“Counting Diversity”


Since September of this year, OCASI has been working with a consulting consortium to overhaul our Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression (ARAO) policies and to undertake a series of training sessions with the Board of Directors, Senior Management, Program Managers and Employees. The Council, after years of looking outward at the sector- implementing the Positive Spaces Initiative; developing and delivering extensive training on issues of (dis)abilities and intersecting identities including immigration status; ensuring opportunities for discussion and training on anti-racism and anti-oppression at our various conferences; vigorously applying an integrated analysis of race, gender, class, age, ability, etc. to our policy work, - believed it time to take an internal look.

We were feeling pretty good about ourselves. A look in from the outside would show that at both Board and Staff levels we have broad ethno-racial, linguistic and cultural diversity, a good mix of ages, talent, and experience. Our work and public face reflected for the most part our commitment to an equity and inclusion agenda – our active engagement in promoting employment equity legislation, our push for contract compliance rules and policies at all levels of government and our very visible presence in discussions for racial, gender and other ‘minority' identities on corporate Boards, in media, and in elected office all pointed to our activist approach to progressive change. Our walk matched our talk. Or so we thought.

In mid-November, the Maytree Foundation and DiverseCity released their latest DiverCity Counts report “Supplier Diversity in the GTA: Business Case and Best Practices.”  In discussing the findings of the report, a colleague wondered out loud about how our sector, and in particular OCASI member agencies, would measure up in terms of the ethno-racial diversity of the suppliers (including consultants) that they use in their daily operations. My instinctive response was that while many members may have neglected to pay attention to this, the Council surely would pass a ‘diversity audit' in this area just as it would with its personnel.

Without any particular plan in mind, I began to quietly review our practices. I took a look at the paid and volunteer consultants we had used over the past two years – at our semi-annual conferences, as subject experts in our Organization Standards Project, in our governance review and evaluation work, and in the development of personnel policies and the development and implementation planning of our Performance Management Program. What an unpleasant surprise and wake-up call that very informal review turned out to be. In rough numbers, I would say that far less than a third of the consultants we hire belong to a racialized group. Fewer are folks living with a disability or publicly identifying as LGBTI. And not much more are immigrants. We do well on gender (cis-women [e1] but certainly not with transgender women).   

In discussion with Council Staff about this issue, many opinions were proffered, some quite legitimate. Folks talked about the sheer numbers. It is difficult (especially these days) to make a living as an independent consultant. So the folks who are available are those with many years of experience in the non-profit sector and with strong connections and network. The significant majority of these individuals are White and Canadian born. Others talked about the low payment that OCASI and other community-based non-profits offer for work that is time heavy. Also true. But these realities should not excuse us for not doing the hard work of putting in place processes that demand that we go out and search for those experts that are more representative of the groups with which we work and the cities where we live.

The discussion about operational suppliers and vendors (program materials, accounting/audit, equipment purchase and service, utilities, rental space, caterers etc.) proved a much bigger challenge. The question was asked: How many large vendors in Ontario are owned by immigrants or racialized people or women? The quick answer:[e2]  Why do we only have to use large vendors or suppliers? We do very well with the diversity of the food we bring in for meetings. Why not in other areas?

I raised this issue here not because I revel in exposing the Council's shortcomings, but because I think it is instructive how complacency can creep in to organizations even when there is a clear progressive mandate and agenda. The lesson for us as a Council (and the membership) is that we must always remain diligent. We must remember that the work of inclusion needs to be intentional and top of mind always. Policies and their application must be reviewed regularly and processes must be in place and understood by those charged with carrying them out.

The DiverseCity Counts report describes five stages of supplier diversity and encourages organizations to move from having no program to what it refers to as full supplier diversity (SD). It is a useful tool and OCASI will certainly be putting it in use as we work towards a full SD program.  Keep watching this space. I intend to report out from time to time on our progress.


[e1]Someone who is cis-gendered has a gender identity that agrees with their societally recognized sex, as opposed to someone who is transgendered.
[e2]These aren't really answers, just responding questions!!