4 HR Leaders Talk: Creating Inclusive Workplaces

Experience is a great teacher but to learn exponentially, it is far better to learn from the experiences of others. Crescendo spoke with Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) advocates across Canada to get their advice on how to implement D&I initiatives, and the tools that can help.

We've broken these interviews down to their core concepts, but you can jump directly to the full interviews by clicking on names below:

  • Kristen Liesch - Partner and Strategist Women’s Work Institute
    Kristen Liesch’s unique academic background informs her methodology at Women’s Work Institute, which combines practices and theories from the social sciences, education and interdisciplinary humanities.  She has partnered with organizations across a range of industries to improve organizational structure, productivity, and cohesion. National non-profit, health care and educational institutions have benefited from Kristen’s ability to identify gaps and implement effective solutions.

  • Danielle Strang - Head of People Operations at Jobber
    Danielle Strang is a talent strategist, a marketing enthusiast and a disrupter at heart. Taking a non-traditional and opportunistic approach to her own career, she stepped away from years of corporate HR experience to launch herself into the executive recruiting industry. Now, as the Head of People Operations for Jobber, she is passionate about sharing her learnings from the executive search industry to help modernize HR and recruiting. She focuses on design thinking to help shape a culture that wholly considers the employee experience.

  • ZJ Hadley, Employee Success Business Partner at Tulip Retail
    ZJ Hadley (she/her) is an HR strategist and community builder who is passionate about diversity and inclusion. She is the co-founder of The People People Group, an online and sometimes IRL community of Canadian HR and Talent Acquisition professionals; an HR Business Partner at Tulip Retail (one of LinkedIn’s Top Startups 2018); and a budding sommelier.

  • Jeff Waldman - Founder of SocialHR Camp
    Jeff Waldman founded SocialHRCamp, an experiential learning platform that targets HR/Recruitment practitioners who are in the "early majority" stage of social media and HR/Recruitment technology adoption. Camps have taken place in Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, Omaha, Los Angeles, Boston and Singapore. Camps target HR practitioners with a wide range of skills relating to technology, from beginner to advanced.

“As our world continues to become increasingly international,” says Waldman, “it’s more important for organizations to embrace diversity and build inclusive workspaces.”

In our conversations, each advocate’s advice featured shared themes:

Cultivating Empathy and Engagement

A great starting point, suggests Liesch, is to listen – and listen to learn.

 “Really listen to your people. All your people. Not just the people you think you should listen to. And listen well.

“Don't listen to interrupt, to argue, to defend, to confirm, to tick a box.

That way, not only do you gain valuable insights that can equip you to become more efficient and prosperous, but you have the opportunity to encounter an individual's singularity and see things through their unique perspective. There is ample evidence that shows when we get to know a person who is different from us, we become more attuned to their experience and act, in many cases, in a way that is more just.”

“I have believed for many years,” adds Waldman, “that diversity and inclusion only work together, versus in isolation of one another. Diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Employee engagement tools can range from applications that encourage conversation and collaboration to team recognition and rewards programs. Here are some for starters:

·      Kudos (recognition)

·      Achievers (recognition)

·      Slack (conversation and collaboration)

·      Trello (collaboration)

Developing and Mentoring

“We can’t get ahead or win if we don’t authentically look at how we grow and develop our people as a competitive advantage in the marketplace,” says Strang.

“I think the way that we are going to move the needle is through much more grassroots initiatives. One of the initiatives that we are working on is with the Computer Science program at the University of Alberta. They shared with us that between Year 1 and Year 2 of Computer Science, they are seeing a massive drop off rate of women and folks who identify as women.

“They did not have the data on why this was happening, so what we did is that we launched 4 academic scholarships specifically in Edmonton - eventually we want to scale this to other cities we hire talent from as well. 2 of those scholarship awards are specifically targeted at women advancing from Year 1 to Year 2 and the remaining 2 are open. So in a year we could have all women candidates but at the bare minimum we will be funding 2 women to advance from Year 1 to Year 2.

“You can’t just magically increase the number of women that you have in the labour pool but you can start investing in the pipeline.

“We have also established an exclusive relationship with Kids and Girls Learning Code, which is a branch of Canada Learning Code. In the calendar year of 2018, we hosted an event every other month but in 2019 we will be doing monthly events with them in rural communities within Alberta.”

Hadley and her colleagues at Tulip Retail are on a similar path.

“We are the first company to pilot Bridge outside of Rangle, a program that brings together people who believe that we can and should remove barriers preventing members of marginalized groups from participating fully and equally in the technology industry. They do this by skilling up and supporting women and non-binary people via a free-for-students, 11-week front-end development course in Toronto.

“In small classes, and through hands-on project-based work, they improve junior developers’ technical skills and greatly increase their confidence. We leverage the desire of more advanced developers to instruct, providing a way to improve their soft skills through teaching and mentorship. I highly recommend other companies to support this initiative.  

