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Video: EXecuTALK: Managing Inclusivity and Diversity to Promote a Psychologically Safe Workplace Environment

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This EXecuTALK features an illuminating discussion on diversity and inclusion in Canada's public service. Our guest speakers share their perspectives and experiences and offer practical advice on how to change the perceptions, implicit stereotypes and biases we may hold unconsciously.

Duration: 00:30:29
Published: February 8, 2022
Code: LPL1-V11

Event: EXecuTALK: Managing Inclusivity and Diversity to Promote a Psychologically Safe Workplace Environment


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EXecuTALK: Managing Inclusivity and Diversity to Promote a Psychologically Safe Workplace Environment

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Transcript: EXecuTALK: Managing Inclusivity and Diversity to Promote a Psychologically Safe Workplace Environment

Danl Loewen: Welcome to EXecuTALKS, brought to you by the Canada School of Public Service. My name is Danl Loewen and I have the pleasure today of talking with two senior executives in the public service who will, in a moment, introduce themselves. Let me draw your attention to our expert, experienced leaders in the public service who have been through these issues themselves and are here to share their best practices and lessons learned.  Shall we start with Yazmine Laroche, can you introduce yourself?

Yazmine Laroche: Thank you, Danl.  And hi, everybody. It's great to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me. I have to say in your intro, the one thing that popped into my head, Danl, was I guess I'm really old, because I've been around a long time and I've learned a lot, obviously, around diversity, inclusion, both as somebody who comes from an employment equity seeking group and also somebody who as a leader has been responsible for building high performing teams. And I think it's really important when you're talking about diversity and inclusion, that you really focus on why it actually makes you better. And I'm very lucky that right now, as the Deputy Minister for Public Service Accessibility, it's all about how do we make this public service of ours better. Thank you. 

Danl Loewen: Absolutely. Nice intro. Knowing that the diversity of opinion, the broad breadth of expertise and the inclusion of various ideas gives us, as executives in the public service, gives us a chance to provide better informed vision, more comprehensive policy, client focused service and more effective programs. That's why we're here. Sony Perron.

Sony Perron:: Hi Danl, thank you very much for the invitation and good afternoon, everybody. I'm addressing you today from unceded Algonquin territory.  So we'd like to thank the Algonquin people to allow me to do my work on their territory and also salute all the Indigenous people across the country for allowing us to work on their land. It's a pleasure to be with you. I'm really glad to be invited there. Maybe a bit on the opposite of Yazmine.  I learn a lot. I think on my side I always feel I still have so much to learn about diversity and how as a person, as a public servant, as a leader in an organization, I need to adjust myself all the time with humility because frankly, we just don't know much about who is sitting beside us all the time. We are not in their shoes. So it means we need to learn everyday about how to do that. And this is part of our job, I think, as a public servant is to adjust ourselves and the organization we, I believe belong to, to be able to adapt all the time in adapting to a notion of diversity that is very different in 2020 today than it was in 1970. So we have to learn this, and that's glad that we spend the time together to the end with everybody connected with us to learn about them.

Danl Loewen: So thank you.  Excellent. And you mentioned how things are different in 2020. Things are different now than they were, say, even in February before the COVID-19 pandemic. And that's had played a role in the degree of inclusively and diversity.  Diversity in our operations and our programs and are in what we can deliver for Canadians and so on. On that note, we are all working. Most of us are working from our homes today, folks, as you probably are. So should we appreciate your patience with any minor technical issues? But rest assured that we've all had our post-COVID haircuts and we're here in our best sweatpants. Our topic, managing inclusivity and diversity. Why? To promote a psychologically safe workplace. Why is it important for a harried executive? Why is it important for them to recognize the need for a psychologically safe workplace for their employees? Who would like to start?

Yazmine Laroche: Sure, I'll go. Why is it important to recognize the importance of a psychologically safe workplace for our employees? Let's look at our data on the Public Service Employee Survey, because I think that's a really great starting point.  We have some pockets of our population with really, really high results on harassment and discrimination.  So people with disabilities typically report incidences of harassment and discrimination 20% higher than the norm for the public service. So,  if you have people who feel that they are, that they don't belong, that they're not welcome, that is not a psychologically safe environment. And if you don't feel psychologically safe, then you're not going to be able to bring your best game to the office, because you're living in fear and worry and anxiety. And those are all things that prevent us from being our best selves. And  if we really want a productive and performing workforce, then it is really important that we create that safe environment where people feel like they can give their best.

