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FoodShare Toronto, a non-profit food justice organization, rolled out an initiative where they began paying interviewees for their time on March 1, 2022. "It's something that we had been thinking about for a long time," says Paul Taylor, executive director at the nonprofit. "We're doing everything that we can to center justice and equity — and this just made a lot of sense."Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

FoodShare Toronto recently started paying interviewees for their time to come in and talk about a potential job.

“It’s something that we had been thinking about for a long time,” says Paul Taylor, executive director at the non-profit food justice organization. “We’re doing everything that we can to centre justice and equity – and this just made a lot of sense.”

The company wants to compensate people for what Mr. Taylor says is “labour that’s been made invisible” – referring to unpaid work that goes unnoticed, unacknowledged and unregulated.

We tell companies this all the time: ‘Don’t shy away from DE&I conversations; your greatest strength is your people. So bring them to the table, have these conversations, learn from each other and hear their lived experiences.’

Marcie Hawranik, founder of DE&I strategy firm Canadian Equality Consulting

He notes that some job candidates need to take time off work to come for interviews, commute, or pay for child care. By paying people for their time, Mr. Taylor says FoodShare is helping make interviews more accessible, which ensures its work force is a more accurate reflection of the city’s socioeconomic diversity.

It’s an example of the ways companies across Canada are deploying new diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives in response to continuing calls for greater justice and equity in all facets of life.

FoodShare Toronto has many other DE&I initiatives, including a minimum wage of $24 an hour (Toronto’s living wage is $22.08) and benefits that begin when you start work at the organization. The company also has a set wage ratio, ensuring the highest-earning staff is paid no more than three times that of its lowest-earning staff.

Diversity ‘an exciting opportunity’ in the workplace

The greater focus on equity is “not so much a challenge, but a really exciting opportunity,” says Marcie Hawranik, founder of DE&I strategy firm Canadian Equality Consulting.

“The status quo has always been to avoid that in workplaces, or not talk about it. It’s kind of seen as taboo and political – and there’s a great opportunity now to address that and realize that people can’t separate their work-life and their private life; it’s not that clear cut.”

To improve DE&I at its workplace, Raymond James Ltd.’s Canadian subsidiary partnered with the non-profit Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility to help increase accessibility for its workers and clients. They worked together to add closed captioning to company-wide meetings and external and internal webinars, and bring in translators for specific events.

“We know that we’re not the experts in everything and so sometimes, by partnering with other organizations that are doing good work in that space, we can learn from them,” says Janine Davies, vice-president of corporate communications and marketing at Raymond James.

Raymond James also recently introduced IDEA Tuesdays. (IDEA stands for inclusion, diversity, equity and access). Employees can submit questions they may be nervous to ask in person and then have them answered by a subject matter expert via video. The company’s goal is to share a new informative video once a month, on a Tuesday.

“We wanted to reach out to external connections and third parties that were speaking about these topics in their own space, but weren’t necessarily Raymond James people,” she says.

The videos have covered everything from pride to wearing a hijab to accessibility, and the contributors who answer via video are paid a small honorarium.

In the remote-working world, this microlearning initiative makes it easy for employees in any location to learn more about these important topics at any time, Ms. Davies says.

Staying on top of diversity trends

Ms. Hawranik says companies should strive to stay on the leading edge of DE&I initiatives to continuously support and empower their employees.

“We tell companies this all the time: ‘Don’t shy away from DE&I conversations; your greatest strength is your people. So bring them to the table, have these conversations, learn from each other and hear their lived experiences.’ “

Her advice is to focus on what’s working and what’s not – and use that to guide improvements. It should also be a multilevel strategy, Ms. Hawranik says.

“You have to be tackling that individual level, the institutional level and the systemic level,” she says.

For instance, at the institutional level, Ms. Hawranik recommends managers review policies and procedures to see if there are any formal or perceived barriers, challenges or inequities. For example, she suggests looking at the technology in use at the organization to see if it is fully accessible and inclusive.

Many current HR systems are not designed to collect diversity desegregated data, which she says is important to have: It means collecting race-based data and collecting information on different identity categories such as gender, indigeneity, mental health, and invisible disabilities. Ms. Hawranik says companies can then use the more precise data to better understand who is affected – and how – by their programs, policies and culture. For example, women of colour may be affected more, or affected differently, than women in general.

“Then do regular pulse checks so that you can have the data that you need to know what you need to tackle and what’s more important to prioritize,” she advises.

While not always easy, creating workplaces where everyone feels welcome and can thrive is becoming essential, not just nice-to-have.

“Most people would agree, and leaders would agree, we have a responsibility to always be better neighbours to one another. Especially in a workplace, where we spend most of our time,” Ms. Hawranik says

By paying people for their time, Mr. Taylor says FoodShare is helping make interviews more accessible, which ensures its workforce is a more accurate reflection of the city’s socioeconomic diversity.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Three tips for tough talks

Many organizations are afraid of having conversations with employees about DE&I issues – worried they may do or say the wrong thing. Ms. Hawranik has three tips for employers when having these sensitive conversations:

1. Making mistakes is inevitable. It doesn’t feel great when you’ve said something offensive or created a policy that has gaps. “What’s most important is how you react when you make a mistake and how you come back from that,” Ms. Hawranik says. Don’t get defensive, she says, but instead acknowledge the error, apologize and clarify if needed. She says companies should also commit to do better in future.

2. Don’t lean on others to teach you. Too often employers and employees rely on their underrepresented colleagues to answer questions about how they should act or what they should say. It can be emotionally demanding for marginalized people to field questions from their peers, especially at work. “There’s a lot of resources out there where you can go and learn on your own as well,” she says.

3. Realize your fear may be a bias. She says the fear of having these challenging conversations “isn’t necessarily based on logic or clear evidence.” People are more likely scared of embarrassment and not fearful because something bad happened in the past when they had a similar conversation.