OSPE hosts annual equity, diversity, and inclusion forum The #EDIAdvantage

On November 26 & 27, 2020, more than 1500 individuals from industry, government, and academia came together to attend OSPE’s annual diversity and inclusion (D&I) Forum The #EDIAdvantage, presented by OSPE’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

The event took place virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the fluctuating nature of this crisis. While we were eagerly anticipating the opportunity to celebrate Southern Ontario, and the Windsor-Essex corridor by hosting our forum in Windsor, we knew this was the best course of action.

OSPE’s The #EDIAdvantage built on the success of our 2019 It’s Time We Build and The EDI Imperative forums, by focusing on the core benefit of creating a more diverse and inclusive profession: human capital. The event fostered lively discussions from industry leaders, academics, engineering students, engineering graduates, and diversity and inclusion experts. The audience experienced an inspiring two days, full of actionable strategies, relatable stories, and access to a community of likeminded changemakers.

Below are a few highlights from this fantastic two-day event:

November 26, 2020 – Day One

Day one began with video greetings from the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth. Following the government greetings, Réjeanne Aimey, P.Eng., President and Chair of OSPE, briefly discussed the importance for the engineering profession to take leadership and drive change towards greater diversity and inclusion. She expressed OSPE’s unwavering commitment to being a catalyst for change and outlined some of the work the association has done to date with support from its members, volunteers, and partners. She left the audience with a call to action for the forum:  

“EDI involves embracing our relationships and building trust and transparency to connect honestly with those in our community. We must build with long-term considerations in mind, making sure that we are leaving behind a legacy for the generations that come after us. The time is over for simply thinking about EDI, and our next two days will be about transforming rhetoric into action and getting results.”

After establishing the importance of maintaining D&I as a core practice, the event switched gears to a candid discussion on the barriers facing Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour (BIPOC) in engineering and STEM more broadly. The first session of the day was fireside chat between Dr. Kevin Deluzio, P.Eng., Dean of Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and engineering student Nicholas Ramsubick. The discussion covered various topics of importance such as intersectionality, allyship, creating safe spaces for BIPOC students to share their stories, and the significance of collaboration. Through their conversation, both speakers demonstrated how institutions can create inclusive spaces and how students can be catalysts for change.

The discussion was followed by a keynote presentation on intercultural competence. Keynote speaker, Hamlin Grange, Founder of DiversiPro, provided the audience with an understanding of where the STEM sector stands as it relates to intercultural competence.

“To understand intercultural competence, you need to understand the power of culture. Culture at the end of the day is about the values, traditions, the beliefs, the ways of doing things, and how individuals and groups behave, but often these things are out of our awareness…you are unaware, you are swimming in your culture, we do not pay attention to that. Think about the culture within the engineering profession, or your own organization, are you taking it for granted? Of course, you may be taking it for granted. But to someone new coming into your organization or entering the field, is the water welcoming and accommodating for those individuals to feel like they are part of your culture?”

Hamlin discussed the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a tool that measures how individuals are making sense of cultural differences, focused on how they make sense of values, perceptions, ways of thinking, and conflict styles. There are 5 orientations: denial (misses differences), polarization (judges differences), minimization (look for similarities), acceptance (accepts differences but does not know what to do), and adaptation (accepts differences and creates bridges). When looking at the group profile developed for the STEM sector, the most significant findings included:

  1. Most participants understand the importance of intercultural competence;
  2. Most believe organizations need to do a better job at inclusion; and
  3. The sector is in a minimization orientation.

The second keynote speaker, Nicole Girard, Director General – Navigation Protection Program at Transport Canada, focused on the importance of being an inclusive leader and having empathy be a central value to this. The keynote discussed the importance of listening, understanding, and respecting those who may appear different from ourselves. She provided the audience with key strategies to lead with empathy.

“Figure out what is critical and time sensitive and what is important. Give yourself a break, don’t let perfection get in the way of ‘good enough’, and pass that on to your folks. Create those mindful moments for yourself every day, find that 5 or 10 minutes…just having time alone is important and I appreciate that if you’re a parent that is easier said than done, and be kind to your neighbour, be kind to yourself, be kind to your staff, be kind to your colleagues, just be kind. And pay it forward, reach out to someone who may need a hand.”  

