BY: KRISTINA RAMCHARRAN
Skills for Change, an organization dedicated to bringing programs to individuals in Ontario for creating workplace diversity held an informational and exciting conference with workshops on February 23, 2017.
The workshop featured various personalities from different work sectors speaking on their experiences with workplace diversity and how to even develop this further and create a more diverse workforce in future years.
The conference was kicked off by MPP Brad Duguid naming the many important reasons for creating diversity in workplace settings. This was then followed by guest speaker Denise Balkissoon. Balkissoon is a journalist at the Globe and Mail, and she spoke on both the importance of workplace diversity and also media diversity.
She spoke on experiences of being a journalist from a West Indian background and how that can affect her work and the way people view her work. “As a journalist what I’m seeing is questioning the role of what is a journalist,” said Denise on delivering stories that are both impartial and appealing to diverse groups of people.
Her speech was then followed by question and answer period from the audience where Denise put forth her views on the future of a diverse media industry. “The goal is diversity and anti-racism,” said Denise when she was asked about what she predicts the media industry is striving towards.
Monica McKay was the second guest speaker at the conference. As the Director of Aboriginal Initiatives at Ryerson University, Monica shares her passion of creating and spreading diversity in workplaces and schools.
“To engage native people, it is important to create a space and time to learn who they are. It is important to be in spaces where we can care about our spiritual, physical, mental and emotional selves,” said Monica on creating a safe environment for Aboriginal people to grow and learn about their culture. She added that her point matters to all cultures, as acceptance comes from embracing culture.
McKay added that “sometimes the classroom can be a hurtful place.” Her mission at Ryerson was to create a setting for Aboriginal students, “a place where they can come and talk honestly.” She derives this thought from her previous experiences as a university student and the struggles with diversity acceptance others imposed on her culture.
McKay’s speech was followed by a presentation by Thomas Sasso, whom also presented a workshop on LGBTQ diversity, and Cyril J. Cromwell Simmonds speaking on a student mentoring program for educating students on workplace diversity.
Thomas Sasso stressed much importance of having a diverse workplace inclusive to the LGBTQ communities. “Most organizations do not give an opportunity to their employees to disclose their sexuality,” said Sasso. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph.
He also added that not being open about people’s sexualities in workplaces can limit the diversity factor. “When we don’t create opportunities for disclosure we create a stigma.”
Cyril J. Cromwell Simmonds expanded on the importance of creating the learning necessities for young people to learn about the importance of workplace diversity.
“There has to be sincere willingness to understand our stake in the process,” said Simmonds on the effort needed to make this program a success.
The program title NOISE, groups middle school aged children with older students that are in the workforce to give them a more relatable experience while learning about workplace diversity.
The speaker session was followed by a question and answer period along with Chief Executive Officer at Skills for Change Surrana Sandy.
The conference then moved towards the workshop sessions. There was a total of six different workshops to choose from covering issues related to the legal aspect of workplace diversity, the mental health aspect, intercultural communications and more.
The workshops were followed by closing keynote speaker Chevon Miles, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto and member of OCASI, working towards workplace diversity issues for immigrant workers.
The conference ended with an hour long networking session with workshop leaders, speakers and attendees. Skills for change has plans for future workshops later in the year.