Catherine Roome is president and lead executive officer of Technical Safety BC, the independent organization that oversees the installation and operation of technical systems and equipment in British Columbia.
A few weeks ago, in my role as the president and chief executive officer of Technical Safety BC, I sent an e-mail to our 450 employees about racism and, in particular, systemic racism against people of colour.
I wrote about my hope that the Black Lives Matter movement would present Canada with an opportunity to define what a better world looks like. I also wrote that deeply seated racism in our society includes racism toward Indigenous peoples – the original inhabitants of these lands.
In response, many Technical Safety BC employees from across British Columbia took the opportunity to share their experiences and expressed calls for action and reflection. In particular, I was urged to consider the importance of language and the titles that many of us adopt and use without thinking.
As folks who know me well will tell you, I am a stickler for inclusive language. I often interrupt people – board directors, heads of organizations, politicians and others – if I feel they are using titles for our employees that are outdated.
So to receive constructive feedback on my own use of language made me sit up and take notice.
One particularly courageous colleague pointed out that I was using a word in my title, president and chief executive officer, that represents something deeply meaningful to many Indigenous peoples. It is a word that is honoured and respected in First Nations culture and conveys a meaning very different to organizational leadership.
The origin of my original title is European. That doesn’t give me a pass. Asking about how racism affects a person and being given an answer means I can choose to listen and do something, or I can stay silent.
I have long been a champion for Indigenous rights and reconciliation. Yet I am ashamed to say, the thought had never even occurred to me that the title I proudly held could evoke such a response, or even be viewed as disrespectful to the very reconciliation process that I support.
So upon reflection, I have changed my title within the organization to president and lead executive officer.
It’s a move that I felt was important – perhaps other organizational leaders will as well.
From a day-to-day business perspective, a title is simply a title. Making this change will not affect the role or responsibilities and there may even be times when business demands the use of the previous title.
But when it comes to the issue of reconciliation and the need to lead by example, an industry title is indeed much more than just a simple word. Particularly when it is backed up by other actions that reflect and respect the culture of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, on whose traditional, ancestral and unceded lands we live and work.
Others have led the way – I simply want to lend my voice to those who also believe we need to move on our values, perhaps before other executive systems are prepared to do so. That is what is important to me and my team at Technical Safety BC: to not only be true to our core values, but to actively listen for and then embrace opportunities to make those values come to life.
As an executive with the ability to reach and influence others, my goal is to create a space and a culture where everyone is not only welcomed, but celebrated for who they are.
This will hopefully help serve as a step in that direction.
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