Why is Diversity and Inclusion Important? – Rob Turnbull Answers
By Work With Us Foundation on August 29 2019
What drew you to participate on the board of WorkWithUs? Streetohome was the initial seed funder behind WorkWithUs and partnered with TPD, an international workforce and HR solutions company, to launch the new charitable staffing agency, which matches individuals seeking employment with employer workforce needs.
WorkWithUs seeks to provide employment opportunities within a variety of different sectors including transportation, technology, hospitality and sales, and has made great strides in ensuring that individuals with lived experience of homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness access job opportunities that meet their passions, current preferences, and longer-term employment aspirations.
Why are you interested in diversity and inclusion? Streetohome is committed to ensuring that people in our city, who are at-risk of homelessness or have lived experience of homelessness, have access to employment opportunities that align with their capabilities and preferences. Employment is a critical element for mental health and well-being, providing marginalized individuals with a broadened social network, a sense of belonging, an opportunity to participate more fully in society, and a door to increased income, independent living and self-sufficiency.
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? Diversity is the spice of life – a variety of perspectives, knowledge, abilities, ways of thinking, backgrounds, and life experiences. Through our research with the Smart Cities – Life Intentions initiative, we discovered data that challenged the homogeneous stereotype of individuals living in supportive housing and who continue to be at risk of homelessness.
Many of these individuals want to work and are capable of doing so, are often highly educated, and have career histories; however, they may be facing unique barriers to finding a job, such as the potential loss of benefits and the security and supports found in supportive housing, should their income suddenly increase.
WWU works gradually with individuals’ unique barriers, so that they can move along their preferred life path and become more confident and independent according to their timeline.
What experiences do you want to share when it comes to diversity and inclusion? (e.g. past D&I initiatives in the workplace, etc.) A large part of our work is only possible through the work and expertise of our volunteers, who come from a range of background and experiences, including lived experience of homelessness and substance use. Through their knowledge, we are able to better communicate with and serve marginalized individuals.
How do you think WWU can positively impact the lives of individuals, communities and the local economy? Through its diversity and inclusion initiatives, WWU is providing a ripple effect in the lives of vulnerable individuals, communities and the local economies. WWU takes the time to find a successful and unique fit when matching field staff to employer workforce needs.
By doing so, they are able to ensure both the individual is happy (often contributing to an increase in self-esteem and confidence) and the employer is happy (workforce demands are met), resulting in a decrease of stigma against vulnerable individuals and increase in acceptance of people from all walks of life in both the workplace and local communities.
What kinds of D&I programs and initiatives would you like to see WWU do in the future? We would like to see WWU further collaborate with businesses to increase their definition of diversity and implementation of a diversity program that focuses on individuals from different social backgrounds and experiences, including those with lived experience of homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
This includes facilitating employment assignments for individuals of varied age, gender, ethnicity and health concerns (including mental health, substance use, communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, and brain injury). A special focus should be placed on finding employment roles for individuals with a criminal record.
What trends do you see emerging either in your own industry or in the conversation around D&I as a whole? Diversity and inclusion is a hot HR topic right now, however, it often does not include diversity of social backgrounds or experiences, and is rather restricted to women, youth, Indigenous people, immigrants and people with disabilities (e.g., autism, cognitive disabilities).
On both an individual and community level, we are seeing a call for more acceptance of vulnerable individuals who are often stigmatized due to their situation and past experiences. We hope that this reduction in stigma will also take place within the HR departments of businesses.
John McLernon (Streetohome’s Board Chair) emphasized that “individuals not only need a home, but also a sense of purpose. A job provides an opportunity to: become contributing members in society; belong to a team; learn new skills; develop one’s potential and a path to self-sufficiency.”