Diversity & Inclusion: tear down the myths and discover your value proposition

I learned yesterday that I have been perpetuating some myths when it comes to diversity and inclusion, and I have a hunch you have too.  On Monday, I was lucky to participate in the first Calgary Diversity and Inclusion Un-Conference, hosted by the CIDI (Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion).  And I learned a few things.

Apple and pear diversity... (la diversité des pommes et des poires)

For example, why do you think we not getting any traction in Canada with women in senior executive roles?  It isn’t, as I have naively thought, because women are making lifestyle choices.   Barbara Annis has done the research.  She was the plenary speaker on Monday morning, and you can learn more about her compelling research in her new book, Gender Intelligence.

And how do you influence change in your organization when you have limited apparent influence and authority? Sergeant Bill Dodd, from the Calgary Police Service shared his insights.  He has been successful strategically bringing in other perspectives through community boards.  I learned from him that you need deliberate, strategic feedback loops from your community.  And I also learned from Sergeant Dodd that one person can really  make a difference, and come away with some great stories too.

I have also been challenged by Zakeana Reid to challenge my unconscious and my own implicit biases. You can do the same at Project Implicit.

Were you at the CIDI Un-Conference? What did you learn? I would love to hear from you.

Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. It starts with the conversation.

Women on the Rigs: A Diversity Success Story from Savanna Energy

Through strategic and practical diversity initiatives Savanna Energy is gradually introducing and retaining female well hands. This initiative has required support throughout the organization from the CEO down, and open frank conversations with all staff, including the women who chose to work in a strongly dominated and tough male environment.

This initiative is driven by a tough job market and a desire to increase the worker pool. It is not without its challenges. The rigs are a working environment which require mental toughness, physical toughness, and a sense of humour. It is a fast paced environment too which presents rewarding challenges.

At a Workplace Fairness luncheon diversity coordinator Laura Koronko shared the strategies and best practices Savanna has used to ensure successful hiring and retaining female rig hands.

Education is key, and has focused at Savanna on unveiling and addressing typical assumptions. “Women can’t physically do the work.” “Girls don’t want this job. It is out in the cold.” “We will need to provide female change rooms.”

The assumptions are perpetuated by both men and women, so the education must focus on the rig hands, managers, and the hires themselves. Many of the assumptions have proved without foundation. For example, there are women who see and act on a job opportunity which will mean an improvement for their families, and the change-rooms have not proved to be an issue.

That said, we learned that one reason for Savanna’s success is their willingness to tackle the training in frank language. Women need to be aware of the cultural environment they are stepping into before they are hired and be ready for sexist terminology (nipple up, nipple down) which is not going to change. A sense of humour definitely helps, and specific coaching on appropriate behaviour (for example, not wearing g-strings to work) is critical.

Savanna has developed strategies for overcoming resistance. A mentorship program sets new hires up with experienced female rig hands. When a rig manager objects the diversity group will send in an experienced and proven hand to win him over.

Interestingly, some of the greatest challenges Savanna has faced is with wives. The company gets calls from men who do not want their husbands staying in hotels with women. It is ultimately the rig manager’s call though. “If I bring a woman on this rig, I will lose 3 long-term guys.” This is the rare exception.

With support throughout the organization from the C-suite down, Savanna is slowly meeting with success and changing the profile of the rig crew. They are even learning about some of the benefits coming straight from the rigs: a cleaner work environment and less foul language. Is this perpetuating yet another stereotype? Perhaps, but it is one that is enabling Savanna Energy to expand their job pool and introduce women to a way of life which can be both rewarding and lucrative.

FYI Here is your code of conduct

This was the title of an email sent out recently to a surprised worker whose job involves Diversity and Inclusion. It was a story told during a discussion of the 3 tenets of Workplace Fairness: Proactivity, Communication and Collaboration.


An effective code of conduct results from a collaborative process and will reflect the personality and culture of your workforce.

An effective code of conduct results from a collaborative process and will reflect the personality and culture of your workforce.

When we are busy, it is easy to take shortcuts in consultation with potentially dire results. We invented the word proactivity to describe the ongoing, preventative, and proactive process which engages employees within all levels and departments of an organization to consult. The Code of Conduct is a great example; let’s take two scenarios.

Manager A, cognizant of the pressures on her staff’s time and resources, takes on the grunt work of developing the code of conduct. Her thinking is that since most of it is common sense, people will be relieved because everyone is pushed for time. She does recognize that participation is the key to engagement. So, once she has done most of the legwork, she asks volunteers to review, discuss and fine-tune the final document. She is happy to note that there are very few changes proposed to the original document, and she emails it out “FYI” to the full group and staples it to the bulletin board of the lunchroom.

Manager B is not particularly fond of policy and conduct discussions, but recognizes their importance. So, partly out of a desire to offload the task, and partly out of a desire to engage people in the process, he allocates the first 10 minutes of every staff meeting to a Code of Conduct discussion. It takes a few months, but eventually they finalize a document and ceremoniously hang it in the lunchroom during their monthly potluck.

People take ownership of language. Manager A’s language may be clear and sensical, but it is not her staff’s language. When there are bumps in the road, she will be held to a high standard for owning, acting and leading with her code of conduct. Conflict seeks somewhere to lay blame. Manager A and her code of conduct become easy targets.

Manager B involves everyone from the beginning, and as a group, they stand a better chance of holding each other to account for their Code of Conduct. Though he risks Code-of-Conduct-saturation and boredom by drawing it out, there are high rewards for keeping the discussion front and centre, and ensuring there is group buy-in.

Consultation and collaboration require being open to new information and a commitment through all stages of a discussion, not just the final review.