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Building momentum for inclusion

July 09, 2018

How Stantec employees are helping people be themselves at work and in their communities

It’s a beautiful day in June, and hundreds of Albertans have gathered to participate in the Edmonton Pride Parade. On the Stantec float, everyone’s wearing t-shirts featuring a pixelated rainbow heart made of a mosaic of colored squares, inspired by the Stantec brand and reflecting the company’s wide range of services and the inclusive and diverse community we are trying to build. Giant-sized versions of the rainbow heart are featured heavily on the float, complemented by smaller signs that express how Stantec’s LGBTQ2+ employees feel about their place in the company: “Supported.” “Valued.” “Respected.” “Welcomed.” “Celebrated.” “Included.” And talking to participants is CEO Gord Johnston, having fun, and there to show his pride and support. 

Before the parade’s conclusion, the sky cracks open and heavy rain starts pouring down, soaking the participants. But that’s okay. Without the rain, there’s no rainbow, and when all is said and done, and the work of packing things up begins, the smiles remain. This was a good day.

Marching with Mosaic Hearts

The pixel rainbow hearts featured at the Edmonton Pride Parade quickly became a beacon of Stantec’s inclusion efforts, ensuring our support of the LGBTQ2+ community is being felt in cities across North America—from Edmonton to New Orleans and San Francisco to Toronto. And our presence won’t stop there. Towards the end of the summer, Stantec employees will be donning the rainbow heart yet again at pride parades in Vancouver and Calgary.

Looking out at a sea of hearts on the day of Edmonton’s Pride Parade was a defining moment for Travis Park (Edmonton, Alberta), senior graphic designer and co-chair of Pride@Stantec Edmonton—Stantec’s first LGBTQ2+ employee resource group (ERG). (Stantec has many ERGs, each with a mandate to help Stantec become a truly inclusive workplace for all employees, regardless of race, gender, orientation, color, or creed.)

“I thought I was going to get teary-eyed when I got up and started talking to everyone,” says Travis, reflecting on the impressive turnout and support: 101 employees rode on the float or marched alongside it, while 40-plus supporters cheered them along the route. “Gord (Johnston, Stantec CEO) gave a little pep talk to everyone and so did Keith (Shillington, geographic leader, Canada Prairies and Territories); it was great, everyone was excited. I feel like we really let Edmonton know that Stantec is a major player when it comes to diversity and inclusion, and in supporting the LGBTQ2+ community.”

Environmental planner Charles Macmichael (Calgary, Alberta), who played a leading role in creating the Pride@Stantec chapter in Calgary, came up to lend his support—and dance moves—to the Edmonton parade. “One of the things I loved was how many young people we had participating with their families. It’s a great opportunity for staff to have important parenting conversations, but also for kids to interact with members of the LGBTQ2+ community in a really positive light and see their parents do the same, whether they’re part of the community or allies.”

Ruth O’Haire, regional HSSE advisor and Pride@Stantec Edmonton co-chair (Edmonton, Alberta), was delighted with the increased participation, but notes, “It’s not necessarily about the headcount. The bigger thing is, our people actually care. There were Stantec people scattered all through the parade route. That shows me we’re making a difference, that the culture is changing.”

Coming into Their Own

The 2018 Edmonton Pride Parade wasn’t Stantec’s first, but it was the first organized by the still-new Pride@Stantec ERG, which was created as a response to the very successful 2017 parade.

“After our participation in last year’s parade, there was a group of us who said, “‘This was great, bringing people together who maybe wouldn’t normally have had a reason to. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep this going?’” Ruth recalls. The group soon put together an application to start the Pride ERG, and had it approved in November 2017.

It didn’t take long to determine the ERG’s focus: building a culture of inclusion, raising awareness, educating employees about LGBTQ2+ issues, and holding events to bring people together and strengthen the community. “Part of creating a culture of inclusion means creating spaces that are safe and supportive,” Travis says. “It’s about building an environment that’s free from judgement, where people can be their best selves, and where they can feel comfortable.”

