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Small acts, big impacts

Diverse and inclusive teams deliver diverse and inclusive services. That’s why on Friday, February 8, The Canadian Digital Service hosted Diversity in Digital Services, a day to brainstorm ideas around team diversity, inclusion, and their impact on delivering better services.

We understand that to get the most out of brainstorming, it’s important to remove barriers to participation in order to include as many voices as possible. That’s why this event was designed to engage people from various communities, including those with disabilities.

The accessibility services provided were:

  • American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) for those deaf or hard of hearing
  • Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), in order to see the talks displayed as text on a screen
  • French translation with headsets for unilingual talks

To learn how you can plan inclusive meetings, check out this guide from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

In total, more than 50 people attended from public and private sectors, academia, and the CivicTech space. So what did we hear?

1. Opposites don’t attract

Like attracts like. If we want to recruit people with diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives, we have to provide environments where they can see themselves thriving. Being inclusive means creating spaces for people to do their best work regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, disability, age, Veteran status, marital status, pregnancy, family commitments, geography…

To get there, we need trust. Trust is the difference between a team creatively working towards the same goal and a group of people just working on the same thing. And that, we heard at the event, all starts at home.

Where do we start?

Participants suggested laying the groundwork for better team inclusion and trust by:

  • Starting small. Don’t feel like you have to climb the mountain in one step. Small acts lead to big impacts.
  • Creating a source of truth, like a team charter, to explicitly spell out what’s important for team culture.
  • Sharing gratitude regularly and acknowledging teammates’ value and skills.
  • Providing leadership opportunities and access to work that teams are passionate about.
  • Leveraging technology to give people the freedom to work in ways that best fit their lives.

And then, once we’ve set the foundation at home:

  • Extending empathy and openness into every part of our work culture, including the hiring process.
  • Using non-gendered language in job ads, and being explicit about the culture we offer, and the specific things we do to be inclusive.
  • Being intentional when we hire by seeking people out and not expecting them to come to us.

Here are some resources and tools that came up to help foster a culture of belonging and trust:

2. Know our biases

Even with impactful diversity and inclusion practices, there will always be blind spots. Our limitations translate into how we create digital services, and that’s why we’ll always need research, testing, and audits.

To address blind spots when creating services for a diverse public, participants encouraged:

  • Starting with people, continuing with people, and keeping people involved in the entire process.
  • Asking, “Who am I leaving behind?”, and seeking those people out.
  • Connecting with people who can help with knowledge gaps.
  • Making all content (not limited to text) accessible.
  • Lightening the user’s cognitive load by using plain language.
  • Always being open to learning. The work is never done.

Suggested resources to help mitigate blind spots:

3. Be the leader

We need strong leaders who are empathetic and actively encourage an environment that makes the above change possible.

Participants identified a good leader as someone who:

  • Knows when to speak and when to listen.
  • Is intentional with what they can change and humble about what they don’t know.
  • Knows that their main goal is to serve and remove barriers so their teams can do their best work.
  • Doesn’t push productivity (outputs) more than they push inclusiveness and belonging.

The great news? These qualities aren’t limited to traditional “leaders”. Those executing the work have just as much capacity to drive change as those with traditional hierarchical powers.

What does that then mean? Everyone has the ability to lead and drive change.

Our small acts at home

Thank you to everyone who candidly shared their experiences with us in February. As an organization, we don’t take this opportunity to grow lightly.

Inspired by the discussions and taking to heart that change has to start at home, CDS is committing to creating a space where our team can talk to each other more about diversity, inclusion, and belonging. While we acknowledge that this goal won’t be achieved overnight, in the immediate future our small acts will include:

  • Creating a Code of Conduct outlining behavioural expectations and highlighting how we aspire to create the conditions to do our best work together.
  • Creating and sharing a Conflict Commitment to equip the team with strategies to proactively tackle conflict.
  • Ensuring all managers take Civility in the Workplace training.
  • Ensuring opportunities for Equity/Allyship training for the entire team.

What small acts have worked for you and your team? Let us know so we can keep this important conversation going and collectively make a big impact together.