On Saturday afternoon I joined what seemed like thousands of people outside Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto for Jack Layton’s funeral. It was so good to be there, surrounded by an energy of hope and togetherness. This feeling, I thought, is what inclusion is all about: working together, sharing, moving forward together.

As someone who is committed to Diversity & Inclusion, several things Rev. Brent Hawkes included in his eulogy about Jack Layton struck a chord. I’d like to share them, and my thoughts about them, with you.

First, Rev. Hawkes shared that Jack believed in a broadly inclusive movement towards a better Canada, gathering all of us together. Jack Layton was an optimist, but he also knew that there was still a lot of work to be done. Rev. Hawkes told us that Jack believed in including people from different places, beliefs and approaches in one inclusive movement for a better Canada – and that this included working together in partnership and that different (and dissenting) perspectives were welcome.

In this work, true inclusion makes room for difference – to see it, hear it, and consider it in the movement forward, together.

Rev. Hawkes went on to share that Jack’s goal was to make life better and not to leave anyone behind.

This made me think of how easy it can be to not even notice that we are leaving some people behind (or leaving some people out) and therefore how important it is to check our assumptions and what we think is “the way it is”, and to practice inclusion.

Diversity is a fact and inclusion is an action. Rev. Hawkes added that Jack’s goal of making life better was about how we are with each other as we do the work, and what values guide us.

Finally, Rev. Hawkes told us that Jack Layton’s legacy is not about how much power we have, but how we use the power we are given, and how all of us exercise our personal power for a better world – in our actions and how we take those actions together.

Inclusion is a value and a practice. It is about how we do things, not just about what we do, or who is there. It is about gathering ideas, knowledge and perspectives and moving forward to create something new, together.

It’s a tall order for Canada, and also a tall order for many organizations. But if the energy on Saturday is any indication of the willingness that exists – we can do it.

Thanks Jack.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
President, Building Equitable Environment

Last week I saw a short article in the Metro News about a new at-home gender prediction test that pregnant women (and pregnant trans men) can take at 7 weeks.

It is called (no surprise) “Pink or Blue”. *sigh*

But this post is not about colours. It’s about gender versus sex. It’s a distinction that we have to learn in this country (in fact, in most countries) because they are not the same. Once we wrap our heads around this, the lives of transgender individuals will hopefully start to become easier.

A colleague of mine put it quite simply once during a training we were delivering. He said: gender is between your ears, and sex is between your legs. Gender is your sense of being what society says is a man or  a woman. Sex is about what biologically defines you as  male or female. It’s that simple.

Transgender individuals’ gender identity does not match their assigned sex. Cisgenderindividuals’ gender identity does match their assigned sex (Fenway Institute, 2010).   Trans-identified people are challenging what we have been taught about gender and biology. It’s a hard concept for many people to grasp; but it’s a lived reality that sadly is still not recognized by the Human Rights Code (currently gender identity is covered under sex and disability).

Pink or Blue says it tests for gender, but it doesn’t; it can’t. What it is really testing for, is sex. If you take the test and it comes out “blue” (for example) you still have a chance (although slight) that your biological boy will identify as a girl – or vice versa.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with the test. But we have to start changing our language. Doing so will mean acknowledgment and respect for the lived experiences and realities of transgender individuals – something that is still sorely lacking around the world.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
In today's Toronto Star, Ashante Infantry writes about the longest running human rights case in Canadian history (23 years). It has finally been settled, but the plaintiff has not won.

Despite the fact that the Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled in his favour 3 times over the past 23 years, the directives were ignored by his employer and Michael McKinnon has had no relief. In fact, his supervisor, the ring-leader of the racial taunts against McKinnon for being Cree, has been promoted with a salary increase during this time. McKinnon, by contrast, is on anti-depressants.

It's a sad reality that racism (and all the other "isms") are still occuring in our society and workplaces. Sadder still is that directives from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) can go unheeded.

The images we see, the news we read, and the stories we here - as well as those we don't, by omission in schools, media, family and communities etc. - all teach us who has value in our society.  When we don't challenge these messages and assumptions, they are allowed to continue  - and escalate.