Panel 1: Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Talent

Following the keynote, the audience had the choice to attend one of two panels taking place concurrently. The first panel titled Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Talent, featured several senior leaders across sectors, and generated key strategies for how organizations can reach diverse candidates, and ensure that they retain them once they get through the door.

Moderator: Manraj Pannu, P.Eng., Process Development Manager, Spin Master

“At Pratt and Whitney Canada, we added a letter in diversity and inclusion, we added equity so we are talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. For us it’s more than three letters, it is a way of being, a way of doing. We want it to be part of our DNA and it’s crucial in the global context that we are in because talent has no more borders… So maybe just some examples of the shift we have seen from designing really with intention, robust programs, in 2015 our women representation was 13% we are now at 20%, our women executive potential was 23% we are now at 35%. We don’t solely promote for technical skills anymore, we promote for diverse background, diverse ethnicity, diverse ways of thinking.”

“In and of itself I don’t think hiring for cultural fit is necessarily problematic, if the culture we are hoping or expecting candidates to align themselves to is tied to the core values and the explicit mission of our organization. But unfortunately, when it comes to the interview room, the confines of the interview room this is often not the case. Instead of being aligned to the organization’s core values and mission, more often cultural fit tends to become aligned with our own personal background, our personal experience, and our way of expressing ourselves…when we fail to align cultural fit to the organization’s values, mission, strategy, and goals, we walk a slippery slope towards cloning individuals who already exist within the organization, and particularly those who make the decisions on hiring and direction. So, if these individuals by majority or entirely are white, or wealthy, or cisgendered, or non-immigrant, or male, or able bodied, or unilingual anglophone, or Judeo-Christian, then yes, we can definitely find ourselves in a situation of discriminatory hiring practices.”

“At the faculty of engineering at the University of Ottawa we launched a new graduate course, which is specifically for master’s in engineering students, and you are going to ask me what is the relation to international students? Around 85% of those enrolled in this course are international students. So they have their Bachelor degree from wherever, India, South Africa, Cuba, Egypt, and they are coming to continue to work towards their graduate degree. This course is actually a combination between technical skills improvement and soft skills…to be able to offer a successful employee to any job market you need to make sure that this employee has a balance between technical and soft skills, and I would say Canadian soft skills…I started teaching it at the faculty of engineering with around 160 students, we offer intensive training modules, when it comes to enhancement mostly of soft skills, and 35% is focused on technical skills…And to be honest with you I have seen technical employees coming to Canada with more advanced technical skills than students have in Canada. Some students coming from Japan and Dubai have shown they have seen more advanced technology than what is available… these students come with the intention to stay in Canada and if you understand this logic you will be able to quickly adopt them, train them, and merge them to the Canadian job market and they will be successful.”

Panel 2: Case Studies from Government

The second panel, Case Studies from Government, featured leaders within government departments and agencies, and focused on sharing challenges, opportunities, and best practices with the audience.

Moderator: COL. Robyn Hulan, Canadian Lead for NORAD Digital Transformation, Canadian Armed Forces

“The long view for us is that it is a process of continuous improvement, and certainly training is a key component of that, but training needs to be built on awareness. First and foremost our management is constantly talking about the message of the importance of diversity and inclusion…training is something that we put into place in several areas. For managers, we are giving them Indigenous Cultural Training which is very participatory and in-depth, and we are working on rolling it out to all staff. For all staff at the National Research Council, we have training on unconscious bias and recognizing those things that we don’t actually realize that we are doing, or we are thinking. We are also constantly revamping our own corporate harassment training and policies. I agree, I think it is very much about changing the culture and I think what is exciting is we start seeing things happening on the ground that demonstrate we are getting a positive change in the culture.”


