Jaqui Parchment is the CEO of Mercer Canada and a director of the BlackNorth Initiative.
In recent weeks, individuals and organizations across North America and beyond have engaged in important conversations about systemic racism and how it is embedded in our institutions, workplaces and daily lives. It’s been heartening to hear from people from diverse backgrounds expressing a desire to learn, to reflect and to consider the roles they can play in addressing these issues. These conversations, while difficult and stemming from recent instances of horrific violence, are necessary if we want to create lasting change.
In order to do so, however, we need to think beyond short-term solutions. Instead, from a business perspective, we need to focus on improving the employee experience for a more diverse Canadian work force. We need to shift our thinking to move from a focus on diversity and inclusion alone, and start cultivating a more deeply-rooted sense of belonging in our workplaces.
This requires a fundamental shift in the way we do business. Leaders must encourage open communication and really listening to their staff, be willing to make the necessary changes, conduct themselves with compassion and put their people first. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do: A workplace where employees can bring their full selves is one where they will be engaged, productive and want to stay.
The focus on belonging at work is deeply personal to me. As one of the few Black chief executives in Canada, and as a woman in the corporate world, I came up through the ranks at a time when diversity was neither prized nor a focus. I sat in meetings, attended networking events and activities and started to notice and think about the thousand seemingly small things that happen at work every day that might make an employee feel like they don’t belong. This could be the food that’s served, the music that plays at an event, the kind of networking activities that are hosted, and who is represented at conferences, speaking engagements, town halls, as co-authors of research, and in a company’s branding.
In addition to ensuring a diverse group of voices are heard, there is also tremendous power in people feeling seen, represented, reflected and promoted at work, both within the organization and externally. These things might seem small or innocuous individually, but in aggregate they send important messages, showing employees of colour what is possible for them to accomplish and letting them know that they are seen and valued by their companies. These actions signal to employees and clients who belongs, and who does not, who the corporate world is designed for, and who is excluded from consideration.
I carried these ideas with me as I advanced to my current position as CEO of Mercer Canada, where I now have the opportunity to build a workplace where everyone feels like they belong. With colleagues whose families come from more than 78 different countries in our Toronto office alone, we recognize that we need to ensure we reflect this diversity whenever possible. We started in our Toronto office by reviewing our client entertainment practices. Where hockey games and golf tournaments were previously the biggest client events, we’ve now looked for more representative ways of engaging all our clients and finding opportunities for all our colleagues. Instead of hosting events with food, music and images representing little to no racial diversity, we’ll serve food and play music from various cultures, and ensure our images are representative of a diverse work force.
In terms of charitable efforts, we have chosen to support local initiatives in our community that better reflect the needs of a diverse society, recognizing that people are more likely to feel they belong if their companies are prepared to align with the social justice issues and philanthropy initiatives relevant to their communities.
It’s time for the difficult and necessary work of looking inward and making fundamental changes to our workplaces. This work can and must begin right now if we are going to capitalize on a time when, finally, real change seems possible.
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