“We are also participating in Dolphin Disabilities Mentoring Day, whereby we have several people with disabilities doing a full day of job shadowing at Tulip Retail. This helps us find more diverse talent and foster an inclusive community.”

Through a shared passion for building inclusive workplaces, some organizations are even sharing resources to mentor each other:

·      Mapbox offers a shared Google Drive full of checklists and sample policies for inclusive events, lists of contacts and resources for outreach efforts, and even a sample D&I budget template.

·      OMERS Ventures offers a Talent Playbook featuring suggested solutions for the common hiring challenges faced by start-ups and scale-ups.

·      Our team here at Crescendo has also compiled a list of resources.

Liesch adds that equality champions in STEMM are beginning to share, open-source-style, their research and strategies using the hashtag #sharedmandate across multiple social media platforms.

Interrupting Bias

“One of the things that I recommend doing is talking to people about unconscious bias,” says Hadley.

“Our brain is programmed to want to work with people who look and act like us. People want to think that they are unbiased but if you analyze the data, there are mechanisms that our brains use to make decisions subconsciously that lead to unconscious bias. Once you acknowledge this bias, you can start to have more productive conversations.

“At Tulip Retail, we make diversity metrics a part of our OKRs and that has helped us drive real change. We have two C level executives, our CFO and our CRO, who are both women, which makes our executive team almost equal in terms of gender diversity.”

Liesch adds that you can interrupt bias using tech tools to help bridge the gap between intent and action when it comes to recruiting, hiring and promoting. Here are a few to check out:

·      Applied

·      GapJumpers

·      TalVista

·      Textio

Capturing and Analyzing Data

Frequent data capture, analysis and publication are critical to an organization’s success, says Liesch.

“Who are you hiring, in what numbers, to what salaries, who is being promoted, when and to what salaries? Allow data to identify symptoms.”

From there, follow through on reviewing and implementing changes in policies, procedures, or even physical work environments.

Liesch stresses the importance of consistency and strategic linking of the overall objectives and D&I strategy throughout the entire organization.

She suggests appointing “a D&I champion (such as a Chief Diversity Officer) who has teeth at the decision-making table and who has the mandate to educate themselves on research-based strategies.”

We want to hear from you!

When it comes to fostering diversity and inclusion in your organization, what are some of your favourite tools? Share with #diversitytools and tag @CrescendoWork! We’ll add it to our ever growing list of D&I strategies & resources.

You can see the full interview transcripts below!


Thanks for reading! If you're interested in more resources like this you can sign up to our mailing list, or if you've got advice/experiences that you'd like to share - we'd love to hear from you!


Crescendo is the diversity education app for Slack and we’re on a mission to help companies create more inclusive workplaces. You can learn more here!


Kristen Liesch - Partner and Strategist Women’s Work Institute

Kristen Liesch’s unique academic background informs her methodology at Women’s Work Institute, which combines practices and theories from the social sciences, education and interdisciplinary humanities.  She has partnered with organizations across a range of industries to improve organizational structure, productivity, and cohesion. National non-profit, health care and educational institutions have benefited from Kristen’s ability to identify gaps and implement effective solutions.


Tell us about your background and how you became an advocate for D&I.

The journey that has brought me to the work I do today has by no means been linear. I grew up in a relatively conservative religious community in a homogenous small city in central Alberta. In that context, I learned the incredible power of empathy to create and foster community and forge connections across diverse individuals and groups.

Later, as a teacher in rural Alberta, I saw firsthand the divergence of possibility - an expansion of possibility versus a narrowing of possibility - that was reflective of a child's socioeconomic status, and the injustice of a system that saw underrepresented groups disadvantaged. This paradigm was doubly evident to me when I taught in the public school system in Auckland, New Zealand.

In this role, I worked to see this divergence narrowed through innovative inclusive education programming that considered the diversity of the student population and emphasized an empathetic learning process. My trajectory into the space where equality champions were working was truly determined when I was pursuing my PhD.

I remember very distinctly holding my infant daughter in one arm, and reading firsthand accounts written by women who, more than a century ago, fought for legal personhood. On a day-to-day basis, however, turn-of-the-century women were also fighting for many of the rights, privilege and access that we continue to demand today. This made me angry. Really angry.

Looking down at my daughter, I knew that I had to do whatever I could to accelerate change. I've spent the past six years researching, refining and implementing a systems-based methodology for change.

Today, my partner at Women's Work Institute, Anna, and I work everyday to help leaders and organizations connect the dots between equality, effectiveness, and prosperity.


What does D&I mean to you?

To be frank, my relationship with "D&I" is fraught.