“The most important change we need to take, and again it is not just my department, but I think across the federal public service is a cultural one. Only by understanding the cultural differences can we act accordingly, understanding the systemic barriers that impede not only hiring but as well as career progression, is key. And thiswill allow us to really focus on what are the key changes, actions that we need to take, not only to reduce and remove those barriers but also instill that fundamental cultural change that is required. Diversity and inclusion, I always keep reminding not only myself but others that it is not just about increasing representation but understanding that once employees are hired that they have a sense of belonging, that they are able to truly demonstrate their talent, participate in decision-making and be meaningful contributors. And furthermore, that these contributions are recognized and valued in an equitable manner.”


“One of the things that we’ve done as well, we use the frame obviously of the Employment Equity Act, and the core principles that are in there, but we also have the benefit of the core values of the public service around inclusion and diversity being key to who we are. Respect for each other, respect for difference of opinions, difference of backgrounds, difference of cultures, difference of languages, so those are some of the fundamental building blocks that help us to shape the approach that we take. And within our organization we have done a systematic job of starting to look at how do we not just bring in diverse perspectives but create a space where we have an inclusion of those perspectives. So we have built up over the last ten years or so, a series of employee networks that are employee led, employee driven, supported by our HR branch so they have tools and resources but the opportunities are for employees to bring forward their lived experience and to help apply that to how we do our business whether it is in our hiring practices or it’s in our service delivery…and we have taken the opportunity to not just have the traditional groups that are identified through the Employment Equity Act…but have also pushed the boundaries to create spaces for our LGBTQ2+ communities, as well as our youth who are joining the department and new employees to the public service who are joining mid-career or later.”


November 27, 2020 – Day Two

Day two began with a keynote from Rebecca Demchuk, P.Eng., Associate Vice President, St. Clair College, outlining the day-to-day work of diversity and inclusion. Demchuk discussed her personal career journey while emphasizing that building inclusive workplace requires the organizational culture to shift and evolve. It means creating environments where differences, learning, and discovery are valued. It demands that employers and fellow employees to respect and listen to new perspectives and ideas and understand that these will enable the organization to thrive.


“I think it’s very important that you don’t accept any form of discrimination or bias in the workplace. We hold each other accountable and we hold each up and we support one another. We are leaders and as leaders we must advance diversity and inclusion, we have to make strides in the workplace and accept that people are different. The power of having people around a table that have different backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, I have seen it firsthand and it is exciting, because it brings different ideas and viewpoints to the table and the discussion is healthy and the discussion is exciting, and if you don’t have diversity you lack that.”

Panel 1: Pathways to Leadership: Understanding the Experiences of Equity Seeking Groups

The keynote was followed by two concurrent panel sessions. The first, Pathways to Leadership: Understanding the Experiences of Equity Seeking Groups, featured several professionals in managerial and senior executive roles, who discussed their experiences navigating their careers as members of underrepresented groups in engineering and STEM more broadly.

Moderator: Lisa McBride, President, Women in Nuclear

“I remember when I first was promoted to be a Director in the company, and I sat down with one of the Presidents and he was very involved in talent development and talent management. I remember saying to him at the time ‘I am nervous, I am not convinced I can do this’ sometimes I still feel like I am back in 1998 and I am his admin assistant and he turned to me and he said ‘Nancy, we see you as this Director and we know you are capable to do this, and we know you are going to excel’ and having someone like that, that you know has your back, in a very senior level position gives you the confidence during those difficult days. It gives you a sense of belonging and motivation in terms of being very engaged to move the business forward. One key aspect about mentors and sponsors that I have found through my career, I have had many of them, I think a key word of advice I would give people as they are entering these relationships, is that you really need to know what you are looking to achieve when you have those dialogues. You will have sponsors and mentors that may be there for ad hoc issues or crisis moments or emotional support. You may have people that are there to help you construct the next steps of your career and what your key developments are…at the end of the day you are responsible for your own development and so you lead those conversations.”