Danl Loewen: Thank you. Sony.

Sony Perron: I think when we think about these complex question, it's beyond the quick question, it's beyond the individual question. It's about making sure that the diversities that exist can coexist together in the organization. But beyond that, can influence what the organization should look like. I think too often in the past, without being conscious, conscious about that, we tried to normalize. We pushed to get people doing the same, in the same workplace, in the same way.

And we have policies that want it to be equitable. So we treat everybody in the same way. And frankly, this is a mistake. We learned about that over time. In fact, what we need to do is much more to be adaptive to the reality. So we bring people to be able to coexist and work together and contribute and change the face of organization. We want everybody to feel that they participate in. And frankly, if I come in and I'm disregarded because I'm different. I'm disregarded because I cannot participate in the same way as other, than I will not feel included. And I will not give my best to the organization. And then the organization will not get my best from me. So we need to do this. We want the organization also to be a place where we create teams and to be creating teams, we need to be attractive. And if there is that vision that this organization here is not the best place to be, if you're different and you don't fill in the mold, then we won't succeed in doing this. We want to deliver better mandate. And during my mandate, selfishly, is to bring people that can bring different perspectives, so we can serve better Canadian, then we can be more sensitive to what Canadians goes through in their own life. If we are all the same, coming all from the same place, then we are not equipped to do that right. So I think as leader we are team builders first and foremost. And frankly, you need everything in the team. Four goalies, defence. The same thing when you look at a team of people working in public service, you need people that have different characteristics that bring us and build us a stronger team. So this is what I think it matters. And frankly, if people do not feel safe in the organization, they wouldn't want not to contribute to creating this ethos of an organization and change the face of it. We have at Indigenous Service Canada this kind of challenge whereby we serve Indigenous people. This organization needs to be able to respond and be close to the reality of Indigenous people. So it's why having a solid representation of Indigenous people and having them doing well and feeling well in this organization is a priority. So representation is important. But more than that, it's also to have them feeling that they can, in the organization fully contribute because they feel well and supported and they feel that they have an influence in the organization.

Danl Loewen: Bravo. So as a white male who is assumed to be heterosexual that I'm not living with a disability, that I'm in the prime of my youth. I benefit from the inclusion of that whole wealth of perspectives, that wealth of experience of the Canadian population, of the public service. I benefit from being able to provide better programs, better services, make better decisions, better plans and so on. So if it's that clear and I think for our 500 or so people who are tuned in as executives today to hear from you, what is it that holds leaders back from taking the steps necessary to ensure an inclusive, diverse workplace that, as you've indicated, fosters innovation, fosters respect, fosters productivity?

Yazmine Laroche: Well, I'll kick off. I think the number one thing. Well, there's a few. I've got a little list. One is fear. It's fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. That is a real inhibitor, because our public service is - we're really risk averse. So we're kind of trained to avoid, trying to avoid doing the wrong thing. So I think that really prevents a lot of people from taking that risk, the risk of actually maybe making a mistake, of maybe saying the wrong thing. But I think you have to start, because fear will prevent us from from doing the right thing. I think the other thing that gets in the way is, again, it's a cultural thing we're hardwired to deliver. Right. It's all about results. And so if you're used to delivering in a certain way, it's going to be really difficult for you to step out of that comfort zone. So stuff like diversity, inclusion, regrettably, I'm using air quotes here, is seen as the soft stuff  and that sometimes takes a back seat. Sony's already talked about, you know, we have a tendency to want to hire ourselves. And and that is that is it a natural human way of doing things. But it's wrong. Because if you don't have diversity of thought, diversity of problem solving around your table, it's really hard to be great. And so I think those are a few of the things that prevent people from really moving forward on diversity and inclusion.

Danl Loewen: Thank you. Much appreciated.  Sony.

