What I Think: When Cities Lead the Charge for Inclusion

Although it may not be well known, I have never hidden the fact that I am not a big social person. I would rather hunker down at my desk doing work or head home to do “stuff” than go out and connect with people. In my position, however, I get a lot of invitations and have been known from time to time to slough them off on others or graciously decline. But recently I received an invitation that made me sit up and pay attention. “The launch of a Workplace Inclusion Charter?” I muttered to myself.

Indeed the community in which I have hung my hat for several decades created “an exciting new initiative” to embrace something we have been writing about (I checked) for 14 years — diversity and inclusion in the workplace. A touch unsettled yet with piqued curiosity, I accepted the invitation.

We all know that inclusive people practices in the workplace present significant advantages. Organizations that embrace diversity and inclusion strategies perform better, attract superior talent and are more likely to gain a disproportionate portion of market share. Mostly though, it helps organizations avoid group think — the number one deterrent of innovation.

The event ­— put on by my city — was rather uneventful, however. The program was filled with the obvious remarks that city residents overwhelmingly believe the community is enriched by having a diverse and inclusive population. At the same time, marginalized communities continue to face racism and discrimination. We have been covering this content for 14 years, so what is different?

The Kingston Workplace Inclusion Charter is tasked with promoting employment practices and providing strategies that will improve inclusion, diversity and equity at work. Herein lies an important distinction between fact and mindset. 

Diversity is a fact in that a workplace can demonstrate the presence of a wide range of human qualities and attributes, both visible and invisible. Equity is the condition of fair and respectful treatment of others while accommodating differing needs and expectations. And now we come to inclusion — a mindset where diversity and equity meet. Inclusion involves creating an environment where people feel they belong and are able to grow and develop to their potential — a place where each person has the opportunity to be an influencer.

Just because I get it and have a very inclusive work environment does not necessarily mean that other employers are there too, though. And so it took me a few days to figure out what this event was actually leading to. 

I realized that this moment in history was not about workplace inclusion, rather about leadership. Unfortunately, the community statistics build the case for failure in the adapting and change arena. Consider this: In 2018, 94.2% of the population of the City of Kingston identified as Caucasian. The minorities, making up 5.8%, include 1.7% Chinese, 1.2% black, and 1% South Asian. The overwhelming predominance of white people may hamper any change initiative, but what slows it down even more is the significantly large government and education sectors, making the City of Kingston more recession-proof than other Canadian communities.

What may be a strong suit economically can equally be a liability. Not having a diverse economy can be a downfall and can also stigmatize the community as a place for primarily public sector jobs.

In an effort to shed this old mantle, the City of Kingston embraced the leadership position of promoting progressive, emerging businesses that embrace diversity and inclusion in the workforce.

This event is a calling-out to all employers in this region to embrace the reality of the 21st-century. The exodus of baby boomers from the workforce and the declining replacement birth rate means that Canada is welcoming newcomers. Our workplaces need to be better prepared by replacing old hiring and retention practices.

I have always embraced the belief that leadership does not just come from the top positions within any organization, but in this case it does. For a municipality to shout out to all employers, provide them with the tools to get to a better place and compel them to sign a charter that their workplace is truly inclusive is commendable. This example of leadership may just become a gold standard to follow.

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Vera Asanin
WRITTEN BY
Vera Asanin