Big Ideas in IDEA

CCDI Consulting's Monthly Newsletter for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility.

On May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, George Floyd was killed by a uniformed police officer. The manner of his death shocked and appalled people across the globe. The events of that day have been seen as the catalyst for change. In the days, weeks, and months that followed his murder, many workplaces began to recognize that there were systematic barriers to diversity and inclusion.

Now two years removed from that tragic day, we asked our readers if things have changed in Canadian workplaces. We also asked what still needs to be addressed. In the article below (and in the coming days), we will share some of our findings.

We hope that you find this information helpful in your journey to true inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility in the workplace.

May 25, 2020 - 2nd Anniversary Survey

About the Survey

It might be easier to say what our survey is not. It is not a thorough and in-depth review of the state of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) in the Canadian workplace. It is not a random sample drawn from across all industries, demographics, or population groups. This is not a highly scientific or academic thesis paper.

Rather, it is a snapshot of our readers and LinkedIn followers’ perspectives and opinions. The results are highly skewed to people already involved in IDEA in their workday. And that is absolutely acceptable. The results of this survey represent the insights from hundreds of organizations across Canada. The results contain information about trends, successes, and next steps that employers are facing.

CCDI Consulting conducted the survey from April 27 through May 4, 2022. We asked subscribers of our mailings to respond to the survey. We also posted an announcement on LinkedIn. Participation in the survey was voluntary and anonymous. A total of 488 people responded and completed the survey.

Demographic of Respondents

Developing an understanding of the group of people that participated in a survey of this kind is an important piece of the puzzle. As we mentioned previously, our sample is not a true random sample representing the total Canadian population. It represents our subscribers and LinkedIn followers.

Where possible, we have chosen to compare our data with Canadian Census data. We make no judgments about how that data is collected, nor if it is truly inclusive. Currently, it is the best source of data on the Canadian population - though there is always room for improvement.

Let’s investigate this piece further.

Age Participation

As we review the data, we can see that the vast majority of respondents are in their “working” years. This should be no surprise, as the survey was related to diversity and inclusion in the Canadian workplace. Respondents between the ages 35 and 54 account for 68% of submissions. This is followed by ages 55 to 65+, whose submissions account for 19%. Those under the age of 34 accounted for 11% of responses.

Gender Participation

According to the recently released 2021 Canadian Census, data on gender demonstrated that 0.33% of Canadians identify as non-binary or transgender. The remaining population is divided almost equally between those who identify as men (48.83%) and women (50.83%).

Respondents to our survey skew far more to women, at 79%. Our data also reveals that non-binary persons are over-represented in our results at 2%, while men are underrepresented at 16%.

The statistics here make sense, as many more women work in human resources roles, and many inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility practitioners currently tend to be drawn from human resource functions.

Visible Minority Participation

To better understand the context of the comments and data, we are comparing our data with the latest information from Statistics Canada and the 2016 Canadian Census. The newest data relating to visible minorities in Canada is not due to be released until October 2022.

Statistics Canada notes the following:

Visible minority refers to whether a person belongs to a visible minority group as defined by the Employment Equity Act and, if so, the visible minority group to which the person belongs. The Employment Equity Act defines visible minorities as "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour." The visible minority population consists mainly of the following groups: South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean and Japanese.

For more information on the Visible minority variable, including information on its classification, the questions from which it is derived, data quality and its comparability with other sources of data, please refer to the Visible Minority and Population Group Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2016.”

[Note to readers: In the table below, Indigenous people are included in the "not visible minority" category.  This is how Stats Canada chooses to group the data.  In order to compare the data, CCDI Consulting made the choice to follow that data grouping decision.  We are not condoning this practice.]

The most interesting - though, again, not surprising - is that visible minorities are overrepresented in our data - some specific population groups more so than others. We are not sure if this is a good thing or not. On one hand, it is important that marginalized populations are actively involved in creating the solutions to remove the barriers and obstacles to true inclusion and diversity. On the other hand, these groups may be disproportionately facing the pressure to solve systemic problems that they did not create.