“We need to recognize that people in the world experience things differently because of their identity. And I notice a lot of the research and just being an engineering graduate, a lot of the things I hear are about women in engineering, but we also have to realize that there are other identities such as age, race, sexuality, ethnicity, even religion, that need to be considered when we are talking about inclusivity and diversity. There are unfortunately a lot of incorrect assumptions or stereotypes about people with these characteristics or identities and it negatively impacts employees. I have been in certain situations like that as well and sometimes you think this is the way things are, but the reality is that it is not. A lot of organizations are moving to support these groups in leadership positions…I think all of us do play a role in creating workplaces where everyone feels valued and heard and to have that feeling of ‘I have fair opportunity to succeed at the company’. I think as leaders in the industry we have to always remind ourselves of that. The other thing is something I have found helpful is to normalize having conversations about our differences, it makes it so much easier to get to know each other, and you understand people a lot more when you ask instead of assume. And then, awareness in general, at most organizations that I have worked at there are advocacy and inclusion programs, there are advocacy groups like OSPE who are pushing our programing and conferences, and organizations are pushing mentorship programs…those are ways to support these groups in achieving leadership positions.”


I don’t think a champion program on its own will do the trick. There is a process that has to start before employees even get through the door, in terms of that targeted recruitment we talked about, the high school and college systems, affinity groups, and the public facing policies, and the reputation, all need to be built in and it has to be sustained. A lot of these things can come and go in an organization and so it has to be a demonstrated sustained commitment to diversity and inclusion by the organization. Once you have all of that and you build a champion program into that system, it could be successful. I do want to say that I think the real championing piece comes together once the search for open leadership positions begins. If you think about it, how does an organization ensure that a pool of candidates is actually diverse without appearing to select solely based on diversity…How do you encourage staff who are viewing leadership opportunities as those for others instead of for themselves? You have to have a strong commitment to reach out as an organization to potentially qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds when you are posting those leadership positions. And many times this happens when you’re posting a position, external candidates actually many times benefit from that extra mile that organizations go through to do recruitment for diverse candidates because they do they outlook in general and they tend to attract folks externally in a way that they may not necessarily do for internal candidates… There is no real use to put together a champion program and recruit diverse talent from outside an organization only to leave them where you brought them into, if they don’t have a chance to get promoted, or graduate into more responsible leadership positions you’re going to get that reputation of being able to bring people in and stagnate in their careers. ”

Panel 2: The Ins and Outs of Allyship

The second panel, The Ins and Outs of Allyship, featured a diverse group of professionals, some in the position to be allies and others in the position to benefit from allyship. The speakers had a candid discussion about what makes a good ally and why allyship is essential to achieve diversity and inclusion.

Moderator: Afsoon Soudi, Ph.D., Outreach Director, SWE Toronto


“I think especially in today’s world where we need employees to innovate and to really contribute from their own passion, we cannot force that, we need people to feel comfortable and you need to create an environment where they can improve, change, affect the environment in which they work. Especially since most of adults spend considerable amount of time and energy in those environments. As leaders we are change agents, our role is to make it inclusive, to listen, to create positive environments and safe discussions. Let me explain: early on, this is 18 years ago when we had our first office at Red Lane, I created a room, a spiritual meditation and nondenominational prayer room. Most people asked ‘why are you doing this? This could be a meeting room’ and I said ‘no, we need a safe space to recognize that we come from different backgrounds and have different needs’. And it was used quite frequently…This is an example of moves that as a leader can be quite easy, can be questioned, but are an opportunity for dialogue, and a signal post almost that we want to create safe environments and seek people’s input which we got quite a bit of over 20 years of how we can build on it and how we can improve and change as things have evolved over 20 years. It takes time to build culture… in our organization in addition to results, which obviously everyone in business wants to drive, we do focus a lot, as much 50% of the mark on attitudes and behaviour.”


“From my lens, I would say I do see myself as an ally, probably the best people to ask would be those around me but they are not all here today. What I would share is, as a human, it is part of my value system, as a leader it is what I am accountable for making sure happens. I use my voice, I get involved, I create dialogues, I try every day and I think successfully to educate others and bring others along. To Lucas’ point, one of the things that I get amazing gratitude from is helping others find what they have, what they can do, and what they can accomplish. To do that, you need to be an ally, you need to make folks comfortable that you are their ally, that you are working in their best interest, that you want to see them excel, and that you will be a voice for them when they are in the room and when they are not in the room.”