Sony Perron: I agree with Yazmine's views in terms of this year. I do believe also that we build our teams in an incremental way. So it means that the next staffing action and next staffing action, rather than looking at it and saying I would like to do over time a construct that will bring diversity, that will make us a bit different than what we are today and frankly, public service had success in the past when we bring the number of woman leaders and executive and public service. We have made a lot of progress in the last 20 years in that sense, it's possible. But we need to do it deliberately and ready to have regular discussion of that. If you're in an organization that have once a year at the management table, that discussion about diversity and inclusion, it's not enough. It needs to be something that you always have in mind and that you ask your question about what is the next hire? What is the next talent management activity? Otherwise, the natural rules of our staffing action based on merits will lead you to just pick the next person that I've been in the organization for the longest time with the right qualifications and deliver on it. But it will not change the picture of your organization. And we have to change it. You need to take deliberate moves and sometimes courageous moves, because some people will be irritated by that. But there is good reason. And if it's conscious, if it's built in the reflection and thinking of the management team at all level, I'm not only talking about senior management anymore, it's at all level, then it will be well accepted, because at the end there is a good reason to do this and change the way we staff.  Bring new practices in to remind us that it's important in all the small decisions we make, which includes sending people into training program, doing mentoring and coaching and staffing action, of course. So we have to be very, very deliberate about that, but also courageous because the fear comes, it can be rebalanced with some courage.

Danl Loewen: So I'm hearing an Associate Deputy Minister and two senior leaders of the public service, including the Associate Deputy Minister, say not everybody will like the steps I need to take. I will probably make mistakes along the way. And it's more important that I figure out what to do and move forward. While prudently managing the risk rather than saying I'm not going to do anything different because that will upset people. Here we are and working from home. We are looking at people with very different expectations of the federal government and its service risk there. People are interacting very differently in society. There's a higher degree of vigilance socially, which puts people a bit less at ease. And if I think I can lead the new normal the way I led the old normal. I'm not seizing the point that what got me here won't get me there. And if we are, we are called to be either the victims of the future or its architects, which then leads us to the question of, what are the key things that you can do? Do you think as a leader? What are the things that are busy executives can do as a leader that will actually strengthen inclusion and diversity in a way that enhances productivity, enhances harmony, enhances innovation? What are the specific things that can be done?

Yazmine Laroche: So I want to pick up on two things, because I think they're related. You talked about COVID, and I think I'd like to use that as an example because, boy, have we blown up some myths through COVID. We've blown up myths around work, how it's done, where it's done and who can do it. And it's astonishing when you go across departments and you see people going, I never realized that this job could be done well remotely. My whole call center is being run out of people's homes and it's working well. Departments moved super quickly to make sure that people had the tools and the equipment that they needed so that they could function in a very different environment. And, you know, speaking as the Champion for People with Disabilities, it's more than ironic that a lot of the adaptations that departments are now providing are like the top things that people with disabilities have been asking for. You know, help me avoid a really difficult and challenging commute to and from the workforce by allowing me to work from home a couple of times a day. And now we're going, oh, well, you have to. So we're going to have to make sure that you've got what you need so you can do it. I'd like to see how we seize on this new mindset that we've developed that says, yes, of course, we're going to do things differently. We want you to be productive. So that's one thing. How do you build on that mindset? Sony talked about staffing processes and the merit principle. And, you know, one of the simple things that we as leaders can do is take a really hard look at our posters and the way we design them. And, you know, the dreaded SOMCs, the statement of merit criteria that we've put in there that, you know, you look at that and you go, oh, my goodness, there's only two people in the department who could ever do this job, because we get so specific about qualifications, about experience. So one thing that I would urge people to do is think about who you are excluding, by the way you design these. And are you hiring to be risk averse or are you hiring for potential? And I think that is a really, really important thing that you could do. The third thing I would say is listen to people with lived experience. Are there networks in your organization of people in different equity seeking groups?  You can join as an ally. You don't have to actually be a member of a group. You can join as an ally. So become an ally and become a champion. And Sony mentioned mentoring and mentoring is a great way to learn because it's a two way relationship. And if you choose to mentor people who may not have grown up in our public service and don't understand our culture, you're going to help them to navigate our very complicated culture, but they're going to help you by opening you up to new ways of thinking and being and seeing. So those are a few things that I would say can be done.

Danl Loewen: Thank you. You remind me Yazmine, of a mentor of mine who said if you're worried about making a mistake, don't worry, you will. You can stop worrying. Get on with figuring out what needs to be done. And what is your plan B?  Sony?