Workplace Efforts

Respondents overwhelmingly (82%) believe that their specific workplace has made or is making efforts to become more diverse and inclusive towards racialized people. Only 6% believe that their workplace is not making an effort, and 12% are unsure at this time. That is very positive news.

Here are some of the comments from those that indicated their workplace is making efforts:

“The black live [sic] movement, activism from Muslim, Jewish, Indigenous, and Asian groups amongst others has created a narrative that is hard to ignore. There has been a great deal of work on equity issues. That is not to say the negatives has been full [sic] mitigated, but there are attempts and a drive for systemic changes.”

“We’re seeing the formation of many DEI committees and employee resource groups as we learn the importance of taking care of our colleagues and educating those with the most privilege.”

“There's a greater openness to the discussion--and not just connected to George Floyd, also to Indigenous issues and anti-Asian racism and transgender issues. Where in the past, culturally there may have been singular "trends" to focus on in diversity, now each area of exploration, benefits the other.”

“At the very least, we are becoming more aware of the issues, which is a form of progress itself. We still have much farther to go. There is a risk of becoming complacent.”

However, when we asked in general if workplace diversity and inclusion in Canada is improved in the last 2 years, the results are very different. The percentage of those who answered “yes” drops significantly to only 53%. Those who answered “no” rises to 16%, and those who responded “maybe/unsure” jumps to 31%.

So, why the significant difference between the two results? One obvious reason might be due to survey participants' roles within their organization. Because survey participants are subscribers of our newsletter - and therefore have some level of interest and awareness in IDEA, there may be an unconscious, self-selection bias, as they are highly cognizant of the IDEA initiatives within their workplaces, but may not be as informed of the efforts of other employers.

Despite this, many responses do offer a glimpse into the perspectives and experiences of participants' friends and family members, and in the media.

“The results and articles I read are saying otherwise. Black people specifically see no change and they have mixed feelings going back to the office. This tells me there has been little change.”

“There's been a lot of talk and "marketing" but I'm not sure of actual, tangible change. Like in my response above, it's taken until April 2022 (almost 2 years since George Floyd's death) for us to secure a consultant. It'll take another 6 months for a strategy to be developed and then that has a timeline of 5 years.”

“I've seen more effort in my workplace, but chatting with others, it's not happening. My partner's company scheduled 2 staff on separate shifts as a way to fix transphobia, so there is much work to be done.”

“I think there is a lot of lip service being paid to the idea of diversity and it's prompting a lot of diversity training, but I don't know that it's necessarily changing things for racialized people in the workplace. The efforts are valuable, but it doesn't go very far to change the existing culture or to address concrete issues.”

“I have noticed an increase in purely optical things like Orange Shirt Day, raising of pride flags, posting of safe space stickers. I have not noticed very much real systemic change unfortunately.”

“I believe the death of Mr. Floyd was what really opened our eyes across the world to where many companies are revisiting their policies on diversity, but I strongly believe that a large number of companies are only doing this to tick off that box, but don't really live these values.”

“In Canada, or at least within my network, the changes have been slowly happening over the past few years due to the work our Indigenous communities are doing to push towards Truth & Reconciliation and MMIMG. Although T&R is focused on Indigenous communities, it has brought forth a lot of issues around systemic racism and discrimination overall in our policies and practices.”

We also asked how effective respondents thought their organizations' D&I efforts were. As you can see in the graph, where 1 represents the lowest rating and 5 represents the highest, the responses skew to the right, which indicates that participants believe their organizations are doing a good job; however, the majority of respondents are in the middle, which indicates that there is much room for improvement.

Table of columns

Where To, From Here? Top Themes & Trends

In the final question, we asked participants to share their thoughts with us on what they think still needs to be done. There were a great many thoughtful responses. Some contradicted each other - some suggestions were simple and can easily be implemented, while others were, while critical, will take time, resources, and strategy to come into fruition. The top themes and trends that emerged from responses have been grouped below, with a few examples of each.

