October 20

Advisory Boards and D&I Committees: Do They Really Work?

I am someone who is determined to leave this world a better place for my son, and the next generation of humans entering the workforce, therefore I am driven to inspire change.

This drive to do better has led me to educating, initiating and partaking in conversations around topics like the residential schools, Indigenous allyship, gender equality, 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion, dismantling unconscious bias, the gender spectrum and pronouns. Many of these conversations prove challenging but imperative to creating the kind of world I want to live in.

As an inclusion consultant, educator and member of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, I’m constantly helping inspire change in others, while simultaneously being on a personal journey of self-discovery and allyship. I’m delightfully witnessing progress and change all around me. Many individuals and organizations are waking up to the fact that attracting and retaining top talent means embedding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies into their company culture. This looks different depending on the size and structure of an organization but the concepts, understanding required, and approach remains the same. In order to help you develop a forward thinking perspective it’s helpful to look back and appreciate the work that’s already been done. Let’s take a look at a few noteworthy Canadian historical events pertaining to D&I.  

In 1988 Canada became the first country to adopt a policy as part of the Human Rights Act in support of multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion. This policy was known as the Multiculturalism Act. Its implementation echoed Scottish-Canadian writer, John Murray Gibbons, catch phrase for Canada; a Cultural Mosaic. Canada has continued to be referred to in this way as a result of the diversity in our country’s population; a variety of different ethnic groups, languages and cultures. 

Among many amendments that have been made to the Human Rights Act over the years, in 1996, it was amended to include “sexual orientation” as prohibited grounds for discrimination. Fast forward to 2016, the Government of Canada introduced more legislation protecting individuals who identify as transgender or gender-diverse against discrimination, hate propaganda and hate crimes based on their gender identity and gender expression. Both pieces of legislature are important steps with regards to inclusion for the 2SLGBTQI+ community.  

Another historical event to take place with regards to D&I recognition is the Truth and Reconciliation Policy Commission of Canada. The Commission was created in 2008 with a policy designed to do two important things: aid in the healing process of Indigenous communities by acknowledging the traumatic history of the residential school system and establishing systems that would prevent this type of abuse from ever happening again. The policy was developed with 94 calls to action to support a collective Truth & Reconciliation in Canada. Of these amendments, creating educational and economic opportunities for Indigenous Canadians tops that list. This call to action has been put in place to ensure Indigenous communities can fully participate in society. Many of these calls to actions speak directly to the need for workplace DEI strategies. 

I share these significant milestones with you as a reminder that welcoming, protecting and supporting diversity in workplaces is no longer a nice thing to do, it’s the law.  As the world around us evolves, policies, procedures and laws must evolve to meet the needs of all people. 

With all of this in mind, this leads us to the question, do advisory boards and D&I committees really work? Do they help reduce discriminatory behaviour and create a more connected, collaborative and forward thinking workplace? 

When deciding whether or not to implement a D&I committee into your workplace there are a few things to consider beyond the obvious; time and money. As someone who’s been on the Women In Leaderships, Bridging The Gap To Gender Equality Advisory Board for the past 9 months I can confidently say that in order for a committee or board like this to prove successful, there are six key areas to take into consideration. 

  1. Purpose:

What is your committee or board’s purpose? 

  1. Are you responding to challenges within your organization or the community? 
  2. Are you taking a proactive approach to educate and understand D&I before something is brought forth?
  3. Are you trying to attract a more diverse team and support those individuals?
  4. Do you intend to change company policies and procedures?
  5. Are you looking to develop new strategies and innovation tactics?

There are various reasons why you may start a committee and it helps to get clear on yours before you begin.

  1. Goals:

Do you have tangible, specific and quantifiable goals?

