Top employers know diversity is ‘good business’

List highlights employers with policies to recruit and promote diverse employees

When Kaye Leslie started working at Scotiabank five years ago, one of her first tasks was to give a presentation to the bank’s training vendors about how to make learning more accessible.

A few minutes into her presentation, the sound of snoring filled the room.

Her presentation hadn’t put her audience to sleep, it was just that Leslie, who was born with juvenile macular degeneration and has only two per cent of her vision, had brought her guide dog Kirk to the presentation and he had promptly settled down for a nap.

Instead of disrupting the meeting, the snoring gave everyone a good chuckle and reminded them why they were there.

“It broke the ice,” says Cory Garlough, who oversees diversity and inclusion at Scotiabank as the vice-president of global employment strategies.

Leslie, manager of workforce diversity, brings Kirk to work with her every day. The bank provides her with a screen reading program that reads everything on her computer and a professional reader who comes in for two hours a week to do reading-intensive tasks such as Leslie’s filing and expenses.

The world has changed since the time when people with disabilities were institutionalized and technology has made it easier for employers to accommodate people with disabilities, but Leslie worries there are still many misconceptions that create barriers to employment.

“Sometimes, I believe, employers avoid hiring people with disabilities because they are afraid they will be less productive or take longer to train or they will be sick a great deal or they might be emotionally too fragile and maybe won’t be a good fit,” she says.

To breakdown those stereotypes, Leslie appeared in a TV commercial along with other successful working people with disabilities as part of the HireAbility campaign by the Toronto-based Job Opportunity Information Network for Persons with Disabilities.

“People are aging in the workplace and we are seeing more and more disabilities. The more we learn about (disabilities) the better we will be able to accommodate people,” says Leslie. “This is not about being nice corporate citizens, this is about good business.”

Having a diverse workforce, including people with disabilities and people of different races, creeds, religions, genders and sexuality, means Scotiabank is better able to meet customers’ needs, says Garlough.

“The more diverse and more inclusive an organization is, you harness better innovation, you have better decision making and that leads to stronger business results,” he says.

In recognition of this business imperative and of the fact more and more organizations are implementing different processes to support and promote diversity, Mediacorp Canada Inc., the publisher of Canada’s Top 100 Employers list, released a list of 25 of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers.

“For us to shine a light on those that are actually very proactive in integrating diversity initiatives in their recruitment and retention policies, lets us show other employers what some others are doing and it helps to create a conversation and provide some guidance and examples,” says Richard Yerema, managing editor of Canada’s Top 100 Employers.

And while Scotiabank’s attitude and programs are similar to those on the list, the organization itself is not. (For a profile of three winners of the competition, see pages 16 to 18. The complete list of winners is on page 18.)

When choosing employers for the list from applicants to the 2008 Top 100 competition, Yerema and his team not only looked at policies that promote the recruitment of marginalized groups (women, Aboriginals, people with disabilities, visible minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people), but also policies that encourage the promotion of these employees.

The first annual list shows there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to diversity, says Yerema. “It’s more of a reflection of where they’re located and what their reality is.”

Organizations in cities that attract large numbers of immigrants, such as Toronto and Vancouver, have to find ways of attracting and retaining immigrants if they want to succeed, he says. Toronto-based professional services firm Ernst & Young has a long-standing mentorship program where partners coach visible minority managers.

In other parts of Canada, where there aren’t as many immigrants, organizations are figuring out how to attract and retain Aboriginal workers, says Yerema.

Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, a pulp and paper manufacturer in Boyle, Alta., has an Aboriginal apprenticeship program and has created partnerships with Aboriginal business people. In Winnipeg, aerospace giant Boeing Canada Technology partners with an Aboriginal aerospace training program to recruit Aboriginal employees.

To attract and retain lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, many employers on the list, including Edmonton-based software firm Intuit and Toronto-based accounting firm KPMG, have networks for LGBT employees.

While Toronto-based professional services firm Deloitte didn’t make the Top 25 list, it recognizes the importance of diversity and has appointed a chief diversity officer.