Charles was inspired to start the Calgary chapter for much the same reasons. “I had my own very supportive community within my little corner of Stantec when I first started, but I wanted to make sure that I could feel the same level of comfort with the entire company, not just with the people I worked with every day. There was always a part of me that felt nervous about being open beyond those I knew well, and in order to settle in and feel comfortable at Stantec over the long haul, I felt it was important to support the Pride@Stantec initiative and help drive some of that forward so that others would feel as comfortable as I do.”

“There’s a big education piece to our work,” Ruth confirms. “We want to have a catalog of resources employees can draw on. Say a parent finds out their child is gay or lesbian, and they don’t know how to react. They can come to us for help. Someone else might come to us and say they’re thinking of transitioning. We won’t have all the answers ourselves—but we want to get to a place where we can connect people to those answers.” And based on their work so far, the group is well on their way towards achieving that vision.

A Milestone Meeting

Pride@Stantec really got rolling with a panel discussion held back in April. Titled “How to Make the Uncomfortable, Comfortable,” the interest surprised even the panelists.

“We didn’t expect that 65 people were going to show up,” Ruth confesses, “I was overwhelmed, because beyond those 65 that came in person, we had 84 call-ins on Skype, some of those as individuals, but others with 20 or 30 people in a boardroom.”

“That was an out of body experience,” Travis says. “Ruth and I told stories about uncomfortable situations, not necessarily that we were in, but from around the company and how it really doesn’t need to be that way at all. We talked about how some people just aren’t sure how to ask questions or begin the conversation. But really, it’s all just about how you talk to anybody else. I’m no different than anyone else, so why would you feel you need to talk to me differently?”

“It was a very reinforcing and positive event for us,” Ruth says. “I think we showed people that it’s okay to be uncomfortable, that questions are welcome.”

All this activity has drawn the interest of Stantec employees from around the world. There are now three official Pride@Stantec chapters: one in Edmonton, one based in Calgary for the Alberta South region, and one in New Orleans. Applications for Pride@Stantec chapters are currently underway in several other locations across Canada, the United States, and the UK.

Driven to Achieve an Inclusive Culture

Stantec supports ERGs because we do what is right, but also because becoming the iconic firm we aspire to be means fostering an inclusive culture that draws the world’s most creative and innovative people to join us. The more inclusive our work environment, the more diverse our employees, the more transformative projects we’ll be able to complete for the benefit of our communities around the world.

“We can’t look past the business aspect of building an inclusive culture,” Charles confirms. “We design with community in mind, and we can’t do that unless we are representative of all the colors of the communities we serve, from race, religion, culture, orientation, gender identity and more. If we can do this, I think Stantec could be a global leader in supporting the Pride community, and we’ll also grow the business and achieve our goal of becoming a top-tier design and delivery firm.”

High Hopes for the Future

Despite having accomplished so much in a very short time, the founding members of Pride@Stantec are not inclined to slow down: their goals are earnest and ambitious.

“My hope is that we eventually have a chapter in each of our regions. I’d like to grow the community’s influence and actions enough that Stantec gets to a place where we’re identified, externally, as a leader in diversity and inclusion and LGBTQ2+ issues,” Travis says. “I’d also love to bring all the chapters together to learn and share from one another, to identify common ground, and work collaboratively to execute ideas that make Stantec even more inclusive and supportive.”

Charles agrees. “It’s one thing to get initiatives like this started, and another to keep it going. Our next focus is maintaining the momentum and understanding that it’s got to be bigger than just Travis and Ruth and I and the other ERG leaders and participants as individuals. It’s got to be about creating that network of support and interest so that it’s maintained and has its own life beyond the people that gave it that initial push.”

There’s a lot of talent in the LGBTQ2+ community, and Pride@Stantec’s work lets members of that community know they’ll be welcomed and valued for who they are. In fact, since Pride@Stantec activities began, new talent from that community has already joined the company, citing the ERG as a reason to seek employment here. There may not be a literal pot of gold at the end of rainbow—but there’s a safe, comfortable workplace waiting.

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