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Nearly every company has put together a policy on equity, diversity and inclusion – but what do these terms really mean? Salwa Salek, chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer at Desjardins Group, believes that it’s about accepting people for who they are and guaranteeing the same treatment for everyone.

“Having EDI [equity, diversity and inclusion] in our organizations gives us an opportunity to rebalance and ensure that everyone is treated fairly by addressing barriers and ideologies,” Ms. Salek explains.” As our society becomes more diverse, it ensures that the company is able to tap into all the best talent and perspectives.”

More than just a moral imperative, it’s become clear that organizations with a strong EDI plan outperform their competitors, Ms. Salek adds. These companies report higher revenues, happier and healthier employees, less turnover, increased productivity, greater innovation, and more creativity.

Positive mental health outcomes are also a welcome benefit of prioritizing equity, diversity and inclusion, says Charmaine Alexander, a plan sponsor service advisor in disability management and prevention at Desjardins Insurance. Ms. Alexander is also a certified mental health first aid facilitator through the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

“Teams that have a lived experience of EDI understand that their workplace is safe,” says Ms. Alexander. “When they feel that their employer has taken the time to educate people and leaders about equity, diversity and inclusion, employees feel that their individual voices are being heard. Employees want to contribute and be a part of their employer’s success.”

Ignoring equity, diversity and inclusion can have negative ramifications on employee mental health. “If you feel that you aren’t being treated equally, you might hold back,” she says. “You may not feel safe to voice opinions. That has a direct effect on mental health.”

Desjardins Insurance understands that strong mental health supports and EDI initiatives are something that employees are looking for in their employers. “Previously, people were motivated by salary, by title or by position, but that’s not the case anymore, especially through the pandemic,” Ms. Alexander explains.

Putting EDI plans into place

Ms. Salek says that successful EDI plans start at the top with chief executive officers who include those principles in the organization’s top priorities. “As much as we have committed to a top-down approach with our EDI goals, we count on every person, at every level, and all those who engage with us, to contribute to this eco-system,” she says.

Equity, diversity and inclusion practices aren’t just about hosting a workshop or making some additions to your company policies. They’re about creating a new ecosystem in your organization. To start, Ms. Salek suggests creating a plan and prioritizing it.

“Ensure buy-in from leadership and hold them accountable,” she says. “It is a business concern if we want to hold on to employees in a competitive market where millennials choose their employers based on their values. We won’t be sustainable if we can’t retain them.”

Once plans are put in motion, there should also be a system in place to collect and analyze data. “Listen to your employees to understand what you have and where you need to go,” Ms. Salek says. “That will serve as the measure of your EDI efforts.” She also reminds leaders that EDI must address equity, diversity and inclusion in equal measure. A diverse workforce that is not treated equitably or made to feel included won’t move the needle. “They must all be present with every action taken,” Ms. Salek explains.

Leaders can also look outside their organization to trusted partners in EDI to help enhance initiatives and offerings. Catalyst, the BlackNorth Initiative and Pride at Work are three great non-profit organizations to engage with, Ms. Salek suggests.

Ms. Alexander adds that EDI and mental health can “no longer be pushed to the background.”

“Employers can’t say ‘we’ll deal with that later’ or ‘we’ll wait until we have more money or resources’ – the pandemic has pushed these issues to the forefront,” explains Alexander. “You can still start introducing EDI practices – even small changes can make an impact.”

To learn more about group and business insurance offerings from Desjardins Insurance and how they can help build and support a healthy workforce, visit for details.

Desjardins Insurance refers to Desjardins Financial Security Life Assurance Company.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Desjardins Insurance. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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