Jane Allen, a 12-year veteran with the firm, took on the post in January and reports directly to the company’s chief executive officer.

One of the goals Allen will be working on is to make the firm’s partner group more representative of Canadian society. Deloitte does a good job of hiring diverse employees at the entry level but “if you look at our partner group, we’re less diverse,” she says.

To achieve that goal, sensitivity to and understanding of diversity will become key performance metrics for leaders.

“All of the people who have responsibility for hiring and promotions and for doing performance reviews... they’ll be held accountable for the types of hiring they do and the types of performance reviews and ensuring we’re being inclusive and not exclusive,” she says.

The firm will also build on existing coaching programs to ensure people who are in under-represented groups in the senior ranks receive at least an equal amount of training and mentoring as non-visible minorities and men, says Allen.

With talent management such a critical issue for all employers, organizations can benefit from having a stronger focus on diversity, says Allen.

“If you’re not paying attention to diversity you’re soon going to find yourself in trouble when it comes to being able to attract the best people, the right people, for your firm,” she says.

The top 25
Canada’s Best Diversity Employers

Mediacorp Canada Inc. selected the top 25 employers in the country when it comes to diversity. Below is a list of the winners along with one of their diversity initiatives.

Air Canada
Attended preliminary meetings of the Human Resources and Social Development Canada project, Strategy for a Racism-Free Workplace, which advances the careers of Aboriginal and visible minority employees in the workplace.

Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries
Established partnerships with Aboriginal businesses and has an Aboriginal apprenticeship program.

Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP
Founding sponsor of the Judy Project, a leadership program for women in business and organizations.

Boeing Canada Technology, Winnipeg Division
Provides BlackBerrys to staff who are deaf to help them communicate with co-workers.

Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto
Holds mandatory training sessions on race relations for all employees.

The Women at Enbridge program helps women advance their careers within the company through leadership development, mentorship and peer coaching.

Ernst and Young
Hosts a series of inclusiveness awareness workshops for senior-level employees.

Export Development Canada
Operates an annual diversity training program for managers.

Hewlett-Packard (Canada)
Manages employee resource groups for different employee groups including women, people with disabilities, Asians and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees.

HSBC Bank Canada
Operates outreach initiatives to establish and maintain relationships with various Aboriginal and disabled workers, including job fairs, placing recruitment advertising in targeted publications and participating in job shadowing partnerships.

IBM Canada
Requires managers to attend a diversity and inclusive leadership program.

Intuit Canada
Developed a women’s network and a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) network.

Operates a “MicroInequities” program designed to promote diversity through awareness of body language, spoken language and differing cultural norms.

Merck Frosst Canada
Established a recruiting for diversity training component for all hiring managers.

Neill & Gunter (now Stantec)
Attends career fairs and seminars for Aboriginal youth.

Ontario Public Service
Developed a recruitment brochure and distributed it to more than 200 community agencies helping disabled jobseekers.

Procter & Gamble
Works with company diversity networks to attend university recruiting events focusing on black and Latino students.

Saskatchewan Government Insurance
Developed a recruitment strategy to become an employer of choice for Aboriginal Canadians.

Suncor Energy
Aims to increase the number of women employees in management positions through career development, succession planning, mentorship and coaching.

TD Bank Financial Group
Completed focus groups with more than 80 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees seeking input on how to create a more inclusive workplace (all participants were members of Employee Pride Network at TD, whose membership across Canada numbers more than 300) and the president and CEO hosted a pride reception for TD employees

Toronto Police Service
Attends cultural events to recruit potential new hires from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

University Health Network
Provides customized diversity training for various departments in the hospital.

University of British Columbia
Created a “positive space campaign” for LGBT employees.

University of Toronto
Developed an LGBT human resources committee that provided training on LGBT issues to divisional HR staff on creating a welcoming environment for sexual minorities.

Vancouver City Savings Credit Union
A leading sponsor of Vancouver’s annual Pride Parade, which includes sponsorship of an entertainment venue and employee volunteers actively participating in the parade.

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