Not heeding a OHRC directive speaks of how pervasive these beliefs must be in the jail that McKinnon worked at, for management to not even be swayed by a human rights ruling. It also speaks of a work environment that is poisoned - not just for McKinnon and other First Nations or Aboriginal peoples (and possibly for other "minority groups" as well), but also for their colleagues who may have wanted to speak up, but didn't (or couldn't).

Michael McKinnon is a broken man, because he proudly celebrated his cultural heritage at his wedding, and invited colleagues he thought were friends. For 23 years he has been fighting for his right to dignity, respect, and a safe workplace. No one should have to endure that.

Many of us take a safe and respectful workplace for granted, and can't even imagine what that is like. It is our vigilance, and willingness to speak up, that can make a difference for those for whom work is not a safe or respectful place. Hopefully Bill 168 will help to ensure that happens more and more.

Fingers crossed.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder

This past weekend I caught a brief story on CBC news about how David Cameron is considering assistance from New York Police Commissioner and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton to help address the violence that has shaken cities in England this month.

Whether this partnership proceeds or not, or the merit of it, is not what struck me as I listened to the news. What caught my attention was the short clip of David Cameron, where he said that this was about "dealing with people that we have ignored for too long." That caught my attention.

Think about it: people who feel valued and acknolwedged, have enough to eat, have meaningful work, and feel a sense of agency and hope don't riot.

It was refreshing to hear the Prime Minister of a country recognize the impact of marginalization. It shows recognition and thoughtfulness about the existence and impact of systemic discrimination.

It's an important place to start. I hope that David Cameron can lead his party and country to look inward, and reach out to communities to hear their realities - in order to find the sources of marginalization and the systemic remedies that will help communities not only heal, but see and experience a brighter future where their cultural & ethnic origins, skin colour, or faith don't stack against them.

We could learn a thing or two here in Canada, just from his comment alone.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
Last week I read Toronto Star columnist Rick Salutin’s column (The Ramadan kids go to the cottage). What struck me most about what he writes is how words alone fail us.

He writes about having 2 Muslim children spend a few days at the cottage with his son and himself, and the experience of fasting alongside them since it is Ramadan. He mentions the slower pace and the quiet that settled in after the first day; a sort of meditative state, he says.  And then he goes on to discuss slowing down and the deliberateness it brings with it.

Which got me thinking of how little words tell us without context – except that we often don’t realize this is the case. By having a small experience, he was able, in a few short paragraphs, to connect me with this month in a way I haven’t before. Because of this column, I can connect to the quiet that I experience on a slow walk with my dog, or canoeing or sitting in nature – and I can now feel some of the essence within the month. He wasn’t sharing facts, or just using the word Ramadan to stand for it all, he shared his experience.

As we hurry through life, and the busy-ness and bottom lines of work – how often do we brush aside opportunities to share experiences and stories because there is no time or we think we “get it”.

What opportunities are we missing (and who are we missing) as a result?

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
We continue to make strides in understanding the needs of, and increasing access for people with disabilities.  In Ontario, we have the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

But what does accessibility really mean?

While it may be easy to consider aspects of physical accessibility like ramps, automatically opening doors, etc., there are other aspects that we may not consider. The AODA lists 5 areas of accessibility. They are:

  • customer service
  • employment
  • information and communications
  • transportation
  • built environment
The first four have already been made into law, to reach the vision of an accessible Ontario by 2025. The fifth is being developed.

Employment isn’t often considered as an accessibility issue. But assumptions, stereotypes and misinformation create high barriers for people with disabilities – either physical or psychological – to be able to access work.

Creating an inclusive work environment challenges us to do things differently, and to consider alternate ways of getting the job done well. It also challenges us to examine how the way we see people can create barriers for hiring, placement and promotion.

It’s nice to see that some of the Fortune 500 companies are taking this on. Read about Proctor & Gamble’s recent foray into a more inclusive workplace – which includes hiring people with disabilities for the same jobs as their able-bodied peers.

