Diversity training urged for public service managers

he Secretary of the Cabinet in August 2008, said at last week’s Conference Board of Canada’s two-day diversity summit in Toronto. “I don’t think there is any point in hiring people into those ranks and then spend a whole lot of time trying to mould them, twist them and turn them into the types of individuals that can be inclusive managers.

“I think we need to make a lot of the education, awareness and requirements mandatory prior to individuals even being able to apply for those positions. I also think we need to incorporate more questions about diversity, inclusion and accessibility into the interviewing process. We need to have a holistic approach in terms of how we assess individuals as they come forward to take up those positions. It’s a challenge. We have got a lot of managers in the OPS and to get them to a place of being inclusive will certainly take time.”

The OPS, which delivers services to close to 12 million Ontarians, comprises 25 ministries that each has a minister, deputy minister, several assistant deputy ministers and hundreds of directors and managers among its nearly 66,000 workforce.

As part of a three-year strategic plan to keep pace with changing demographics and public expectations, the OPS launched an online diversity awareness course last June for employees to acquire a basic understanding of diversity. As of three weeks ago, 3,651 employees had completed the course while another 934 had registered.

The province’s largest service provider is also working with deputy ministers to ensure they have tangible diversity commitments in their performance plan that are transferable and measurable, partnering with the Centre of Leadership & Learning to embed diversity, accessibility and inclusion into the revised leader/manager competencies, piloting a “Quiet Room” in the Queen’s Park Complex for employees that need a quiet place to reflect, meditate and pray during the work day and supporting the seven employee networks, including the vibrant OPS Black association.

Richardson said the Black network has been very instrumental in driving the diversity agenda and pushing the public service to be proactive in eliminating internal barriers.

“Understanding that diversity is about all of us is important because it forms the foundation for how we view diversity and therefore how we respond to diversity,” she said. “Human nature, being what it is, makes it vital for us all to see ourselves reflected in and benefiting from the concept of diversity, from the concept of maximizing and leveraging all of our differences in the interest of all of our successes.”

A former journalist and diversity consultant, Richardson addressed the enormous challenge of her new job to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“What I didn’t understand was just how big a job and how challenging a road it would be,” she said. “I really didn’t and I am only half-joking when I say that had I stopped to think about how big this job would be, I might not have had the courage to apply.

“Think about driving significant organizational transformation through about 30 companies, each with a separate CEO and chair, different cultures and stakeholders, and don’t forget to throw in eight unions. On top of that, the public service really has three masters – bureaucratic, political and public – and very often that means getting pulled in three very different directions. I don’t want to sound as if I am complaining because I really am not. I love my job and I feel very fortunate and privileged to be a part of something that can have a huge impact on this province and to be part of demonstrated leadership that can change our society forever.

“The fact is, though, we face many challenges on this journey that we have undertaken and it would be a mistake not to acknowledge that. But for the most part, the challenges we face have little to do with people believing that diversity and inclusion are somehow wrong. (While) there are some who feel that way, our challenges have more to do with resistance to change, the need to do things differently, the need to have a different focus or a different lens as we go about the business of our work and the ‘busy-ness’ of our daily lives. Change is never easy and changes within the long established public sector organization is particularly challenging.”

That’s why Richardson continues to emphasize that diversity is the smart thing to do today and the wise thing to do for the future.

“As stewards and custodians of the pubic good, it is the wise thing to do if we are to steer the OPS into the future with relevance,” she said. “In our organization, as I am sure in yours, it is indeed an economic and social imperative. If we want to provide relevant services to the people of this province as we head into the second decade of the new millennium, we must proactively embrace our differences. We must recognize that we are no longer a homogenous society, perhaps, more accurately, we can no longer pretend to be. We look and act in different ways and believe in different things than we did even 10 years ago. Ontario is now a society of newcomers, it is a society of disparate groups with disparate interests.”

As a diversity consultant for Graybridge & Malkam prior to joining the OPS, Richardson designed and delivered a program – Building an Inclusive and Respectful Workplace – for executives and managers in the manufacturing and information technology outsourcing industries, a Train-the-Trainer program on promoting respect and intercultural understanding for managers in the health care sector and a series of cross-cultural tool kit tune-up sessions for sales professionals in the financial services field.

She also provided diversity coaching for a senior management team in the pharmaceutical industry.

“In a province that is going through immigration as rapidly as this one is, we will be foolish not to put taxpayers dollars into government programs and services that are relevant to the population by reflecting the diversity of the taxpaying population,” said Richardson. “We must attract the best people. Frankly, our success depends on how well we compete for talent with your organizations that are represented in this room today and the way to win that race is to reflect the diversity of the people we want to attract, to modernize our organization and practices on all levels in all areas.

“I believe that in a civil society, people must be able to count on their public systems to represent back to them the fairness and justice they crave and deserve. If we can’t find fairness in our systems of government, if we can’t find fairness in our systems of justice, if we don’t see ourselves reflected in those systems, we feel under-represented, unprotected, helpless and, worse, hopeless.”

Centennial College’s president and chief executive officer Ann Buller and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s diversity management and ombudsman office manager, Janet Naidu, also addressed the conference.



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