Op-ed: Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture

Kelly Cooper
Many corporate executives say they are committed to taking action but struggle with how to do it successfully, writes columnist Kelly Cooper.

There is growing awareness in Ottawa that addressing gender diversity and inclusion is not only a good thing to do, but the right thing to do.

Executives and leaders across all sectors are realizing there are economic benefits to be realized alongside the well-established social advantages.

But when I speak with corporate presidents and CEOs, I often hear that they are now committed to taking action but struggle with how to do it successfully.

After several years of research, including interviews with top male and female executives and managers, I developed a blueprint for organizations to implement these changes. Let me walk you through five helpful tips for getting started: 

Model and commit: Make a formal commitment to employees and external stakeholders such as investors, recruitment agencies and subcontractors stating that a concerted effort is taking place to make your company more gender-diverse and inclusive. Stating this intention holds the president and other senior leadership accountable. Accountability is the key to the success of implementing this sort of change.

Say it: Tell your employees you’re serious by assessing – and, where necessary, changing – company policies, visions, goals and mandates to include gender-diverse and inclusive language. Say it to your industry peers by participating in conferences and stating externally what your company is doing and sharing the message that it’s not just a social issue, but a business advantage.

Show it, be visible and take action often: Hold focus group discussions (e.g. at the branch level) between senior executives and employees. This smaller group setting will increase the likelihood of sharing any concerns, and allow those concerns to be addressed in an open and transparent manner that builds trust. This in turn creates honest communications that delve into the root issues that are causing some people to be reluctant to onboard a gender-diverse and inclusive culture.

Explain the benefits to men: Articulate that work-life balance policies apply to both men and women. With this knowledge, men feel a part of this new culture and see how everyone is healthier as a result. For example, discuss how men can attend their kids’ school activities or leave early from work and still be seen as committed to their careers. Mention that this social connection to family leads to less stress and fewer heart attacks, less suicides as well a reduction in the “death gap” between men and women.

Hire a gender expert coach: Bringing in an outside perspective can help guide your executive team to make a sustainable plan toward gender equality that will be implemented, monitored, measured and reported.

These strategies are used by some leading tech companies operating in the National Capital Region. HP Canada, which has a presence here in Ottawa, recently received recognition for being one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers in 2020. Here are some of HP’s approaches:

  • It made a formal commitment to increase the number of women in senior roles and technical positions throughout the organization;
  • It created a new full-time position of chief diversity officer to implement the change needed. HP also funded training for women’s career development as well as mentoring programs and unconscious bias training; and
  • It organized activities to celebrate Pride Month as well as diversity and inclusion, accessibility and aging. 

Although HP Canada has not revealed the economic return on investing in GDI, other international companies have seen big returns. Sodexo – a food services and facilities management firm with local operations – understandably boasts that for every dollar it invests in GDI, it receives a $19 ROI.

HP Canada’s leadership clearly demonstrates it has the mental muscle to know this is a no-brainer business decision, or as I like to say, business advantage. It has forged the way for other high-tech companies to follow their lead.

Kelly Cooper is the founder and CEO of the Centre for Social Intelligence as well as the author of Lead the Change – The Competitive Advantage of Gender Diversity and Inclusion, available through Indigo.ca and in Ottawa Chapters locations. She was recently named the “Gender Equality Queen” for her global efforts to increase gender equality in the workplace by Legend Magazine.