The work that D&I is associated with has, in so many ways, has been underway for more than a century. The messages have evolved, the stakeholders have played musical chairs, the contextual focus has shifted, but at the core of the core of the movement - in my opinion - is justice.

Today's D&I (or DIBs, or EDI, or gender equality, or equity...) is yesterday's suffrage movement, civil rights battle, affirmative action, etc. In any case, we seek to create a world where every person has an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential, unfettered by unjust barriers and discrimination.


What are some things that folks can do to build D&I into their company's DNA?

There are any number of strategic interventions that an organization can deploy (progressive parental leave policies, reformed sexual harassment reporting procedures), and a lot of innovative tech tools (I won't call them 'solutions') that can be implemented:

  • Recruitment/hiring de-biasers like Applied, GapJumpers, TalVista

  • Employee engagement tools like Kudos

  • Sexual harassment reporting mechanisms like SafeSpace

  • and, of course, an individualized approach to increasing inclusive capacity like Crescendo

However, in my mind, the most powerful way an organization - small or enormous - can move toward becoming a more just enterprise (and therefore, more diverse and more inclusive) is by cultivating an empathetic culture.

Listen.

Really listen to your people. All your people.

Not just the people you think you should listen to. And listen well.

Don't listen to interrupt, to argue, to defend, to confirm, to tick a box.

Listen to learn.

That way, not only do you gain valuable insights that can equip you to become more efficient and prosperous, but you have the opportunity to encounter an individual's singularity and see things through their unique perspective. There is ample evidence that shows when we get to know a person who is different from us, we become more attuned to their experience and act, in many cases, in a way that is more just.


Do you know of some companies or communities that are doing an incredible job at building inclusive workplaces? What are some of the things that they are doing right?

Many organizations working admirably and emphatically toward this goal. If you're looking to a role model organization - one that is hitting all the right notes - their D&I efforts should be mainstreamed. Look for the following:

  • A D&I champion (Chief Diversity Officer?) who has teeth at the decision-making table and who has the mandate to educate themselves on research-based strategies. SIDE NOTE: Equality champions in STEMM are beginning to share, open-source-style, research and strategies via #sharedmandate.

  • A true strategic linking of overall org. objectives and D&I strategy (D&I is, after all, mission-critical)

  • Frequent data capture, analysis and publication: who are you hiring, in what numbers, to what salaries, who is being promoted, when and to what salaries? Allow data to identify symptoms.

  • Systems-based interventions: review policy, procedures and even the physical working environment. Interrupt bias in the recruitment, hiring and promotion practices with tech tools (they will help bridge the gap between intent and action).

  • A human component.


Danielle Strang - Head of People Operations at Jobber

Danielle Strang is a talent strategist, a marketing enthusiast and a disrupter at heart. Taking a non-traditional and opportunistic approach to her own career, she stepped away from years of corporate HR experience to launch herself into the executive recruiting industry.

Now, as the Head of People Operations for Jobber, she is passionate about sharing her learnings from the executive search industry to help modernize HR and recruiting. She focuses on design thinking to help shape a culture that wholly considers the employee experience.


Tell us more about your background and how you became an advocate for D&I.

I was raised in a rural environment and came to Edmonton to go to university. I did my degree in marketing and accidentally fell into the world of talent, culture and HR.

I have worked in construction companies, architectural firms and massive global organizations of up to 25,000 employees. My career has been far from linear and the biggest thing it has taught me is a good business sense.

Why and how I became an advocate for D&I is when I realized that there was a paradigm shift happening in the relationship that people had with work. If given a choice between working for an organization that values and believes in the same things as I do versus an organization that makes me question if they value me, people will always choose the organization that runs parallel with their value system every single time.


What does D&I Mean to You and what are you doing at Jobber to move the needle?

We can’t get ahead or win if we don’t authentically look at how we grow and develop our people as a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

I think the way that we are going to move the needle is through much more grassroots initiatives. One of the initiatives that we are working on is with the Computer Science program at the University of Alberta. They shared with us that between Year 1 and Year 2 of Computer Science, they are seeing a massive drop off rate of women and folks who identify as women.

They did not have the data on why this was happening, so what we did is that we launched 4 academic scholarships specifically in Edmonton - eventually we want to scale this to other cities we hire talent from as well. 2 of those scholarship awards are specifically targeted at women advancing from Year 1 to Year 2 and the remaining 2 are open. So in a year we could have all women candidates but at the bare minimum we will be funding 2 women to advance from Year 1 to Year 2.

“You can’t just magically increase the number of women that you have in the labour pool but you can start investing in the pipeline.”

We have also established an exclusive relationship with Kids and Girls Learning Code, which is a branch of Canada Learning Code. In the calendar year of 2018, we hosted an event every other month but in 2019 we will be doing monthly events with them in rural communities within Alberta.


Do you know of some companies or communities that are doing an incredible job at building inclusive workplaces? What are some of the things that they are doing right?