1. Training and Development

“Stop the overburden courses and trainings of unconscious bias training to other offerings generating deeper and reflexive discussions on teaching Racial Justice Without Shame or Blame, The Feminization of our Leadership Paradigms, and building community from the inside out. These conversations deploy an intersectional lens to understand organizational readiness to EDI and beyond.”

“Focus beyond training and movement towards cultural strategies that have multipronged approached. Doubling down on racial oppression, development of inclusive behaviours vs surface level education.

“Free training and resources available to employers and the public as a whole. Many folks want to be more diverse and anti racist, but many don't know where to start."

“I would like to see the company adopt a policy stating that all staff are mandated to participate in D&I initiatives and training.”

“In the workplace, I'd like to see this be a regular part of leadership development at all levels, not just senior executives. If team leads and line managers don't know how to lead and coach inclusively, how can we expect employees to buy into it?”

2. Recruitment, Hiring, and Advancement

“Having EDI and Anti-hate related interview questions asked to candidates for leadership positions.”

“I would still like to see more changes in recruitment and retention. Changes to the interview structure for cultural competency. Most importantly cultural intelligence and competency in service delivery."

“It must be a balance in the hiring selection to open opportunities for different cultures and backgrounds.” 

“Insisting on racialized people being part of hiring pools. Targeted recruitment strategies to find, attract and support racialized groups.” 

3. Sponsorship and Mentoring

“Promote from inside. Have AUTOMATIC rotational acting managerial posts so there is no subjectivity when filling vacation leave etc., stop using the word ('mentoring "as it can indicate that racialized employee is less than, need help to get to where others are.”

“Sponsorship of racialized employees. Insisting on racialized people being part of hiring pools. Mandatory training and testing in the workplace for managers and senior leadership on bias and DEI matter. Targeted recruitment strategies to find, attract and support racialized groups.” 

“More mentoring of racialized and marginalized members, more opportunities to learn on the job with an opportunity to grow within companies, more opportunities to provide educational reimbursements/incentives to racialized and marginalized people.”

4. A Holistic Approach to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA)

“The BI, in BIPOC has been getting a lot of attention; the POC portion is still invisible. Must get better to be truly BIPOC.”

“I would like to see organizations held accountable for making tangible change that is inclusive of BIPOC communities, rather than focusing exclusively on gender parity and LGBTQ2S+ concerns.”

“Disability Inclusion must be part of any EDI strategy. It is not good enough to consider disability as "intersectional" to other identities, as if it is a side dish served to the main course. Conversely, those who focus on disability inclusion will likely find themselves more inclusive of other groups as an iterative process, because EDI without disability is only focusing on how to *allow individuals to take up space. Disability digs deeper into how someone can even access space.”

“Change comes from the top. Senior management and senior executives of companies need to be evaluated/compensated specifically on diversity & inclusion. Too little has evolved since George Floyd's death.”

5. Leadership and Executives

“C-suite execs doing more work; demonstrating more curiosity and taking more initiative to understand IDEA and how to operationalize in their business. Because C-suite execs tend to NOT be from equity-seeking groups, there isn’t a natural curiosity to learn. this needs to change.”

“BUDGETS! I'm one person with the smallest EDI budget on campus...and my job is EDI. Institutions need to invest and do the work."

“DE&I leadership and representation at all levels, particularly EVP and C-suite. Racialized people need to see leaders who look like them.” 

“I would like to see executives plan and implement real change like they would any other business objective and ensure they are accountable for progress by attaching a percentage of their bonus to success in this area.” 

“It seems that organizations can pick and choose whether they do this [accountability to D&I initiatives] and will immediately shift their attention to other business [needs]. I don't think D&I is treated as a serious pillar in organizations. An overhaul of how D&I is measured in the workplace as there is no bar so senior managers can say we're working on it without every being held accountable.” 

Employee Resource Groups: What Works, and What Doesn’t

The formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Business Resource Groups (BRGs), and/or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Groups were listed as one of the positive and most noteworthy changes that have been implemented in the workplace since the death of George Floyd. Several other participants also mentioned that there has been an uptick in the creation of DEI-focused roles.

