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THE QUESTION

I am one of few people of colour in my company. My director has requested that I spearhead our company’s EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) initiative, which involves hiring and managing an EDI consultant. I understand why they’ve asked me to do this work, but I feel uncomfortable being put in this position. Plus, I’ve already got a full plate and I’m not getting any additional compensation for the work. How should I approach my director about this?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Hemalee Sisodraker, director of people and culture, Endy, Toronto

I love hearing that your company is starting an EDI initiative! That said, I am sorry your director assumed you would want to spearhead it as one of the few people of colour at the organization. Unsurprisingly, I see this a lot. What I have learned is that a successful initiative cannot fall on one person’s shoulders, but has to be a commitment from everyone at the company, ideally led by HR, who typically have the resources and training to work toward true equity, diversity and inclusion.

Before speaking with your director, you should consider how much emotional work you want to put into this initiative. If your answer is none, it may be best to politely decline. On the other hand, if you are feeling up for it, I would encourage you to have an open and candid conversation with your director. The goal of EDI initiatives should be to hold space for these types of conversations, so if your company is serious about change and growth, the feedback you provide should be received well.

In your conversation, you can acknowledge that you appreciate the spirit of this initiative and that you were thought of to take it on, while also giving them direct feedback as to why you’re hesitant to accept. You can share how you felt being given this responsibility as a person of colour and how important it is to be your authentic self at work, expressing how this request puts added pressure on your mental and physical health. You may also suggest that if someone else outside of the HR team is approached, it may be a good idea to consider additional compensation for this work, as they, too, may have a full plate at the moment.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Carine Lacroix, founder and CEO, Reneshone, Oakville, Ont.

I understand where you’re coming from and assume the intent of your director to be genuine. Your lack of comfort might simply be the result of confusion and/or misunderstanding about EDI that exists today.

These things affect how we view and define diversity, how we explain the lack of diversity in an organization and how we optimize inclusion for all workers in the workplace. Therefore, depending on our world view about EDI, we can either:

  • Be empowered or disempowered when asked to spearhead an EDI initiative.
  • ‘Do good’ or ‘do harm’ when implementing the program.
  • Have an increase in employee engagement or an increase in employee disengagement by the end of the initiative.

A good and lawful EDI program helps people flourish, increases employee engagement and embodies the common law principles of “do no harm to others” and “take responsibility.”

During this challenging era, it’s more important than ever to see strong leadership in organizations so everyone realizes how diverse we all are and how everyone matters for an organization to thrive.

Here is what I suggest: Embrace the opportunity and work with a consultant who will focus on bringing people together, as opposed to dividing them. Also, know that this isn’t something to do in your spare time; hence, ask your employer to free you from other tasks and/or pay you extra.

Finally, see this as an opportunity to implement the right EDI initiative in your organization – one that empowers, unifies and inspires everyone.

Have a question for our experts? Send an e-mail to NineToFive@globeandmail.com with ‘Nine to Five’ in the subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered.

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