Building diverse teams is more than a checklist

It’s easy to talk about the necessity of having diverse teams, but it’s a lot harder to actually create one. During this panel, moderator Rodey Wing, Partner at Kearney, spoke with panellists Jennifer Williams, senior director, information security at Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), Sandeep Nair, manager of business operations at Pride at Work Canada, Hillary Hartley, chief data and digital officer of Ontario, and Ross Garrett, head of product at Volkswagen Automotive Cloud to gather tips for companies trying to build diverse teams.

photo of panel
Rodey Wing, Hillary Hartley, Sandeep Nair, Ross Garrett, Jennifer Williams.

Before recruiting begins

“It’s important that (companies) make sure that their workplace is safe and inclusive before they look at hiring,” Nair said. “The organization should understand that hiring is not in isolation; what they’re trying to do is build a team.” That means accessible and inclusive policies, procedures, and guidelines to support all employees.

Missed the event? Watch it on-demand here!

“And I do think we have to measure where we’re at, and we have to set expectations for ourselves,” Hartley added. “We need some targets, we need some goals, we need to have plans that say we are going to try to do better, look different, be different.”

Targets and goals are important, Garrett said, since the world has been dominated by white cis males, even in more modern environments. Research by the Human Rights Campaign, an organization whose goal is to ensure every LGBTQ person is free to live their life openly, with equal rights, shows that 46 per cent of the community is still closeted at work.

“I think that speaks volumes to the amount of effort that we have to continue to put into this particular problem,” he said. “I also think, coming from a startup environment, having been part of many startups over the years, I think there’s still a propensity for the sort of ‘bro-tastic’ environment where those sorts of ‘bro-y’ cultures get fostered and rewarded. And again, something that we have to work at to improve.”

Fighting misconceptions

Wing then wondered what specific misconceptions about LGBTQ2S+ people need to be addressed.

“I think it’s important for everybody in the workplace to understand that the LGBTQ+ people don’t need special benefits or treatments,” Nair said. “Whatever the organization is doing, it’s not doing for a certain section of employees in the workplace, it’s doing it for everybody. Like, for example, if you’re talking about a gender-neutral restroom, that is not just specific to the trans or gender diverse people, it is for everybody.”

Hartley came up with another issue: co-workers not realizing that people may struggle with being out at work and being able to discuss things like going home to, in her case, her wife and kids. And, Wing added, worrying about what other peoples’ assumptions about them are and whether they’ll be accepted.

“One of the things that we’ve been trying to do in terms of changing the culture is really have some of those challenging conversations to open people’s eyes,” he said. “And we found that made a significant difference in terms of how our allies, as well intended as they are, show up in a more positive light.”

Part of being an ally is being open to understanding that struggle, Williams noted. “I would never want my team to feel like they would have to hide and not be able to have open conversations of that nature,” she said. “Because the greatest thing, that the thing that makes my team the most successful, is that they care about each other, that they build that safe, inclusive space, they share ideas, there is no judgment. And it makes them very successful.”


The recruiting process also needs attention, and one of Hartley’s strategies is making sure that candidates see that there are people like them already in the organization, that there’s a culture where they are respected and valued, and, if they choose to be out, they can bring their whole selves to work.

Garrett, too, sees culture as important. He feels that companies should do a better job explaining their cultures to candidates. And, added Wing, in the interview, offer and hiring processes companies need to make sure that systems don’t reject diversity.

“I think it’s also important for us to make sure that while implementing hiring best practices, it is also important that the recruiters make sure that they are being inclusive in terms of their interviewing process as well, starting from the job description to how the interview is conducted,” Nair said. “Usually we see job descriptions where they have ‘he/she’ for when they want to talk about an individual, and we need to use a gender-neutral pronoun, ‘they’, because then we are inclusive of everybody.”

“At the Ontario Digital Service, we also have created essentially a bit of a mini onboarding program for anyone who is going to be a part of the recruiting and hiring process,” Hartley added. “So whether you’re doing a phone screen, or sitting on a panel, or you’re the hiring manager, anyone that’s a part of our hiring process now goes through unconscious bias training. We’ve pieced it together ourselves; it’s reading materials and videos, but it’s something that I think makes a huge difference and does set some of those expectations.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree.

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