The transgender community was in the spotlight recently at a job fair held in Toronto. About 15 employers took part, promoting their brands and employment opportunities.
The one-day event was organized by Biko Beauttah, founder and chair of Trans Workforce.
“I’m a trans woman of colour in this world, just trying to make a living and life for myself, but then there are these obstacles, systemic obstacles that are constantly revealing themselves as roadblocks to my success,” she said.
“And I didn’t like how they felt, and so I decided — after trial and error and being frustrated, basically sticking in the same place with nothing happening — I decided I’d have to throw myself a job fair if nobody’s going to hire me. And while trying to help myself, it turns out I was helping my community in return as well… I knew if (these issues) were happening to me, and I’m smart and educated and I’m talented, then they’re happening to everybody.”
The obstacles are usually related to transphobia and a lack of education or understanding, said Beauttah — “just society’s ignorance when it comes to how they deal with people who are trans, because we seem to be relegated to the very bottom, the most marginalized in this society.”
But the response from employers has been encouraging, she said.
“We’re not at a crossroads but we’re almost at the cusp of a new wave of thinking for humanity.”
And the trans community should benefit from the increased visibility and positive media coverage of the job fair, she said.
“It obviously boosts awareness and… for lack of a better word, normalizes us in society. And change takes times, but it’s happening as we speak.”
Employers get onboard
The Durham District School Board (DDSB) in Whitby, Ont., is always looking to diversify its workforce, so participating in the job fair made sense, according to Barry Bedford, education officer at the board.
“We do a lot with the trans population out with our board, we have different kinds of staff networks, student networks, things like that, so we’re always looking to truly practise what we preach in the sense that the more diverse the board is, the better the message we give when educating students. So this was an opportunity to get more people interested in our board — we jumped at it.”
There’s definitely a need for this kind of event, he said.
“We always say we’re so forward-facing within Canada but I think we all have growth that needs to happen.”
The DDSB, for example, has been doing anti-oppression training for all its staff over the last three years, along with updating schools with all-gender washrooms. But more could still be done, said Bedford.
“We want this community to know that they’re certainly supported within our communities. Will some situations occur? We can’t stop everything bad from happening to everyone, but are we proactive in trying to get ahead of the ball? Absolutely.”
For correctional services, it’s important to ensure diversity and inclusion are part of the recruitment strategy, according to Ryan Sandberg, regional recruiter for the central region at the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services in Toronto.
“One of the big things that we are trying to do is build a workforce that is representative of the communities that we serve, so part of that is having representation from the trans community in our institutions,” he said.
“A big part of this is to show we are an inclusive, diverse organization and we are supportive of all staff, all communities, so it’s very important we are here to show our support for the community, and encourage members of the community to come work for us as well.”
Meanwhile, Parks Canada participates in a lot of job fairs because the usual methods of attracting people don’t always work, according to Greg Bryant, HR manager in Peterborough, Ont.
“Going online, using the federal government’s website is great, but we see, especially in some communities, we don’t get necessarily a representative sampling, people don’t think of us as an employer. So, we do outreach like this; this is a great example of a diverse community that maybe we’re not meeting, so it’s a chance to get more good folks to work for Parks (Canada),” he said.
The agency has had an LGBTQ working group for about 20 years now, and “it’s pretty darn active,” said Bryant, citing as an example its participation in conferences across North America.
“We’re not all the way there yet, and I think that’s another component of being here today is to listen and learn a bit.”
For the Canadian Forces, the Trans Workforce job fair is another opportunity to be out in the community, according to Peter Antonew, lieutenant-commander at the Canadian Forces recruiting centre for southern Ontario in Toronto.
“We have different channels we communicate with the public with, whether it’s online through forces.ca, but we also know that attending career fairs is another great opportunity to pass our message on about the jobs that are available for people,” he said.
The trans community is not a particular area of focus for the Canadian Forces, said Antonew, as its employment equity is focused on women, visible minorities and indigenous people.
“But there are Canadian citizens here who are looking for jobs, whether it’s an event like this or a Pride event, Caribana, it’s an opportunity with people, and it’s the first one (directed at trans people) so obviously we would like to participate in it and spread our message about the job opportunities we have.”
Indigo was excited to be at the job fair considering the company’s inclusive environment, according to Agatha De Santis, vice-president of talent in Toronto.
“We ensure everyone is treated equally and fairly, regardless of their race, age, gender identity or sexual orientation. We are always looking to refine our processes from our supply chain to marketing to hiring. Transgender people work in both our stores as well as our home office, and we’re looking forward to speaking with prospective talent who are interested in working at Indigo.”
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