I participated in an interesting learning opportunity recently on the topic of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the forest sector, which provided some good information that can benefit the woodworking sector as well.
Forestry Innovation Investment (FII) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) have engaged with a subject matter expert, Canadian Equality Consulting, to integrate diversity and inclusion to a greater extent in their planning and in their funding programs for the forestry sector. Their efforts to date have included research and consultations with those receiving funding and with other similar organizations, to see what they are doing and where they are when it comes to D&I. The aim is to develop and build an inclusive culture that encourages, supports and celebrates the diverse voices of their own employees and those in related organisations. The message was that D&I is a process, a journey and forestry organizations will continue to learn as they go.
There is no right or wrong point to be at and some will be at different stages or further along than others. All the efforts being invested will lead to the overarching goal of enabling and supporting D&I in the forest sector. FII and NRCan plan to support their funding partners and related organizations on their efforts and work collaboratively on this common goal. This can be of value to those in the woodworking business as well.
The key speaker at this component of the Wood Best Practices Forum 2021 was Marcie Hawranik from Canadian Equality Consulting, who provided an overview of the importance of diversity and inclusion planning for organizations. She delivered what was termed as D&I 101, including what is D&I, why D&I and she provided an explanation of some common terminology, which was helpful in understanding the landscape. She provided an understanding of bias and looked at how to advance D&I within an organization. The goal was to develop an understanding of key diversity and inclusion concepts and the purpose was to be prepared to advance D&I successfully in organizations, be they large or small.
There are many benefits associated with investing in or prioritizing D&I in your work. By focusing on D&I in your workplace, it can result in strengthened financial performance, as companies with higher diversity in management as an example earned 38 per cent more on their revenue, on average, than companies with lower diversity. Investing in D&I results in greater innovation and creativity and greater diversity of thought. D&I can increase leadership competencies, improve satisfaction and engagement, improve your corporate reputation and also lower turnover rates. She noted that teams are 158 per cent more likely to understand their target consumers if they have at least one member on their team who represents that target group (gender, race, age, culture etc.).
What does this mean for the Canadian forestry sector? D&I is now being identified as a priority to integrate across the Canadian forest sector due to a number of reasons, one of which is that forestry is identified, traditionally and historically, as a gendered sector, with lower levels of diversity. It is a common misconception that working in forestry is a male occupation and this has resulted in gendered workplace cultures that can result in creating highly masculinized environments and that do not advance equity and inclusion and actively end up excluding individuals that may not fit “the male norm.” Participation of women in Canada’s forest sector was low, making up only 17 per cent of the total workforce in 2017. There are systemic barriers in the research ecosystem that inhibit or have resulted in lower diversity.
What is diversity, equity and inclusion? Diversity involves inherent traits, the differences amongst us, amongst each other and is largely defined by our demographics. There is a continuum, equity is the process to harness diversity and build inclusion. Equity is like an intervention, action or activity that in turn will help build and cultivate a broader culture of inclusion. Inclusion is building
a culture where people are
happy to be there, they feel
like they belong, they are productive and they feel valued, heard and understood.
Looking more deeply, there are two types of diversity – diversity of thought and diversity of identity. It is suggested that diversity of identity will bring you diversity of thought. Diversity is the presence of difference, in terms of identities and lived experiences, within a given setting. Diversity is a relational concept, a team or organization can be diverse but an individual person cannot. We are all just unique individuals that are different from one and other
and no matter how outside the social norms a person might be, they are never on their own considered diverse.
Equity and equality are sometimes used interchangeably but they are quite different. Reflect that in our workplaces, we like to think that if we treat people exactly the same, we are being fair. But we know that we are not, because people are very different, they are starting from different places, the world is unequal and if we treat everyone the same, we are advantaging those that are the most ahead already. Equity reinforces the importance of and recognizes that people are different and have unique needs and we need to tailor our approaches to help everyone to level the playing field, so everyone has the chance at success. Equity acknowledges that advantages and barriers exist and makes a commitment to correct and address the imbalance. Equity is the fair treatment of all people with the recognition that people are different and that people are starting from different places. This is a “needs-based” approach. Equity in the workplace is really about leveling that playing
field and giving everyone the unique resources that they need to access the opportunities within an organization. The ultimate goal
of D&I work is to advance equality - that is the intended outcome.
Inclusion asks how team members can feel valued for their differences and participate fully. It is the culture we want to build. To understand inclusion, we should ask ourselves “what am I not able to see?” You might think that if I don’t experience a barrier, then it mustn’t exist for anyone. If one person is experiencing exclusion then you might think that it is an isolated issue that doesn’t require further action. Inclusion takes it that step further and asks how individuals in a group feel valued and if they can participate fully. It relates to their experience of their workplace. Probing questions to help you dig down and understand if there are some barriers or inequalities to inclusion in your organisation include “what don’t we realize we are doing that is negatively impacting our diverse teams” or “what is contributing to people who are marginalized not feeling a sense of belonging” or “what is the experience for individuals who are marginalized with the organisation?”
Digging deeper, there is another concept called intersectionality, which is a framework to understand the complexity of diversity and how people’s identities combine to create different forms of discrimination and privilege. It is all the diversity factors that inform our identity. We all have a gender, a race, a physical location, spirituality, language etc. It is a lens through which you can see to understand that complexity even more. Intersectionality means listening to others, examining our own privileges and asking questions about who may be excluded or adversely affected by our work. It means taking measurable action to invite, include and center the voices of marginalized individuals. Taking an intersectionality approach allows you to work on and solve problems and barriers for more than one group at a time.
The presentation looked at and helped participants understand different identity concepts.
For me this was really helpful. Race is a social construct and is often associated with biology and linked with physical characteristics such as skin color, hair texture and facial features. Race was created by humans, it is a social construct that changes over time. Ethnicity is linked with cultural expression and identification, it is a cultural phenomenon, for example someone is Francophone or Asian. BIPOC or black, indigenous, people of colour is now the common term, with the former term being visible minority. It is much more acceptable today to use the term BIPOC and it is really recommended that you be as specific as possible where you can.
Indigeneity is an umbrella term. There are a number of recommended terms, such as First Nations, Indigenous, Inuit and Metis peoples and some different context specific terms, like Aboriginal, Indian or Native. This can be tricky to navigate as a term that might be acceptable to some, might also be offensive to others. It is always best to ask what a certain group or individual prefers to be called. Overall Indigenous Peoples is the broadest term that is most commonly accepted. The most respectful approach is often to use the most specific term for a population when possible. Always ask respectfully when you have any questions and consider capitalization as a sign of respect to the people you are referring to.
There was lots more good, relevant information in the overview presentation that can contribute to those in the woodworking industry to better understand and take advantage of the benefits that D&I can bring to their organisations. I will expand on those in my next column.