people who come with talents that are most certainly good for our business,” said Judith Hayes, director of employee services and organizational development at Manitoba Lotteries in Winnipeg.

The corporation launched a two-year strategic plan on diversity in 2008 to create and expand in-house diversity programs, including an internship program for women, visible minorities and employees with disabilities.

“We’re not so concerned with exact groups of people as ‘How do we have a welcoming environment?’” she said.

The organization has several initiatives underway, such as an Aboriginal internship program for recent graduates, that provides one- to two-year positions in areas such as information technology, licensing, purchasing, HR and finance.

Manitoba Lotteries also provides sign-language interpretation services for employees who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, to ensure they can participate in meetings.

The organization also holds an annual diversity week celebration at one of its sites. This involves displays, ethnic foods and music — “ways to celebrate diversity,” said Hayes.

And in the next few months, the corporation wants to build diversity networks, with groups meeting quarterly to exchange ideas that could be presented to the president.

“So people who are from particular groups can have an even greater voice in our organization and can contribute more fully,” she said.

The variety of initiatives at Manitoba Lotteries is typical of many of the 45 employers on the 2010 Canada’s Best Diversity Employers list, according to Mediacorp Canada.

Canadian companies are making significant progress in improving diversity, inclusiveness and accessibility in the workplace, and more organizations are getting involved with “stronger stories,” said Richard Yerema, managing editor of the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project.

“For some it’s obviously somewhat legislated but in others it’s just the right thing to do and employers are recognizing it’s not a cost, it’s actually a strength in many ways.”

As a federally regulated organization, Bell Aliant is expected to be compliant when it comes to employment equity. But as it works its way up the continuum, it has moved to the next step.

“I’d say we’re past compliance and we’re clearly into the ‘It’s the right thing to do,’” said Alana Paterson, vice-president of HR at Bell Aliant in Halifax, which was named a top diversity employer for 2010. “We’re on the cusp of the next step, which is to say we understand the business case for doing this, there’s a return on investment for focusing on diversity.”

The company believes a more diverse and inclusive workforce enhances the customer experience because it will be more reflective of the community it serves and it leads to more engaged employees, improving creativity and innovation, she said.

Of course being positioned to attract top talent is another reason to be a top diversity employer, said Paterson, along with the boost to corporate reputation.

In 2006, Bell Aliant established a diversity team to represent employees who are women, Aboriginal, visible minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, immigrants or have disabilities. The group of about 15 to 20 people meets regularly, primarily across the four Atlantic provinces.

“Essentially they help to develop and maintain our various programs, chat and brainstorm about keeping diversity on the radar and how we can move the markers forward and become an even more inclusive workplace,” said Paterson.

One of the team’s bigger initiatives was the development of a diversity website, accessible from the company’s intranet. The site contains resources, links to other organizations, a question-and-answer section along with a diversity calendar.

As vice-president of HR, Paterson serves as the executive sponsor of the diversity team, heightening awareness of diversity and its importance to other levels of the organization where the team doesn’t engage as frequently.

“The grassroots elements of this is really important, so it’s not that I would say the executive sponsorship is more important, it’s a great complement,” said Paterson. “It really is quite important as a conduit from the diversity team into the executive level, to make sure we are thinking about diversity in the various initiatives that we undertake.”

Bell Aliant also piggybacks on Bell Canada’s Connecting Women @ Bell program to promote the personal career development of female employees through community involvement and networking. Women make up 42 per cent of both the company’s managers and overall workforce.

Bell Aliant has also made visible minorities a definite priority, she said.

“Certainly from a recruitment perspective, we’re trying to get more aggressive in terms of a diversity strategy.”

Also a top diversity employer for 2010 is George Brown College. It has had an employment equity system in place for more than 15 years and diversity and respect are built right into its value statement. But in the past couple of years, the school has furthered that focus. One of the main programs is an Aboriginal internship program.

“We were seeing that we were not able to attract and retain Aboriginal employees and the Aboriginal community was telling us they needed some help with work placements,” said Nancy Hood, executive director of HR at the Toronto-based college. “We needed to create a bridge with the Aboriginal community.”

The paid internship brings in two people per year and in some cases has led to full-time employment.

“That’s been very successful,” she said, and the college has started a similar internship program for people with disabilities.

George Brown has also hired a full-time American Sign Language interpreter for staff and it established a captioned media and e-text policy in 2006, requiring all faculty and staff to show captioned media in class and in resource centres.

The school also distributes a how-to guide for employees on how to plan events to ensure accessibility for employees and attendees with disabilities.

“That all has to do with our college supporting initiatives that build a diverse and respectful workplace,” said Hood. “It’s not a compliance thing, it’s a commitment.”

George Brown also runs a mental health day each year, in partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

And while women are well-represented at the college, at 64 per cent, the goal is to increase the number of people from diverse backgrounds in senior leadership and the faculty.

“As the demographics change and we hire into our new positions, we’re trying to help them have the skills and be job-ready to go into promotions,” said Hood.

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