The EDI Imperative: Changing the Profile of STEAM in Canada Forum Highlights

On November 6, 2019, the EDI Imperative: Changing the Profile of STEAM in Canada, presented by OSPE’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee, brought together more than 700 members of the engineering community, industry trailblazers, thought leaders, academics, human resources professionals, and students. Held in our nation’s capital, the forum focused on recognizing that more needs to be done to ensure diversity and inclusion becomes a reality, not only by sharing insights on the challenges that persist, but by defining solutions to address them.

The day left attendees with several strategies and tools to create or evaluate their own diversity and inclusion strategies. OSPE looks forward to continuing to advocate for this important cause and to work with our partners to #ChangeSTEAM.

Couldn’t attend the EDI Imperative? Here are just a few highlights:

Setting the Landscape

Réjeanne Aimey, P.Eng., Chair of OSPE’s EDI Committee, discussed the importance of tackling the challenge of diversity and inclusion through an intersectional lens and collecting reliable data to better define and address the issue. Lastly, she left the audience with a clear call to action:

“I am often asked whether other groups, aside from women, face barriers in the engineering profession. At times, I hear the excuse ‘we just can’t find qualified, diverse engineers.’ I can tell you this is simply not true. We do exist. It is time to stop making excuses and start making changes. We need to provide equal opportunities to people who don’t look like, sound like, or think like us. Together, we can change the profile of STEAM in Canada.”

Defining Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Dr. Imogen R. Coe, Professor, Ryerson University

edi imperative imogenDr. Coe delivered a compelling keynote. She spoke to the audience about the importance of combatting gender stereotypes.

“From the moment they are born, all children receive messages about their value and about the value of their contributions and we all are complicit in this…every single person in this room can challenge gender stereotyping, every single person in the room can at some place or point in their lives, in their communities, in their families, in their industry, in their business, in their context, and if we are going to see a change in STEAM in 2025, we have to collectively start taking responsibility for this.”

Workshop: Introduction to the Six Cylinder Framework

Hamlin Grange, President & Co-Founder, DiversiPro

edi imperative hamlinHamlin Grange conducted a high-impact workshop where participants were asked to identify the sources of their cultural programming and share with others in the room. Grange emphasized that organizations should approach diversity and inclusion comprehensively to capture the complexities of this challenge.

“You need to start thinking holistically… about six key things: Leadership, Programs and Services, the Workplace, Stakeholder Connections, Marketing, and Programs and/or Services… At the core of the six cylinder framework is a way of looking at your organization and developing diversity and inclusion strategies and programs. Also, to evaluate these strategies. It isn’t about you necessarily as an organization, it is about how the client experiences the organization, and the client could be not just the people who buy your services but also the people who work for you.”

Leading Change: Strategies for Success from Industry

This panel focused on showcasing the key challenges and opportunities faced by organizations that are championing change. We heard from industry leaders on what is working for their respective organizations, some of the lessons they have learned along the way, and their plans to continue making progress on diversity and inclusion.

edi imperative panel 1

Moderator: Jeannette Southwood, P.Eng., Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Strategic Partnerships, Engineers Canada