Sony Perron: Yeah. I think as leader, your voice and you're someone that people will pay attention. And when I say leader, it's at all level. It's not only the deputies, it's not only the ADM, it's everybody. We all have a role in this. Be humble. You don't know, you're fearful about diversity. Just admit it. But be ready to learn and invite people to bring to your attention: what are the barriers? What are the challenges? What doesn't work? Be open for that and create space for discussion. You will be surprised to see how much you learn about things that exist around you that you're not even aware, because you're part of those through that system that progressed. And it worked for you in the past. So you haven't faced necessarily these barriers. So be humble and invite people to let you know what you might need to know. Listen, the small signals. So sometimes, though, there is some insatisfaction here and there. Sometimes there is a cause. And that insatisfaction is never big, because it's not the majority. But that minority group brings in the issue that for them is very, very important. It's a majority of this minority that thinks that something doesn't work in the organization. So don't only focus on the main narrative, the smaller narrative is really, really important, the small talk. So, again, being open, each signal will come to you. Do make analysis of some of the information about absenteeism, career progression, labour relations issue. Sometimes, you know, it turns into labour relations because things have not been addressed before. People cannot perform if they are discriminated. They cannot perform if they are put aside. They cannot perform if they feel not included in the organization. So pay attention to that. It's part of our work. Last I would say, make visible move. You're in the place where you can do things that will be noticed by others. For example, in our department here, we have decided to include Indigenous leaders in some of our boards. When we are hiring senior executives, that will be having a front relation with partners out there. And frankly, we are we think we have good process and we can pick on the right candidate. But having someone from outside that will maybe detect characteristic that will make a change in our organization is very, very important. So and it gives a signal to the organization when suddenly someone come to a board and they see a chief sitting at the table with other executives. Then there is a signal that first the client is important and the partners are important, but also that we are maybe ready to change the way we do it. It's not only done by public servant for public service, we are ready to take the outside view of our organization. So doing these moves makes a difference. And then you see that being replicated elsewhere in the organization. So I'm inviting people to be courageous and sometimes make visible moves that will be noticed by the rest of the organization.

Danl Loewen: Thank you. Yazmine. You were hinting at the idea earlier of as a leader, I can do this as an individual.  But as a leader, I can also do this as an organization, as Sony's been describing. What are some of the things you can do to help? Well, let me back that up. Our listeners, the people viewing, as EXs are part of the top 2% of the public service. And yet we're often looking up for leadership when, in fact, 98% of the public service is looking to us. So as an EX-1, as a new EX-1, as an acting EX-1, somebody in their first year, somebody who's been there 16 years. What can they do to help foster in their own organization and accountability for everyone to promote inclusion?

Yazmine Laroche: Oh, that's a great question. And I'm really glad that you asked it, because I believe fundamentally in the power of the individual to make a difference. You know, I spoke earlier about one of the things that prevents us from acting is fear or sometimes it's well, it's too big and we expect that. Well, the system is going to take care of it. Well, some of the things that I have observed, the biggest difference is made at the level of the individual. I mean, we've read all of the literature on leadership and we know that the biggest predictor for success in somebody's career is their direct leader, is their manager. It's how that person interacts with them. So I like to ask this question. If every one of us as a leader, a manager, a director were to ask one question of each of our employees, and it's a simple question, it's what can I do to help you make your very best contribution? Imagine if each one of us did that.  Because it's no longer a conversation about what you're broken and how do I help you fix how you're broken. It puts the onus back on me to say I have the power, I have the tools. I can help you. And I again, I think COVID is actually forcing a lot more people to have those kinds of conversations. And that's a really good thing. So I think that is a simple and concrete thing that somebody can do. And back to Sony's point, look at your PSES test results.  They are great indicators about how you are doing. There's a whole lot of indices that relate back to diversity and inclusion and harassment and discrimination or feeling emotionally drained at the end of my workday. Those are all really good indicators to be looking at and see how well you're doing. And how well is your broader organization doing. And then sit down and talk with your employees about how do we start to change this. It's amazing the difference that having a conversation can make when you actually start to listen and have a dialog with people about how do we work together to make things better.

Danl Loewen: So if I as an executive, I'm thinking I need direction from Treasury Board Secretariat. I've just heard from Treasury Board's Deputy Minister of Public Service Accessibility. The lesson is pretty clear. The message is pretty clear. It's on me. I am going to make mistakes. I need to be courageous. I want to consult with others. I want to listen. I want to reach broadly to get a variety of perspectives. And I want to act boldly in going forward. Sony, what else did you want to share with regard to as the Associate Deputy at Indigenous Services Canada? What else did you want to share that would help a harried executive take a step this afternoon, tomorrow, next week?