  1. Are you reviewing and updating your representation, recruitment and retention procedures?
  2. Are you hoping to improve your employee selection, promotion and development process?
  3. Do you have a goal of attracting (and creating inclusion) more gender diverse, Black, Indigenous or people of colour? How will you do this?
  4. Do you have a goal to attract and support new immigrants to Canada?
  5. Is your company in an innovation and growth phase? What needs to be done to support this?

If you gain clarity on what you hope to achieve from your committee this will guide you on what specific areas to measure.

  1. Roles & Responsibilities:

Are you prepared to assign specific roles and responsibilities to each member of the group?

  1. Who is your group lead?
  2. Do you have well defined roles and responsibilities for each group member based on interest, skill set, background and perspective?
  3. Have you considered assigning specific members to different areas of inclusion such as: Indigenous, 2SLGBTQI+, Black, people of colour, and differently abled or other marginalized populations? What other roles or responsibilities might you have?

Roles and responsibilities could include things like finding books, peer reviewed articles and documentaries to help educate and celebrate each of the populations listed above. You could also include mapping out your fiscal calendar with all the themed months and tailoring meetings and events based on them (ie. Black History Month in February and Pride month in June). 

  1. Stakeholders:

Are you seeking representation from internal and external stakeholders?

  1. Do you have employees from various different departments and levels of management on your committee?
  2. Do you have people that reflect different experiences, education, religion, sexual orientations and ethnicities?  
  3. Have you considered including members of the community such as parents or youth, depending on your outcome goals or type of industry?

       5. Connection:

How will you help build a cohesive committee or group?

  1. How do you plan to create safety, connection and trust among the group?
  2. How will you create connection despite the diversity while still helping people find common ground?
  3. How do you see the diversity of the group working together?
  4. Do you have a list of DEI activities to help improve connection, stimulate conversation and develop empathy among the members? 
  5. Do you have a specific date and time for your meetings?
  6. Are individuals given an agenda prior to the meetings (in a timely manner) to help them prepare?

It’s important to consider how you will run your group so that it will help create an environment that is predictable, a good use of time, company resources, and that will create the desired outcomes you’re seeking.

  1. Expertise & Education:

Is there a plan for professional education or is your committee simply passion led?

  1. Are you going to bring in speakers and experts to help educate members and facilitate progress?
  2. What background and experiences do the members have that could contribute beyond passion? (ie. Good with stats, strategy, social justice, background, expertise etc)
  3. Are there incentives for members? (ie. Lunch or snacks provided, financial remuneration, community outings etc)

Although it’s important to invite and welcome people of varying backgrounds to participate on your committee, don’t assume these individuals will want to partake. It is not the responsibility of minority and marginalized individuals to advocate for and create social justice on behalf of those populations. It’s not their job to make things better. I encourage you to come from a place of inviting and educating but never forcing. I believe that by taking this approach, your committee or group will prove more successful.

Creating a space where individuals with varying backgrounds, experiences, education, sexual orientations, gender identities, ethnicities, abilities, religious affiliations and voices can come together with a common goal is great. But, achieving a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace isn’t just about creating a committee or board. It requires leadership, vision, determination, time, energy, purpose, strategy and short and long term goals and considerations. 

I believe that workplace D&I committees are important and can help drive the change we need to see in our workforce. And, remember when inviting members to join your committee, consider individual skill set, education, values and passion combined with a forward thinking approach. Helping drive change is just as much about what you know as what you value in life. 

I hope these suggestions are helpful and I wish you luck as you improve or implement a D&I Committee into your organization. 

If you found this blog helpful, please check out my book, Dismantling the Obstacles To Workplace Inclusion. Click here for more information.

Reference: https://www.forbes.com/sites/shereeatcheson/2020/12/02/what-is-a-diversity-council–how-do-you-make-it-a-success/?sh=7693b53c7a19


2SLGBTQI+, Advisory Board, Allyship, corporate DEI, DE&I, DEI Committee, Diversity, Equity, inclusion, Indigenous Inclusion, Truth & Reconciliation, workplace inclusion

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