“I think the business case has been made for diversity and inclusion. We started with numbers and making sure we had the right demographics across the organization, but I think more importantly now the discussion had gone towards inclusion. You can have white males that feel excluded, so it is not just the different categories that are impacted, it is the whole organization. Our ability to innovate, grow, and be in different markets, comes from the ability to attract talent…we talk a lot about diversity and inclusion, but it is really about taking action… it is really about taking concrete action, voluntarily and willfully looking at your demographics and providing opportunities for young talent to grow and develop. It is no longer about mentorship and coaching, it is sponsoring, it is about speaking up for individuals… we have a leadership review at Pratt… and we spend a lot of time looking at diverse talent and specifically slating positions for that talent…”
“When we think of measurement we think about targets or signing accords or making hard number commitments and we do that. But our department for diversity and inclusion is really a department that serves our employees. One of the things we did was conduct an effectiveness review, and it was done in three phases. First, we looked at our processes and documentation and said, ‘Is this representative of where we want to be?’, the second was a corporate wide survey asking folks, ‘How are we doing? Are we doing enough?’ And the third part was our employee resource teams and leadership were interviewed and asked, ‘How are we doing?’...and some really great intelligence came out of it.”
“We are focused on building partnerships with different groups to make sure that they help us promote the opportunities available at CN to various diverse groups. The network that we operate on touches a lot of Aboriginal communities, so one of our key partnerships is with an Aboriginal group that supports the integration of Aboriginal peoples into business… they also help interested candidates with our process…they prepare them to the realities of the testing we do before people join the company.”
“Most recently and most impact, we went through a bit of an unconscious bias bootcamp training… it really opened a lot of leadership’s eyes to understand our blind spots, what we didn’t even know we didn’t know. The cooler part is we started talking more and more about it in our meetings, to each other and indirectly it started changing the decisions we made on a day-to-day basis. Then we did the training for all of our staff…so we started with the top down leadership approach, but the next phase was really about the bottom up. We reached out to our people in our community inside GHD and we asked people to be brave, to step up and participate in inclusion effort. And low and behold we had some really brave people who stood up and led resource groups, whether that be black communities, whether that be LGBTQ2+, and they led, and we as leaders said that we were going to provide them a safe place to explore.”
“An important aspect that I want to touch on, of course because the nature of the Rail industry is often you have to set up shop in whatever country you are delivering trains to. In doing that, we avoid doing what others have been doing, which is go in with our team of awesome and great people, set up shop, get the work done, and then leave. So we really go in, with yes a specific group of people who can carry the knowledge and mission of the company, but their first mandate is to identify talent, identify their successors, and bring that notion of diversity that we want them to bring in their facility…in an industry that have been historically male oriented…one of the first actions we had to take was bringing in more women but also now looking at a much wider range with all diversity and inclusion aspects.”


Overcoming Barriers: Individuals Succeeding in STEM

This panel focused on personal strategies for success. It explored themes such as mentors and role models, challenges faced by underrepresented groups, speaking up in the workplace, defining your identity at work, tokenism, and resources that help address barriers.

Moderator: Jarett Leaman, Business Partner, Philanthropy and Business Development, Troon Technologies

“Authenticity is something that we strive for in all things we do…the workplace has over time really struggled I think a bit with having the full array of who are as individuals on display. Bearing in mind that we are always expected to be civil, we are always expected to be our best selves, but our real selves, and I think for me as a woman of colour working in the Public Service, it has been a learning opportunity or a learning challenge…I think what I have learned through that experience is that authenticity in the workplace is really a partnership of all people, it requires all of us to look inward, understand ourselves and in understanding ourselves do a better job of understanding others.”
“My husband and I did our Ph.D.s in the same area, and we published papers together, but on the papers that I was the first author, one of my colleagues, who has retired, he let me know that my papers with my husband didn’t count. I am assuming he was assuming that my husband did all of the work. Times have changed a little bit, but we can still do a lot better…One thing that I would mention, in my everyday dealings, I deal with the university administration and being a researcher, I am constantly evaluated by international people doing work in my area, and when I go to meetings not necessarily at the university but in the engineering field, I am mostly still the only woman…yes we have rules and regulations…but I think we still need to educate people, unconscious bias is still present, who is using the rules and regulations? Who is applying them? It makes a big difference. And being conscious of what the problems are for different types of groups and we have to know what our weak points are as institutions and as human beings.”
“I really feel that it is important for management to view each person as an individual and know how they embrace their culture. There are different ways that people relate to their culture and want to express. Some people want to share all of their culture, they want to share the way they dress, their food, their music, they want to share. That’s great. Not everyone is painted that way, some people want to hold their culture close to their vest, and when management is like we are going to have a multicultural day, bring your food! Not everyone wants to do that. For example me, I was born in Kingston, I was raised on military bases, I grew up on meat and potatoes, but every single time there is a multicultural night they are like wear a Sari, bring a Curry… it is important to get to know your people…we need to invest in understanding how people identify with their culture.”
“Years ago, almost 20 years ago, I was at a technical seminar on the East Coast, I was brand new, finished Military College, and this guy is waving his hands talking about an integrated management platform, it’s the future, we’re going to have LCD screens for the ship and all of the machinery would be managed that way, and he was a black guy, and basically a Lieutenant Commander, and I saw myself in him… fast forward, a few years ago, I am actually one of his good friends and I asked how come so and so didn’t take me under his wing? And he went back anecdotally, and he said he didn’t want to make it a black thing… fast forward 5 years later, he’s my boss now and in his office I asked him what he was thinking back then, and he said I don’t know, I didn’t have anyone to emulate. So the fact that nobody mentored him and he broke those glass ceilings for me, now the onus is on me…and they don’t have to be black Lieutenants it can be anyone because it is about building your network.”
“Allyship is something that everybody should be involved in. Why do I say so? I want to ask the audience a question, is there anyone in this hall that has not had a vulnerable point in their lives? Obviously, I would say no. Every one of us irrespective of our race, cultural background, or gender, has had a point of vulnerability. And I think for you to be an ally, you need to have a deep reflection of your point of vulnerability, and if you have a deep reflection, you now have another reflection about what kinds of supports would I have appreciated during this point? That’s the connection to allyship. Within the City, we worked with leadership to create a brave space, a place where people from equity seeking groups can speak bravely about their experiences and possibly make suggestions on how these can be resolved. So as an ally, it is important for you to listen, listen, listen.”