Sony Perron: Pick a cause. You are all champions. You can volunteer to take on the cause and your department has a formal departmental champion on the subject, but you can make it yourself as well within your area, within your sector. Pick a cause and say for me, what is important is inclusion, that people that have mental health disabilities. And my fear is making sure that people, that visible minority cannot progress well in their career in our sector. Take the cause on, raise that with your colleagues and offer to your organization to formally take on the championship. You will make a huge difference by creating a space for dialog around these question and bringing that back regularly to your colleagues. We are busy delivering our mandate. I think Yazmine was really clear. We are trained to deliver, but sometimes we have to go back to some of the fundamental, which is building teams. And if you decide to champion one dimension of diversity, I'm not telling you to take on everything. It's big. It's a lot. But decide to put yourself in. And if there is already a champion in your department doing that, offer your services.  One day we'll be noticed. People will call you to take more. We need that. And there is so much to learn and all of that. You will see that it's the small thing, that at the end you have a difference. The number of employees that receive a little bit of assistance here and there to deal with something that they feel that is impossible to go over by themselves that are successful after that. It's amazing. But needs people like all of you on the screen today, with us to make a difference for them. So despite the champion, one cause related to diversity and inclusion in your department.

Danl Loewen: And be a champion of that, who may run into -may make mistakes, who may learn, who may in their inclusive efforts, may find they've excluded some personality type or employment equity group or anything else like that.

Sony Perron: And you will discover by entering into dialog with their group that you made a mistake. You had. Yes, prejudice. We don't - we all have. And our job is to work on it. Eight years ago, a Deputy Minister asked me to take on the leadership of the Agent of Change, which the title was Principal Agent of Change at Health Canada. And the mandate of this group was really, really vague. I wasn't clear for me what it was about. I like things that are crystal clear. So and I learned so much out of it because basically it was the champion of all the cause that did not have a champion. And people were so mobilized in that group to try to deal with small issue of - like the majority of people in the minority groups are facing the same challenge. But nobody really pay attention to that until it's being raised. And this was a fantastic undertaking for me. And I learned so much out of that. It was great. But I also learned that I can make mistakes by trying to fix something, because I just don't know enough. So put yourself out, engage with people, champion the cause. You will - you will see. It will make a huge difference.

Danl Loewen: Thank you both. This has been insightful. We have two minutes and I wanted to invite you to elaborate on the point you both alluded to earlier. We just have the two minutes. But I've thought about that there are people beyond what we think of as the equity seeking groups: women in non-traditional roles like science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Indigenous peoples. People living with a disability. Visible minorities. But you're going beyond that. Obviously, we've heard a great deal about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, the various sexual and gender minorities. But also, you both alluded to people with a different thinking style. People who react differently, more extroverted, introverted, more focused on results, more focused on - is there an anecdote that comes to mind for you? Just in our closing minute, does one of you have an anecdote that rings a bell for you? Sony, I think?

Sony Perron: I have three children. The three of them are young adults and teenagers. They all had serious learning disabilities. And I want them to be successful in life. But to be successful they need to go in a place where people will not work in the traditional way. Otherwise they will be judged right off the bat that they are maybe learning a bit differently. And it's possible to get over that, because through the diagnostic, I learned that the problem is coming from their dad, which have this disability. So it's possible, but you need to have organization and early on schools that are welcoming children that learn differently. So then  when they work in the workplace, the workplace will receive them and help them to be successful there. And at the end, it will be very successful. But at the entry point, if accommodation is not there and understanding, then they will not have the success. So for me, this is close to my heart, dealing with that, because I see the same problem when you're different, because you have a different skin colour.  You're different because you're not walking the same way or you have visual impairment. So we have to have organizations that welcome people coming in and be able to accommodate because out of that, then they have a chance to prove themselves and be successful in public service. I'm worried about the discrimination at the door.

Danl Loewen: Thank you both. Thank you very much, Sony Perron, Associate Deputy Minister at Indigenous Services Canada, and Yazmine Laroche, the Deputy Minister for Public Service Accountability. It's been inspiring and practical to have you here today. You've both been generous with your time. I also love how you furnish your homes. For those who would like to hear or listen to our speakers again in French, we will be doing that in 30 minutes. See you soon.  Bientôt. Thank you very much.

Sony Perron: Thank you, Danl.

Yazmine Laroche: Thank you.

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