Pushing the conversation forward: how Pride at Work Canada uses Cisco technology in their mission to create inclusive workplaces
Cisco Canada is a proud partner of Pride at Work Canada, a not-for-profit organization that empowers employers to build workplaces that celebrate all employees, regardless of gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation and help create more inclusive workspaces. This partnership is made possible through the Cisco Not-for-Profit Connect program, which provides non-profit organizations access to Cisco technology and meeting space to host country-wide meetings virtually, rather than having to pay for travel and accommodations. In this case, Cisco Webex Events and space in the Toronto office to host regular webinars.
I spoke with Jade Pichette, Manager of Programs, following a recent webinar.
Susannah: How did Pride at Work Canada come about?
Jade: Pride at Work Canada was founded in 2008 by a group of volunteers, mostly in financial institutions and law firms. A lot of our initial partners were also in law firms or banks, but there were also some other early adopters in other sectors. In the 11 years since, we’ve grown quite a lot, including hiring full time staff not long after starting. The count this week is over 100 partners from coast to coast. Our organization, and our partners, are committed to creating workplaces that not only tolerate, but celebrate, people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in the workplace.
Susannah: How does Pride at Work Canada work with their partners?
Jade: We’re a non-profit, member services organization. All of our members pay an annual fee as part of their partnership to get access to our programs. In terms of programs, this includes our webinars, round table discussions, networking events, panel events, and in person events throughout the country. We currently have on the ground programming in 2019 that happens in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, London, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and St. John’s.
For example, we are focused on our Pro-Pride events at the moment. These will be in-person events in 8 cities between June and August. In addition to that, we run a benchmarking program called our Index Program, which looks at every part of a partner’s organization and provides targeted feedback. The Index includes consultation on all kinds of issues, everything from policies, procedures, employee resource groups, data collection, community outreach and more. .
We really look at ourselves as a connector, a networker of our different partners but also to the community itself. We don’t do that many lunch and learns ourselves, but we connect our partners with local community organizations and consulting companies. Finally, our partners get access to our job page to post job openings, explicitly stating they are an inclusive employer. There are many other things we get up to throughout the year, but that’s the overview.
Susannah: How did the partnership with Cisco come about?
Jade: The partnership with Cisco came about through connections with your internal Pride Employee Resource Organization. We were looking at running a full slate of webinars as part of our major programs so that we could reach all of Canada, regardless of location, and really support our partners in cities where we don’t always have the capacity to be there in person and do as much on the ground programming, places like Winnipeg. Cisco Webex Events is the right technology solution to support our webinars and the Cisco Not-for-Profit Connect team has been invaluable in helping Pride at Work Canada to be able to use it.
Susannah: What is the focus of the webinar series?
Jade: We try to utilize it as a showcasing tool, to push the conversation forward. We aren’t using our webinars, per se, to give a 101 explanation of LGBTQ2+ identities, we have an e-learning service for that. We look at other areas of inclusion that people don’t always think about, as well as bigger structural pieces like the collection of data or the creation of allyship programs. For example, the webinar we just did was about measuring and tracking specifically data related to the community and to inclusion overall. And we’ve seen very adamant expressions of support about having very specific topics.
When we did our webinar on allyship programs in January, I was very impressed and heartened by the amount of people who participated and had direct questions about how to implement these types of programs into their organization. And that is something that has come up time and time again – organizations that are actually trying to do the internal work, not just the external promotion of inclusion. It’s not only about the business case with them, but also a moral case. Coming from the non-profit sector, where we are continually under resourced, to see people put their money where their mouth is, as well as their time and energy, has been really powerful.
Susannah: What are some key initiatives that workplaces can undertake to create a more inclusive environment?
Jade: Two of the big ones are better collection of data and creation of an allyship program. One of our partners has such a program, where people have to go through really explicit training to be considered an ally. Those types of programs make a major impact.
Also important are HR policies, recognizing and contextualizing some of those policies. What do I mean? When we think of parental leave, how we understand a birthing parent is more complicated now than many people think. There are many people who are non-binary or identified as men who give birth these days, so address that in your parental leave policies. Address policies related to transition-related care – are you going to give medical leave to your trans employees if they need to have trans-related surgeries? Make sure your Employee Assistance Program covers medications that are relevant to the community, like hormones for trans people and medications that help prevent the transmission of HIV. Confirm that your mental health support system has been explicitly screened as LGBTQ2+ inclusive. We’ve heard of employees who go to their suggested mental health provider through their EAP and experience discrimination at that point, which defeats the purpose.
Finally, recognizing all of these structural pieces and working with the community outside of Pride. It’s great to be involved in Pride, it’s an amazing celebration and it’s important to me, but it is not who the community is. The community is much more complex. We need to have better structures in place for coming on as new employees, there needs to be explicit efforts done in recruiting LGBTQ2+ employees, and active celebration internally of those already here, so people know they can bring their whole selves to work.
Susannah: What’s next, realistically. And dreaming big, what’s next?
Jade: Realistically, continued growth. Every year we grow and have consistently done so from the start. With that, comes more programs. I’m really looking forward to our Pro-Pride events in the 8 cities as well as being at a lot of different partner events in Toronto. We’re also looking forward to an event this September with Cisco, that’s going to focus on mental health. I think that’s a really important topic: how you support LGBTQ2+ mental health is often a discussion that is missing.
Also realistically is expanding our next webinar series, adding one or two more sessions so the English ones are monthly (except December) and the French are every two months. On a personal note, I’m really looking forward to getting to dig a bit deeper and set some of the programming for the coming year, as this year’s series was mostly set by the time I was hired.
Pie in the sky? I really hope to see Pride at Work Canada grow to the point that we see much more collaboration between partners, expanding out into the different cities and markets that we’ve not been able to do as much in. We’re increasing our presence in Ottawa through our new ambassador program, I’d love to see more events happen in places like Winnipeg, Fredericton, and Saskatoon and to do more in the north as well.
I hope, truly hope, one day that the work that we do goes from crucial inclusion efforts to one of just celebration. I don’t think that’ll happen in my lifetime, but that’s my dream. That as an organization we do our job so well that Canada becomes the place where, no matter where you are, you are free to express your sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in the workplace without fear, without concern of having to cover who you are, and that you find employers who welcome and celebrate all of you. That is my true hope and one that we are all committed to at Pride at Work Canada and something that we work very hard on.
As someone who has been out for over 15 years and doing this work for a long time, we’re seeing so much growth. We’ve seen the efforts and the improvements within our partners, most recently with the increasing understanding of the trans community. Every step forward shows how much more could be done, like how do you promote inclusion outside of corporate offices? It’s a topic that comes up pretty consistently. Another topic I want to address is two spirit identities in the workplace and how to alleviate barriers for two spirit or LGBTQ+ Indigenous folks as that is a serious challenge. We’ll definitely have lots of exciting topics coming up in future webinars.
Susannah: Any closing thoughts?
Jade: LGBTQ2+ inclusion, and inclusion in general, is something that we have to constantly work towards. And that’s why I think these webinars and our programming are so important: they allow people who are already working in these issues to get another take, to have another piece of information. None of us are perfect or have all of the information for inclusion, it is an effort that has to be done by many of us together and we have to be consistently learning to be able to take the appropriate actions.