How Leaders Can Nurture Inclusive Workplaces

Ruth Mojeed, the founder and CEO of The Inclusion Project, shares how leaders can nurture their mindset for an inclusive workplace.

Quite often, we think of privilege as the indisputable lot of the few — those who have opportunities not available to others of a different group or socio-economic class. While this is true, there are also the endless layers of intersecting challenges faced by many in the workplace — typically around issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, age or other socio-cultural norms that perpetuate systemic inequalities. These are often reinforced by stereotypes and biases that support the experiences and world views of a powerful minority, and they serve as a deterrent to truly inclusive workplaces.

The idea of an inclusive workplace is to enable, affirm and empower experiences and perspectives that may have been unacknowledged or unappreciated in any context. Employers with rigid interpretations of relevant work experience tend to miss out on the best opportunities for re-invention and how to uniquely leverage for creativity.

With the world becoming even closer in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, employers and business leaders have an opportunity to seek out the best and brightest talents whose experiences and skills may not readily translate into Canadian experience.

The Canadian-experience clause has become an impediment to many newcomers
to Canada who, without the proper translation of their experiences to fit within a Canadian context are denied opportunities for self- actualization and the ability to make meaningful contributions.

As many newcomers — immigrants, refugees and international students — try to navigate the difficult challenges and complexities of changes in culture, environment and workplace expectations, there should also be an increased onus on employers to make the workplace ready and accepting to the new and the unfamiliar.

Organizational readiness and cultural well- being can be seen through the predominant culture, practices, policies and power dynamics within an organization. Being a culturally ready or fit workplace requires long-term commitment and efforts to treat employment as a two-way street, with mutual respect, ongoing dialogue and openness on the parts of both employers and employees.

Make a Long-Term Commitment

Now more than ever, the need for race- based data and tracking the experiences of particularly impacted groups has become a matter of urgency. We now need to ask the necessary questions to ascertain who has been laid off and why.

Who are the people most susceptible to the lasting impacts of the pandemic, with regard to job losses and employability — as well as growing disparities in society? How do we work with other stakeholders — policy-makers, academia, talent recruitment agents within business and civil society — to move the dial on inequities that may have been further exacerbated by the pandemic?

For Black Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) communities, there are often
multiple layers of challenges that require an intersectional approach to long-standing issues of inequality. Even when there are recorded cases of employment, it is very normal that there are still disparities in the nature of jobs, working conditions and pay equity.

Not every job is a good job. With limited options and lack of access to the necessary tools for pursuing prospects and securing meaningful employment, many people of colour fall to the bottom end of the employability spectrum — for reasons such as the “Canadian experience” factor, described earlier.

Profiling and targeted employability can serve both as an advantage and a deterrent
to employment equity. When the right skills are overlooked because of unspoken, unacknowledged or unconscious biases, everyone suffers. Real, lasting change requires a shift in perception, perceptiveness and interpretation of talents and skills.

That shift takes effort and a long-term commitment to change. As well, it requires a commitment to collaborate and to discover different ways of engagement, including seeking out talent in unusual or non-traditional places and on-going changes to workplace policies and employment practices.

The pressure to fit within existing organizational frameworks and workplace cultures does a lot to disadvantage organizations from the benefits of a truly inclusive workplace. A diverse organization does not equal an inclusive organization. And true inclusion leads to equitable opportunities both for the organization and the individuals within it.

A Rewarding Process

While the impacts of an organization’s efforts towards addressing systemic inequalities
may be largely unseen in the early stages, the process of change, in itself, can be most rewarding. The beauty of change is in the process behind it. A journey which can be complicated, yet rewarding on many levels.

As diverse world views and talents come together, a tapestry emerges, woven out of the complexity of unique perspectives, voices and lived experiences.

The responsibility for a shared inclusive future for all requires a collective responsibility to change — lasting, impactful and often uncomfortable. The uncomfortable shift
from what is normal and general standards of acceptability begins with a process
of self-reflection and a deep sense of acknowledgement.

An inclusive workplace is one where acceptability is chief; differences are celebrated and opportunities are created to discover, nurture and rediscover new ways of being, acting and doing. This is a shared responsibility for us all.

Ruth Mojeed is the founder and CEO of The Inclusion Project. She brings extensive lived experience and grounded expertise to her work in equity, diversity and inclusion across public and private sectors. She is a director with the board of the Canadian International Council and manager of the Victoria Forum.