“Throughout my whole life, I have found myself with amazing leaders that I have worked with. I don’t know if you know this but I am also an international student, so when I came to Canada, everything is new, it is a culture shock too. I never felt at home until I joined St.Clair college as a student and then I joined the Student Representative Council, and now I am always surrounded by excellent leaders. For example, the President of the college is a woman, and usually you see men in that position, and to see that difference makes you think if they can do it so can I…to see that they made it to the top gives me hope and gives other students hope to continue to achieve our goals in our careers…it is very important to have people you can look up to and it is amazing to see the diversity of the leaders at St.Clair College and it keeps that hope alive.”


The panels were followed by a workshop style session titled Managing Across Cultures, delivered by Hamlin Grange. Grange utilized the data presented in his day one session to provide senior leaders and managers with key tools to move their organizations across the continuum of cultural competence. Grange emphasized the importance of viewing the engineering sector through an EDI lens, and for leaders to be self-aware of both their cultural capacity and that of their teams.


“Culturally adaptive leadership is the only way, we, all of us, are going to get through the crisis we are currently in, post-Covid. Things are never going to go back to the way they were before, at least they shouldn’t. And so, the ability to effectively lead teams through difficult situations is going to be a vital characteristic of the cultural adaptive leader. Also being aware of your own personal cultural worldview, and this is where the Intercultural Competence Development Inventory (IDI) comes in, to understand where you are on the continuum and how it impacts how you make decisions, and how you are leading others. It is also vitally important to understand and appreciate the cultural worldview of others, of the people you are leading and the impact it may be having on how they work and process new information. When I talk about this, I am really talking about cognitive diversity, how people process information, and there are four key styles of this: structural, social, conceptual, and analytical. All of these styles are really important, as a leader you need to understand who is in the room, what style energizes your team…if you have a room full of conceptual thinkers you will have some great ideas but may not get much done and so you may want to mix in some structural thinkers. Cognitive diversity is just as important as all of the other diversity dimensions we have been talking about.”  

Finally, the event concluded with an inspirational speech from Nancy Chahwan, Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat, which focused on what is next. The speaker discussed exciting plans in government and left the audience with important takeaways and a sense of urgency to act on this now.


“The efforts and the pace and the focus of the public service to respond to the systemic barriers that equity seeking employees face, has never been so intense. Over the past five years, three of the four employment equity groups, have achieved representation above their workforce availability. Now, I could stop there, I could tell you women, visible minorities, Indigenous peoples are well represented along the public service. We do have gaps for people with disabilities, especially with the new expanded definition of disability. But if I stop there, that would be a statement that although is accurate is hiding significant inequities. And we see those inequities as we start dissecting and disaggregating the data in the public service. I will not deny that we have made significant progress over the last years, but we have a lot of work to do in increasing diversity of our equity seeking groups…our values and ethics code outlines that all people are to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect, we need to make sure that the environment is one that supports inclusion for all. And those recent events I referred to only strengthen our resolve to make sure that progress is being made at the right pace. We are listening and we are learning from all the communities of diverse employees to ensure that when we act, we act in a relative manner. We are benefiting from their lived experience, from their collectivism, and we are designing in this digital age of ours, we are designing based on user experience. We are using design thinking approaches to make sure that policy adjustments, our initiatives, our programs, are actually tailored to their needs. Co-development has become a key tenet of our approach.”  

Both days featured networking periods, providing attendees the opportunity to connect with partners and each other through chat boxes and video conferences. OSPE Board Director and Chair of OSPE’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, Angela Wojtyla, P.Eng., delivered an on-demand session, available to all attendees, on what the Task Force is currently working on. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in gamification and raffles to win prizes and stay engaged throughout the event!

OSPE continues to work to create a movement that will change the engineering and STEM sectors for the better. We encourage you to visit www.engineeringforchange.ca to learn more. Thank you to our Presenter, Leader, and Champion Level Partners, without whom this event would not be possible. We look forward to continuing to work together to achieve The #EDIAdvantage.

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