In other responses, such as the one shared below, employees and DEI practitioners mention that they are stuck and unsure of what to do next, beyond their present targets and the resource groups:

“Personally, I am stuck at what to do next - we've built a foundation on I&D and put some processes in place. We are by no means done, but the "what's next" is a stay awake for me. Apart from implementing a few more basics that we should have had a couple years ago (e.g., an Accessibility Committee), I don’t know what to do next to help my organization moving forward. We have targets for women and underrepresented groups but, I don’t think our leaders know what to do to achieve the targets (other than maybe putting people into roles they aren’t ready for to "meet the numbers". Our organization is also not ready for anti-racism, systemic discrimination type of conversations.”

The Benefits

While there are no quick-fix answers or solutions, we want to emphasize that ERGs and the likes are not – and should not be – the end of your IDEA strategy. Rather, they are more useful to be viewed as a tool that can lead to change. Ideally, the group is (or should be) comprised of individuals at various levels of seniority, all of whom are invested in improving workplace culture and addressing IDEA issues. In these groups, they can share ideas, discuss strategies, and assess the organization’s progress.

Some benefits of ERGs are listed below:

  • Can create a sense of community and belonging
  • Can provide opportunities for leadership and professional development
  • Can support relationships in the workplace between people of similar backgrounds – or of shared interests

The Challenges

The benefits of ERGs are undeniable; however, there are several challenges that ERGs will face which will limit their success. These difficulties occur when the organization, as noted in the above response, is not ready for true change, which includes being unprepared or reluctant to address “anti-racism, and systemic discrimination”, as well as:

  • Being led and/or maintained primarily by volunteers
    • Often times, the volunteers of ERGs are members of equity-seeking groups who have a more deeply vested interest in improving workplace culture than those in more senior and/or leadership roles
  • Being an additional responsibility, outside of the employees’ full-time roles
  • Can result in prioritizing some IDEA issues and equity-seeking groups above others
    • For example: Many organizations have been working on fostering a more inclusive workplace culture as it pertains to LGBTQ2+ inclusion; however, there may be members of other equity-seeking groups (e.g.: those who are neurodivergent and/or live with an invisible disability) whose needs are not addressed because they do not fall within the spectrum of LGBTQ2+ inclusion
  • Receiving little to no administrative and/or financial support
    • In addition to being volunteer-run, ERGs often lack buy-in and support from the larger organization. This lack of administrative and/or financial support could be potentially remedied by creating a dedicated budget for the ERG, and ensuring that members who are in senior and leadership positions are also present.

Key Takeaways

The ugly truth is that many organizations are more concerned with maintaining their appearance (creating the image of being inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible), than they are interested and invested in bringing about change. This is why ERGs, while a significant contributor, cannot be the only component of an organization’s DEI strategy.

While conversations and education can increase awareness, we must continue to strive to move from awareness to action. Setting specific, measurable (emphasis on measurable), achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goals is imperative for getting unstuck – and bringing in a consulting specialist who specializes in knowing what to look for and how to help build out a strategy that is attainable and realistic is how your organization can move forward, beyond awareness and conversations. 

Further Reflection Ahead

Thank you to everyone who participated in our survey. This survey was the first in a series which will take place over the next 3 years. We will be releasing updates throughout the year as we continue to analyze the data, and will return to this data as new surveys and information is released.  Your responses in this survey have been invaluable to us and serves as a reference point for where we are, where we would like to go, and what lies ahead. Our hope, through this longitudinal study is to observe an upwards trend of positive responses and a noticeable, large-scale shift from increasing awareness to implementing strategies and measuring changes.

While we continue to reflect on the findings from this survey and the legacy of George Floyd, we also want to acknowledge the recent Buffalo shooting. Racism remains prevalent in our world. Countless lives have been impacted by senseless acts of violence which come not only in the form of vicious attacks like this, but in microaggressions in and out of the workplace, in the over-policing of underprivileged communities, in the lack of opportunities for underrepresented communities and more. 

We understand that there is much work to be done to bring us towards a truly inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible world - and we find some hope in knowing, from your responses, that greater priority is being placed on addressing issues in IDEA.

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