Why is Diversity and Inclusion Important? – Joanne Gassman Answers
By Work With Us Foundation on September 11 2019
What drew you to participate on the board of WorkWithUs? I had the privilege of being on the Streetohome board which I joined in 2014 where our focus was "housing first." This was an obvious progression from housing, as we developed the "four legged stool" whereby individuals who were going to feel safe and have a sense of belonging in order to contribute to society needed, in addition to housing, access to "purposeful activity" (which included employment opportunities), access to health care, education, and at times, access to legal advice. Being from the business community, I felt that my background and skillset was best suited to the area of employment.
Why are you interested in diversity and inclusion? Because everyone deserves an opportunity regardless of where you come from, what colour your skin is, what your sexual preference may be. Discrimination hurts society, it hurts our economy, and it is selfish and painful. With empathy, one has to put themselves in another person's shoes and ask – how does it feel?
What is your definition of diversity? How do you encourage people to honour the uniqueness of each individual? How do you challenge stereotypes and promote sensitivity and inclusion? We are all human beings regardless of our differences, and a shot at participating and contributing in life should be available to everyone.
Why do you feel diversity and inclusion in communities are important? Why do you believe it is important to create opportunities for marginalized individuals to participate in the workforce? As mentioned above, it makes our communities strong, and it provides a sense of belonging. Everyone has something they can add, being different is a benefit and adds to society. It makes us stronger, more resilient, and more accepting. Evidence is plentiful that a more diverse community/workforce adds to the whole experience of making your company/your employees, "you" whole, and adds to the bottom line. Everyone either knows of or has been in a situation where they needed a "hand up not a hand out."
What experiences do you want to share when it comes to diversity and inclusion? (e.g. past D&I initiatives in the workplace, etc.) Prior to my retirement, I was a senior executive and officer of a major firm in Canada. I have seen first hand the positive impact of a workplace that is both diverse and inclusive, not only in the engagement of the workforce, but also the impact on the bottom line.
How do you think WWU can positively impact the lives of individuals, communities and the local economy? Productivity improves. These individuals want a break and you will find both commitment and loyalty, which improves productivity and reduces the cost of turnover. Members of the community respond positively and are proud when they see a diverse and inclusive workforce. Their loyalty improves, and they tend to recommend your services to others.
What kinds of D&I programs and initiatives you would like to see WWU do in the future?
I am hoping to see community benefit agreements/buy social programs continue to expand. The City of Vancouver has been proactive in this area.
What trends do you see emerging either in your own industry or in the conversation around D&I as a whole?
Corporate social responsibility programs that include diversity and inclusion are becoming much more widespread, and consumers are becoming much more informed as to where they will leverage their purchasing power.