INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP IN THE WORKPLACE – Q&A WITH SEEMA JETHALAL PART TWO
Q: ARE THERE CHALLENGES YOU FACE WHEN TRYING TO APPROACH INCLUSIVITY? HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH THESE CHALLENGES?
SEEMA: One very real challenge is trying to find the voices you are looking for and then getting them to participate in supporting your work. Several of the people whose perspectives you want to learn about may not be interested, willing or available to come to the table for a variety of reasons. They may feel over-consulted or maybe even the opposite - neglected for years past and therefore uninspired to speak up, they may be busy working multiple jobs or face language barriers or simply more interested spending time with their family versus attending community meetings. So building trust is critical, decreasing barriers is important (e.g. offering childcare and translators at meetings) and considering honoraria for participation where appropriate.
Another challenge is incorporating all aspects of inclusivity. There are still occasions where, in talking about inclusion and diversity strategies with staff who are close-minded or simply lack exposure to inclusive practices, it’s difficult to sway the thought process away from more obvious situations like gender inequity – which is still very unfortunate and very real – or ethno-cultural diversity. These modes of thinking end up becoming very tailored to popular niche groups – we often forget to pay attention to age, class, or ability, and so many other aspects of diversity which are really important and overlooked.
One of the things I’ve done to help mitigate this with my programming advisory committee recruitment process is I created a target recruitment profile matrix that has the kinds of qualifications I am looking for and then the qualities or attributes. For example, from a qualifications standpoint, I may want to make sure I had someone who is a veteran in the art sector and understands performing arts from a professional standpoint, but also someone who was a youth worker or lawyer. And then from the qualities standpoint, I want to make sure that a certain percentage of people in the group are under a specific age, that at least a certain percentage are people of colour, that at least a certain percentage are women, that a certain percentage are from Regent Park, this many people with these types of experiences, and so on. Then it was not just deciding by myself, but working with folks that I trust from some of these circles to vet these individuals.
Q: WHAT IS A PERSONAL ANECDOTE AROUND A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE WITH INCLUSIVITY?
SEEMA: One of my staff (Lisa Smart) is excelling as our Programs and Outreach Coordinator at such a young age and has become such a core member of our team. She came to us through a 10-month internship program with a local community partner and we were blown away at her insight into authentic community engagement – something Lisa didn’t realize she excelled at herself until she tried her hand at it. It became clear very quickly that continuing to employ Lisa after her internship ended as a member of our full-time team at Daniels Spectrum would be an invaluable asset – it meant that our organizational ideas, programs and policies were more authentic and more reflective of the needs of young people like her in the community. She is now running her own programs and managing her own staff! What some might perceive to be a risk in hiring an emerging professional, almost fresh out of school, with little formal experience in a formal work environment, we saw as a valuable opportunity. We’re thrilled not only with the result she’s had on our programing and operations but also the way she has influenced the way my colleagues and I approach our work!
Q: WHAT RESOURCES WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
SEEMA: In terms of other resources and tools I think we are very quick to ask, what sort of toolkit exists, but we often overlook that we have access to incredible human resources. We’re not reinventing the wheel here – there are certain organizations and collectives that have done this well. And if we can take cues from First Nations tradition – you don’t read about histories, they are passed down through oral tradition – and I think that is just as valuable if not more so to actually figure out how to be inclusive. For me, it’s been learning how to be inclusive from my elders in that sector.
Honestly, just start talking to someone about inclusivity and I’m sure they’ve been inspired by someone they can recommend. Some of the folks I’ve been deeply inspired by include Kenneth Slater from Dixon Hall, Nation Cheong from United Way, and Che Kothari and Ryan Paterson from Manifesto.