Starting the Conversation

Naveen Mehta, Chief Legal Officer, MESH/diversity

edi imperative naveenNaveen Mehta delivered a thoughtful presentation about the importance of measurements and evaluations in conversations about diversity and inclusion.

“We must get out there and measure our inclusivity, not just diversity. Are you actually what you claim to be? Not merely the rosy images that we all put on our websites, we are not talking about a census or simply the demographics in our organizations, that’s the easy stuff…we need metrics and metrics that are actionable around inclusivity, around belonging, and we all know that an inclusive culture is what we want, not just diversity…and the bottom line is if you are serious about  it you need metrics. Moving from the subjective, which is ‘oh yeah, we do diversity and inclusion, and we’re really good at it’ to the objective ‘here are our numbers, here is our inclusion score, here are our scores and our benchmarks, and here are the next steps.”

Understanding Value of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Martita Mullen, PMP, Senior Manager Design and Construction, CN Rail

edi imperative martitaMartita Mullen delivered an engaging presentation about the value of equity, diversity and inclusion, speaking about her own experience and the barriers she faced as a woman of colour in a male dominated environment. Martita told the audience how she broke down those barriers, alluding to her first promotion, and provided some insight into how D&I served her organization.

“When organizations embrace EDI, the walls immediately come tumbling down, and better partnerships are formed, all employees feel valued, recognized, and heard, so that leads to more input, increased discretionary effort, which also results in better returns for the company. Employees that do not feel included, often times are uncomfortable contributing or sharing ideas, because they are so uncomfortable about being different that they don’t want to draw any attention to themselves and they fear being criticized by their ideas…organizations need employees that are engaged…technological advancements, new ideas, and creativity all need the right conditions to thrive, those conditions include a working environment where equity, diversity, and inclusion are valued.”

Workshop: Creating and Implementing an Effective Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Strategy

Hamlin Grange returned to the stage in the afternoon to provide the audience with key considerations to keep in mind when developing an effective D&I strategy. Grange began by presenting the ABCs of diversity: appeasement, business case, and core value. Grange refers to these as the fundamental reasons why organizations decide to create and implement a D&I strategy.

“You have to amplify the differences in your organization, not minimize them. Here are some things you need to think about, you may have a strategy, but do you have a plan? There is a difference. Where are you in the continuum? More importantly you need to ask yourself a fundamental question, why are we doing this? Is it A B or C. Where does EDI fit into this plan? Many organizations have a strategic business plan and a diversity and inclusion plan, and never do the two meet. They need to be Sympatico, your D&I plan must reflect and speak to your business outcomes, your business strategy, because when times get rough, and they do get rough, it is easy to say ‘oh last quarter wasn’t great, let’s postpone that D&I training we talked about, because let’s do it next time’ it is easy when it is off to one side of the table.”

Inclusion in the Public Service: The Future of Federal Workplaces

Nancy Chahwan, Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat

edi imperative nancyNancy Chahwan spoke thoughtfully and eloquently about the future of diversity and inclusion for Canada and the importance of keeping this as an issue of top priority.

“There is plenty of research that tells us that inclusion creates a workplace where employees feel a sense of belonging and respect, where they feel valued, and feel they can bring their best selves to work. Research also shows that wellness and inclusion are very closely linked, and they are also linked to higher employee satisfaction and engagement, and they allow organizations to increase their ability to serve multiple stakeholders, multiple customer groups, they encourage innovations through the diversity of the experiences…and it also helps develop a mindset to explore vast possibilities of human capital. So why is putting employee experience at the heart of the diversity conversation and the inclusion effort, more important than ever, beyond what this research tells us? Well with the digital revolution, comes a level of complexity that is unprecedented, and a proliferation of stakeholders who are demanding to have their say, not only to be consulted but to actually co-create with us, this is true within the organization and this is true with outside stakeholders, the expansion of data science and artificial intelligence have created tremendous potential for improving services to citizens and customers. And inherent to this knowledge-based economy is the importance of people and accordingly the intensification for the search for talent.”

