Organizations should reflect the diversity of the community they serve, and their staffing practices should be inclusive.

That is the goal of many agencies as they strive for equity. It’s not always an easy road, but there has been progress, as community representatives discussed at a recent forum in Kitchener.

“Diversity Drives Inclusion,” held April 7, was a collective effort by Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region, Carizon Family and Community Services, Waterloo Regional Police Service, Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington Dufferin and White Owl Native Ancestry Association.

As recently as 2008, a Canada-wide survey by the HR Council for the Non-Profit Sector showed that almost 90 per cent of respondents identified as white, and only six per cent were from a visible minority.

“This topic is now public. It became so big that leadership cannot ignore it anymore,” says Jill Stoddart of FACS, one of the event moderators. “Some of our organizations now have an inclusion and diversity committee in place working as a consultative body for the agency.”

One of the main challenges, she says, “is to have dedicated people who have the mandate and time to look at these issues. It also means revamping, sometimes, the entire HR process [and] getting everyone on board. At the agency level, it takes a leader who is really committed.”

The organizations behind the forum have been working collaboratively to learn together, share best practices and chart a new course.

A topic that received a lot of attention at the forum is implicit or invisible bias, the phenomenon of treating people differently, though not intentionally.

“Research indicates that invisible bias is very prevalent and it is not just against a particular group,” says Kathryn Brillinger, a teacher and learning consultant at Conestoga College.  She delivered a presentation on the topic at the forum.

“One can also be totally unaware of bias that advantages people who are similar to oneself,” she says. “Those hiring use terms such as, ‘we need a good fit.’  And if you ask what that means to them and deconstruct, they describe someone very similar to themselves.”

There are steps that organizations can take to reduce and minimize such bias, such as removing identifying information from applicants’ resumes. Supports to integrate new hires – such as a buddy system, mentoring and intercultural training for all staff  – also contribute to success.

Though there are still many challenges ahead, there has been progress, and there’s a more conscientious commitment on the part of many organizations to succeed.

“I think we have good energy in this region, and many people are striving to be inclusive,” says Brillinger.

“Everyone can share stories about the wonderful working side-by-side that occurs when people have done the hard work that exchanging knowledge and ideas across cultures requires. The reward is so worth it.”