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‘Everybody has value to offer. We live in a global world. People come from different backgrounds, each with a unique perspective that should be respected and valued,’ says Mubina Mawani, the lead of the inclusion and diversity portfolio for Accenture Canada, a consulting firm headquartered in Toronto.Jennifer Roberts/The Globe and Mail

Mubina Mawani is passionate about inclusion and diversity. In a wheelchair since she was a year and a half old, East African-born Ms. Mawani is the full-time lead of the inclusion and diversity portfolio for Accenture Canada, a consulting firm headquartered in Toronto.

"I belong to three designated groups, as you can see," she says disarmingly. "I don't even see my disability, to be honest. If you're in an environment where you're being included and you feel like you belong, where nothing is held against you, such as your gender, race, disability or background, you're involved. You have the opportunities that everybody else does. That's what we want to do at Accenture."

The first turning point in Ms. Mawani's life was when she came to Canada in 1974 and was allowed to attend a regular school. The next was in Grade 5 when she became involved with sports for people with disabilities, which she credits with giving her the chance to see what she was capable of doing. As she says, "I was surrounded by other people who were in chairs and they were able."

She sees her role at Accenture as helping to create an equitable place where people can bring their best self to work, and, as a result, take the best to their clients. A myriad of company diversity programs include employee training, supplier diversity, workplace accommodations for persons with disabilities and employee resource groups – for women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people, and persons with disabilities – that promote awareness as well as provide support and networking.

"I want to push that inclusion and diversity agenda forward," Ms. Mawani says. "Everybody has value to offer. We live in a global world. People come from different backgrounds, each with a unique perspective that should be respected and valued."

Accenture is new to the list of Canada's Best Diversity Employers 2013, as are New Directions for Children, Youth, Adults and Families Inc., a provider of community services in Winnipeg, and William Osler Health System, which operates three community hospitals in Ontario. What these organizations have in common, along with the other 52 winners, is a commitment from the top down to embrace the diversity of Canada's talent pool and an understanding of how to use it as a strength.

"It's one thing to have a diverse work force but it's the inclusion part that takes it to the next level," says Claudia Thompson, a managing director for Accenture in Ottawa. "When we have a culture where people feel included and valued for their opinions, and can state those, then we start to see innovation of thought and that's problem solving for the client's problems."

At New Directions, diversity is celebrated. Because they want their culturally diverse clientele to feel comfortable and welcome, the company goes out of their way to hire diverse backgrounds, including Africans to work with African youth, deaf staff to serve the deaf, disabled employees and newcomers to Canada. But it took fine tuning to get it right for deaf staff. Originally, they had them scattered throughout several different programs.

"We found it was very hard for them not to work in their own language day in and day out," explains Jennifer Frain, the company's executive director. "Even though all the staff was learning ASL [American Sign Language,] it was still isolating. We weren't trying to do it wrong but recognized that we were. "

After much consultation, New Directions consolidated all their deaf programming into deaf services so that deaf staff could work together. The department is flourishing and the number of referrals up, Dr. Frain reports. The change also created new opportunities for leadership. Arron Montney, an ASL user, is one who moved up to clinical case manager.

"People's attitudes here are extremely positive," Mr. Montney says. "I've learned a lot working here. I've benefited so I can help others to benefit – that's really been the system."

Diversity at William Osler has grown to include mental health and addiction. The premise is to think about the whole person and how that plays out in the workplace.

"The obvious ones when we started were around gender and culture – race, ethnicity, language," says Matthew Anderson, president and CEO. "Our diversity office challenged us to think beyond that, to be more holistic about diversity and how we can support our employees and patients going forward."

Another change Mr. Anderson observes is a shift from a series of diversity initiatives to a program. Now they set out rules and objectives each year and report on and measure their progress.

"Diversity has become so embedded within our senior leadership that it's become a key measure that goes into deciding what projects to tackle," Mr. Anderson says. "A diversity program can be as measurable and concrete as any other measure in your organization. There's a real business case."

Those diversity measures have also given Osler a boost in staff and patient satisfaction levels, thanks to staff such as Lysa Lecky, a co-ordinator with the diagnostic imaging department who's also on the Diversity Advisory Council. Due to her and the diversity team's efforts, hospital CT scanners are programmed in 16 languages and reference cards are created to establish that patients aren't pregnant before undergoing certain procedures.

"Being involved in Osler's diversity initiatives has opened my eyes to what it might be like to be ill and feel vulnerable and frightened because those caring for me may not understand my language, or my beliefs and values," Ms. Lecky says. "A few patients have even kissed my hand to show their appreciation."