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Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
Two weeks ago, I assisted at a workshop called The Mastery of Self Expression.
One of the main themes of the workshop is connecting with others. At one point, Larry Gilman (the facilitator) spoke about how quickly we look away when we pass people on the street. 

The fact that few people say hello when they pass by each other in a big city like Toronto has always got me. But this was a new idea: to say hello and keep eye contact. This morning I tried it.

It's a grey day, I was returning home with my dog, and a woman was walking towards us. She looked tough, even a little mean (my assumptions), and seemed focused on getting where she was going. But I caught her eyes, said good morning, smiled, and stayed there.

And an amazing thing happened.

In the moment that our eyes met and held, she smiled back and her whole being transformed. The tough, mean exterior I had imagined vanished and for a split second, I saw her; the essence of who she is. It felt amazing.

Eye contact is not a sign of respect everywhere - or in a multicultural city like Toronto, for everyone - but where and when it is, I encourage you to try it. With strangers and colleagues and people you know well. You may be surprised by how little you actually do it. And even more surprised by what happens when you do.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
Religion or Faith  may be the last thing you expect to hear about at work. Faith is still seen as something private and something which has nothing to do with your work life. But think again.

Religion or Faith can inform someone’s values and how they move through the world. This, in turn  can impact leadership, team work, and work ethic (to name a few). So it’s closer than you think. Many decades ago, when most people in Canadian workplaces were Christian, we arguably didn’t need to talk about it, since there was (assumed) common ground and holidays were acknowledged and taken care of.

A few days ago I wrote about Ramadan and some of the things employers can do to acknowledge this holy month for Muslims – and I used the word accommodation.

I can’t help but think that accommodation has become a bad word – at least for Human Resources. I can imagine the eye rolling, the heavy sighs and the resignation: “One more thing we have to accommodate. When will it ever end?”

All of this has me thinking about a conversation I had a few weeks ago. If we understood each other better; if we understood what Ramadan (for instance) means to our Muslim colleagues who are observing, then “accommodation” would just become a matter of fact and respect; not a burden or an inconvenience. Likewise for other faiths and beliefs that matter to our co-workers and impact their way of being. But then we’d have to ask… and sadly we still seem to have trouble with that.

Want to learn more?
Check out the upcoming Faith@Work conference put on by Skills for Change and expand your understanding!

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder

If you are Muslim, or know someone who is, you likely know that Ramadan started on Sunday night (July 31st) and that it will run for a month. While it isn't a religious observance that requires absence from work, it can impact the workplace.  For those of you who don't think religion has a place at work, think again.

Ramadan is the ninth month (and the holiest month) in the Islamic calendar. Since the Islamic calendar is lunar (using the cycles of the moon) this means that when referenced on a Gregorian calendar (used in North America and most Western countries) that is static, the dates change yearly.  Ramadan is a month of fasting and spiritual reflection. While you may be tempted to brush this aside as "not my business" there are some implications that, if acknowledged, can make this month much smoother for everyone in the office.


During Ramadan, devout Muslims eat only before sunrise and after sunset. For some, this even includes water. The length and heat of summer days adds to the challenge. Here are three suggestions that you can implement until August 30th, to acknowledge the reality of fasting employees. I'm sure you will agree that all of these fall within reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

If you have ever skipped lunch because you were too busy, you know how this can affect your concentration and patience (among other things) later in the day as your blood sugar drops. Scheduling meetings in the morning means your fasting employees will have more energy. Board meetings that typically occur in the evenings, or expectations to meet with clients over dinner are especially problematic.

Get togethers and celebrations:
Although your fasting employees will likely say "don't worry about me, I just won't eat" think about it: if you hadn't eaten since the sun came up, and had hours to go, would you want to stand around and make small talk over hors d'oeuvres? If you can postpone the festivities until Ramadan is over, do so.

Flex time:
If your company does flex time, this may be something to discuss with your employees who are fasting. Working earlier in the day and/or from home may be an option they may like to consider during Ramadan.

Still think religion doesn't impact work? Think again.

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copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder


(c) 2011 Building Equitable Environments