Diversity and inclusivity in the workplace at Metrolinx

The richest music often comes from the most eclectic orchestra.

But it takes innovation and dedication – and even honest conversations – to make sure the same tune isn’t being played the same way, over and over again.

Right now, in boardrooms and lunchrooms across Canada – as well as internationally – the role of diversity and inclusion is being discussed and dissected. Businesses are stripping down their old ways and challenging the notion they’re accessing, and making welcome, the most diverse and varied workforce possible.

This includes Metrolinx, which annually moves millions of commuters, travellers and tourists around Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe region. Those faces of passengers looking out beyond the train and bus glass represent every version of Canadian lives. So why shouldn’t the transportation agency they count on – and pay for – try hard to reflect that diversity back?

In the case of Metrolinx’s Board of Directors and Senior Management Team, around half or more are women. A strategic objective specific to gender balance for the enterprise has generated important conversations on diversity and inclusion from the senior ranks down to the most junior positions.

Though some of the questions being raised – including what systems do you put in place to make sure a company is embracing the largest and most diversified talent pool possible – have been asked before.

In the 1950s, classical orchestras around the world realized their ranks were largely male. To make the competition process fair to female performers, many leaders began listening to prospective artists from behind curtains.

But there’s no quick fix to diversity and inclusion. More than a half century later, the blind audition technique is still questioned, as it doesn’t speak to issues of access to early musical training as well as artists who are unfamiliar with classical repertoires.

For Metrolinx, finding answers – and avenues in for talented employees – has become paramount. The key, says Helen Ferreira-Walker, Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Inclusion Officer at Metrolinx, is to see progression not just as the right thing to do, but smart business as well.

“We are committed to building an inclusive culture because we know it will move us better, faster and easier in delivering on our promise to the communities we serve,” she said.

Key recent initiatives at Metrolinx include hiring a director of inclusion, and preparing to launch an Indigenous intern program in January, 2019, as well as unconscious bias training for all leaders.

As part of its journey, Metrolinx has moved focus from diversity to inclusion. Just hiring diverse people isn’t enough. A workforce must feel included.

Among the areas Metrolinx officials are interested in is confronting unconscious bias –engrained and unwitting prejudices almost all humans hold.

To understand this, let’s go back to those early experiments with blind auditions in classical orchestras. During one, they realized men were still being selected above talented female performers. Then someone decided the shoes should come off.

Players were asked to perform in their socks. The selection committee, perhaps without realizing it, were hearing the clicks of high heel shoes on the wooden stage. Socks meant more female candidates.

However, all these years later, classical music orchestras are still overwhelmingly male.

For Metrolinx and other industry leaders, finding new pathways is necessary for survival.

“It is widely researched and believed that organizations that aren’t able to attract and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce will not survive the next 25 years in business,” said Ferreira-Walker.

Research has also shown organizations with inclusive cultures are 6 times more innovative and agile as those with none.

“Inclusion isn’t just about knowing the definition on an intellectual level,” Ferreira-Walker explained. “It’s about making sure that every employee and every customer feels included. That’s a big difference. And we know it will take time to achieve that, but we are on the journey together.”

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