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Colin Druhan says business leaders need to move away from stereotypes and token visualizations about how diverse they are, and move towards real and measurable changes to make LGBTQ2+ employees feel like they belong.
"You find out the real issues by talking to people who are experiencing them," said Druhan, executive director of Pride at Work Canada, and co-organizer of the online panel discussion Queering the Future of Work at this year's Halifax Pride Festival, which begins Thursday and ends July 26.
Druhan said on Wednesday that the future of work is a timely topic given the impact of COVID-19 on workplaces and the anti-racism movements in Canada and the U.S.
"One of the main reasons we wanted to focus the conversation on the future of work is because we're in a time of unbelievable change. The whole world has been kind of brought to its knees by COVID-19," he said. "And, people who have never engaged in remote work are doing it for the first time. At the same time, a lot of organizations are revolutionizing the way that they talk about racism and cultural inclusion."
The panel discussion, which is also organized by the Conference Board of Canada, is scheduled for Wednesday, July 22 at noon. The speakers include Druhan (emcee), Sylvia Maracle, executive director of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, Jill Andrew, an Ontario member of provincial parliament (MPP), Kevin Smith of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Maria Giammarco (moderator) of the Conference Board of Canada, Kai Cheng Thom, a writer, performer and community worker, Peter Flegel, director of the Government of Canada’s Anti-Racism Secretariat, and Sara Wolfe, director of the Indigenous Innovation Initiative with Grand Challenges Canada.
"I'm blown away by the mix of people that we have and the different types of experiences," Druhan said.
Druhan lives in Toronto, but is originally from Cole Harbour. Due to COVID-19, this will be the first time in six years he won't be attending Halifax Pride in person and watching the parade with his parents.
He expects tokenism to be a key topic in the panel discussion.
"A lot of organizations rush to put diverse pictures of their staff on their website. Or, they want to say they have people of a certain experience on the payroll. You know, there's a big difference between hiring somebody of a specific background and hiring them so that they can actually contribute to making the company better," Druhan said.
Another issue is the "urban, rural divide" and LGBTQ2+ people feeling that they have to leave their community for a larger city or province to find inclusive job opportunities.
"I'm from the East Coast and I moved to Ontario 15 years ago because I didn't see a career for myself there at that time where I felt I could be out, be openly queer in the workplace, and find a job that paid what I thought I was worth," he said. "That was the case then, that was my perspective. I don't think that's the case now. I think there's lots of great jobs in smaller communities, and I think the possibility of working from home (or remote work) opens up even more possibilities."
"I hope they walk away feeling empowered to make a little bit of a change, and change the future for somebody they work with, or for themselves."
Pride at Work Canada works with businesses on ways they can be more inclusive with members of LGBTQ2+ communities. In this respect, Druhan said he's seeing a lot of great things happening, but workplaces still have a long way to go.
Large corporations in Canada have been more involved with sponsoring pride events for about a decade, which is a good thing because it allows them to move past "visible shows of support" to meaningful workplace policies, including anti-discrimination, and helps business leaders understand the actual challenges faced by the most marginalized queer and transgender people, said Druhan.
For people already in the workforce, a challenge can be not feeling comfortable being a male employee who wants to put a picture of his husband on the desk. But the challenges also involve access to jobs and advancing within those jobs, especially in cases when race is also a factor, he said.
The key for managers and business owners to address these workplace challeges is to set measurable goals based on real issues and not on stereotypes and assumptions, Druhan said. An example of a measurable goal is fewer harassment complaints.
This year's is the 33rd Halifax Pride Festival. Other events include a BIPOC (Black-Indigenous-People-of-Colour) in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) online discussion, and A Night at the Carleton (A Drag Cabaret) on July 25. A calendar of events is available online at halifaxpride.com/calendar.
P.E.I. Pride Week is scheduled for July 26 to Aug.2, and in Newfoundland, St. John's Pride began on July 10 and ends July 19.
With the Queering the Future of Work panel discussion, Druhan wants viewers and business leaders to walk away feeling empowered to make one or two changes right away that will make their workplaces more inclusive.
"I don't want anybody to feel like, 'Oh, those are great concepts but it's out of my control to make any change,'" he said. "I hope they walk away feeling empowered to make a little bit of a change, and change the future for somebody they work with, or for themselves."