Diversity in the workplace a priority for the OPS



The Ontario Public Service’s Diversity Office created its first ever strategic plan in 2009 to act as its road map to an inclusive and modern organization.

Steering the plan that morphed into the three-year strategy that will serve a shifting population and demographics was former journalist and communications consultant, Noelle Richardson.

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 its strategic plan to keep pace with changing demographics and public expectations, the OPS launched an online diversity awareness course in June 2009 for employees to get a basic understanding of diversity. The province’s largest service provider also worked with deputy ministers to ensure they have tangible diversity commitments in their performance plan that are transferable and measurable.

The OPS partnered with the Centre of Leadership & Learning to embed diversity, accessibility and inclusion into the revised leader/manager competencies and piloted a “Quiet Room” in the Queen’s Park Complex for employees who need a place to reflect, meditate and pray during the work day. It also supported the seven employee networks, including the vibrant OPS Black Network which has been instrumental in driving the diversity agenda and pushing the public service to be proactive in eliminating internal barriers.

“We set a vision to provide excellent public services where each and every individual could achieve their full potential,” said Richardson in a presentation last week at the Roadmap 2030 two-day conference at the Toronto Reference Library. “Underpinning that vision are four goals that we have set … embed diversity and inclusion in all we do in terms of our policies, programs and services; build an environment as best as we can that’s free from harassment and discrimination; reflect the public we serve at all levels of the organization and respond to the needs of a diverse population.

“Within the OPS, we took a transformational tact, recognizing that if we are going to have a sustainable approach, we needed to fundamentally look at the way in which we approach the business of government as an employer, policy maker and as a service provider.

“That is not an easy thing to do in a long-established and deeply entrenched culture that, by its very nature, sometimes characterizes itself as an issues management culture. In many ways, that’s the antithesis of what we are trying to do in terms of modernizing the OPS and doing things differently.

“One of the things we have done at the OPS is look at diversity much more broadly and take it out of the realm of race, gender and culture and we pay a lot of (attention) to the fact … that diversity is much broader than those things and we talk about diversity of thought.

“When we talk about diversity, we still primarily see it within a very narrow context. I think, unless we really broaden our perspective of diversity, it will always be underpinned by an air of benevolence and that is not something that, in any way, shape or form, is sustainable.”

The OPS work has not gone unnoticed. It was named one of Canada’s top employers in the last four years.

Despite the accolades, Richardson made it clear the organization cannot rest on its laurels.

“I think the biggest challenge is still ourselves and the biases we bring to the table,” she said. “We need to continue to challenge ourselves and continue along a path of personal growth to get us to a place fully appreciating the ‘otherness’ of the other.”

Last August, Richardson was appointed chief diversity officer, agencies, in the Ministry of the Attorney General. In her new role, she is expected to help the ministry’s agencies, boards and commissions foster organizational cultures that support diversity and inclusion goals in the workplace.

She said she is excited to be working in the justice sector.

“I think the reason why we are doing that is that there is recognition that a fair and accessible system of administrative justice is fundamental to who we are as a free and democratic society,” she said.

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.

Jack McCarthy, executive director of Somerset West Community Health Centre; Dr. Gervan Fearon, dean of the Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education and United Way of Peel Region’s community investment director, Sharon Douglas, also appeared on the panel which was moderated by Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

The panel discussed ways to prepare services and programs for the dramatic demographic changes Canadians expect to see in the near future.

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