Omers Ventures has done an incredible job at bringing together a community of startups and reinforced the fact that collaboration is a key to success rather than competitiveness. As a result, we share strategies with each other and openly discuss ideas and challenges.

For example they put together a fantastic talent playbook for start-ups & scale-ups.


ZJ Hadley - Employee Success Business Partner at Tulip Retail

ZJ Hadley (she/her) is an HR strategist and community builder who is passionate about diversity and inclusion. She is the co-founder of The People People Group, an online and sometimes IRL community of Canadian HR and Talent Acquisition professionals; an HR Business Partner at Tulip Retail (one of LinkedIn’s Top Startups 2018); and a budding sommelier.


Tell us more about your background and how you became an advocate for D&I.

I grew up in the foster care system and did not have any kind of family support. As a result, I went through a lot of challenges and struggled with poverty and homelessness.

D&I is an issue that is really close to my heart. I want to find other people who are qualified, great candidates who will be amazing additions to the company but who normally get overlooked because they didn’t have the same opportunities in their early life.

I know from experience that those kind of disadvantages can disproportionately affect the lives of underrepresented minorities and that’s why I am focused on those communities.


What does D&I mean to you and what are you doing at Tulip Retail to move the needle?

D&I to me means finding the best people and then setting them up for success in a really inclusive community where they can thrive and be their true selves.

One of the things that I recommend doing is talking to people about unconscious bias. Our brain is programmed to want to work with people who look and act like us. People want to think that they are unbiased but if you analyze the data, there are mechanisms that our brains use to make decisions subconsciously that leads to unconscious bias. Once you acknowledge this bias, you can start to have more productive conversations.

At Tulip Retail, we make diversity metrics a part of our OKRs and that has helped us drive real change. We have two C level executives, our CFO and our CRO, who are both women, which makes our executive team almost equal in terms of gender diversity.


Do you know of some companies or communities that are doing an incredible job at building inclusive workplaces? What are some of the things that they are doing right?

We are the first company to pilot Bridge outside of Rangle, a program that brings together people who believe that we can and should remove barriers preventing members of marginalized groups from participating fully and equally in the technology industry. They do this by skilling up and supporting women and non-binary people via a free-for-students, 11 week front-end development course in Toronto.

In small classes, and through hands-on project-based work, they improve junior developers’ technical skills and greatly increase their confidence. We leverage the desire of more advanced developers to instruct, providing a way to improve their soft skills through teaching and mentorship. I highly recommend other companies to support this initiative.

We are also participating in Dolphin Disabilities Mentoring Day, whereby we have several people with disabilities doing a full day of job shadowing at Tulip Retail. This helps us find more diverse talent and foster an inclusive community.


Jeff Waldman - Founder of SocialHR Camp

Jeff Waldman founded SocialHRCamp, an experiential learning platform that targets HR/Recruitment practitioners who are in the "early majority" stage of social media and HR/Recruitment technology adoption. Camps have taken place in Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, Omaha, Los Angeles, Boston and Singapore. Camps target HR practitioners with a wide range of skills relating to technology, from beginner to advanced.


Tell us more about your Background and how you became an advocate for D&I?

From a personal standpoint I was born with a severe hearing loss in both ears and have also battled a speech impediment. I view my disability as the core reason why I am the way that I am today.

Life challenges, regardless of what they may be, teach you how to be courageous, adaptable, creative, strategic, hard-working and thick skinned. I view this as an excellent base in which to draw from to help, inspire and encourage others. I also have a business background and have practiced HR for over 18 years.

I have worked with many different organizations to boost their workplace inclusivity and business performance. As our world continues to become increasingly international it’s more important for organizations to embrace diversity and build inclusive workplaces.


What does D&I Mean to You?

The evolution of diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been interesting. I have believed for many years that diversity and inclusion only work together, versus in isolation of one another. Diversity is “being invited to the party” and inclusion is “being asked to dance”.

It’s really important that our organizational makeup reflect the markets we serve. I also strongly believe that building truly inclusive workplaces that enables employees to bring their whole selves to work provides organizations with a huge competitive advantage.

Inclusion taps into employee engagement, and ultimately stronger business performance and outcomes. Simply, it’s smart business.


Do you know of some companies or communities that are doing an incredible job at building inclusive workplaces? What are some of the things that they are doing right?

Organizations who I look to for insight include Shopify, RBC, Ultimate Software, BlackRock, L’Oreal, Accenture, Ryerson University, Sodexo


Thanks for reading! If you're interested in more resources like this you can sign up to our mailing list, or if you've got advice/experiences that you'd like to share - we'd love to hear from you!


Crescendo is the diversity education app for Slack and we’re on a mission to help companies create more inclusive workplaces. You can learn more here!

Stefan Kollenberg