Emerging Realities: The Future of Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

This panel focused on some of the social and economic shifts that are taking place today and how these impact efforts to move the dial on diversity and inclusion.

Moderator: Sonya Shorey, Vice President of Strategy, Marketing and Communications, Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards

“I wanted to start with a definition of inclusion, I heard one this week that I thought was excellent. Inclusion is not about being in the room, inclusion is not about feeling valued in the room, inclusion is about thriving. And I think that is what drives my commitment to what I do, is having spent 35 years in the engineering profession not feeling included. So that drives me, I wanted to stand as a role model in the engineering profession, because if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. The second thing that drives me is my daughter, who is just finishing her engineering degree, and she has done co-op jobs and is still facing some of the challenges as I faced 30 years ago so we have to keep pushing to change that.”
“We are training our faculty using Universal Design for Learning to understand more effectively some of the barriers that the women in their classroom will face, because this is a process of change that everybody needs to engage in, and most of our faculty is male, and have taught male students for the majority of their careers, so it would be unrealistic to all of the sudden put women in their classroom and expect them to be able to manage classroom dynamics and teach effectively. And we are training them in a very interesting way, we are using some advanced technology, starting this February we will be launching a virtual reality experience for our faculty so that they are able to immerse themselves in the experiences of women in the classroom. They will be able to experience the microaggressions that we know are experienced in the classroom.”
“We have heard a lot about unconscious bias, and you have all probably heard the example of the resume that gets circulated, the exact same resume with two different names, and there are different versions of the experiment, and the same thing has happened in orthopedics, there are studies where surgeons are presented equal cases but different sexes, and from these studies, and these are studies from Ontario, recent studies, we know that the odds of a male patient being prescribed a total joint replacement is 22% higher than for women for exactly the same clinical condition, so unconscious bias is absolutely present in all fields including my field, we see it in the clinical results, and in the way we train students, for example at Queen’s we have this great state of the art simulation lab, and we have physical dummies for training our clinicians and the physical dummy is a very expensive piece of equipment, and guess what the sex of the dummy is? It is a male dummy. The only female dummy is a pregnant woman. We are not training our physicians on women and male models, at least these physical models, there is an opportunity in the way we train our clinicians, and our engineers.”
“I am in a program right now, the Navigation Protection Program, that is what we are calling digital by design, so that everything is automated in the way that the officers and the regions are doing their work, so that it is tablet based, approvals are done electronically, you who are getting approvals to build dams, crossways, bridges, it is all an online system, which means we are going to be getting a lot more information, it is not going to be paper based, it is going to be much more simultaneous in terms of reviews, and how do we manage this influx of information? And how as a manager do I build a team that can manage that?... When we are looking at a problem how do I ensure it is more multidisciplinary, we can longer have a solution that is just engineering based, I need to have a health science focus, a social science focus, and it is looking at not a mission driven problem, but looking at a market driven approach, thinking about who is going to need and use that service…I am interested in having team that it doesn’t matter what your background is, the fact that you have a different background makes the solution that much more meaningful.”
“When it comes to the future, is intersectionality a base requirement? And what I mean by that is, that maybe if I am a 16 year right now, maybe my little brother dressed up as Elsa for Halloween, maybe I identify as gender queer, maybe my best friend is a person of colour struggling with socio-economic status. These are just the realities of things that are being talked about and that people are living. So if I am then being exposed to some campaign that says ‘We need more women’ and we have 18.1% women, I am not like jumping up and down thinking that is where I want to go, I am thinking like woah how archaic is this? You can’t even get women? How on earth am I going to fit in or people like me going to fit in? So that is why it is so critical to make the messaging and the initiative, of course we need to fix this women issue and get that 18.1% number higher, but I fundamentally believe that the way to do that is making sure that you are actually attracting women of diverse backgrounds to want to come in.”

OSPE would like to take a moment to thank all of our partners who made this event possible. We look forward to continuing this conversation and hope to see you all in 2020 at our next Diversity & Inclusion Forum (details to come).


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