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Picking up on episode 4’s theme, there are a number of challenges when it comes to how organizations can meaningfully instigate and encourage movement on the equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) front. Insufficient education about the benefits of EDI, misinformation about how to successfully implement EDI initiatives, and lack of accountability tend to sink the majority of even the most well-intended programs.

However, it’s been proven that businesses that share data around the make-up of their workforce and encourage the creation of employee resource groups are more successful at cultivating opportunities for under-represented groups.

Tune in to episode 5 of Diversonomics season 4 as hosts Roberto Aburto and Cindy Kou speak with Adrian Ishak – senior corporate counsel for global labour & employment at Salesforce and vice-chair of the Roundtable of Diversity Associations – about the key barriers to EDI success and the importance of remaining committed to continually moving forward.

EPISODE TIP:

…for everyone who's involved in the EDI space, our work is never done … there’s always going to be opportunity for growth. There's always going to be opportunity for education. There's always going to be opportunity for moving the dial, even if it may sometimes feel like one step forward, two steps back.

- Adrian Ishak, senior corporate counsel, global labour and employment at Salesforce, and vice-chair of the Roundtable Diversity Associations (RODA)

The Roundtable of Diversity Association is hosting a full day diversity conference on December 9. You can learn more or register for the conference on the Canadian Bar Association website.

Transcript

You're listening to “Diversonomics”, a Gowling WLG podcast    Roberto: Welcome to Diversonomics. The podcast about diversity and inclusion from Gowling WLG. I'm your co-host Roberto Aburto, practicing law in the Ottawa office.    Cindy: And I'm your co-host, Cindy Kou, from Gowling WLG's Toronto Office.    Roberto: So far this season we've had some great conversations about reconciliation, being inclusive of different abilities in the work place, the partnership admission process at Gowling WLG and moving the dial on equity, diversity and inclusion within an organization. If you're tuning in for the first time welcome and a friendly reminder that our earlier episodes can be found at gowlingwlg.com/diversonomics. Ontario lawyers you can get your EDI credits just for listening as well.    Cindy: Earlier this season we spoke with Dr. Sarah Saska, co-founder and CEO of Feminuity, to speak about moving the dial on equity, diversity and inclusion within workplaces.    Roberto: Continuing on the same theme our guest today is Adrian Ishak, senior corporate counsel, global labour and employment at Salesforce. Adrian has over a decade of experience advising private and public sector employees on a domestic and international scale on labour and employment matters. Outside of the office Adrian has long been involved with equity seeking groups such as the Roundtable of Diversity Associations and the Association des juristes d'expression française. Adrian has also served as the CPD liaison of the OBA's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Group and is also a director of FrancoQueer, an organization for LGBTQIA Francophones and allies in Toronto and Ontario.    Cindy: Last year Adrian was kind enough to join Gowling WLG as one of the featured speakers at our D&I Fireside Chat in Toronto. He shared some great observations and experiences about meaningfully instigating and measuring change and about cooperation between different players within an industry to encourage movement on the equity, diversity and inclusion front. So, thank you Adrian, for taking the time to share some insights with our Diversonomics listeners today and welcome to the show. Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your background?   Adrian: I am, as you'd mentioned, a lawyer and have been in practice for about a dozen years now, exclusively in the space of labour and employment. I spent my first 10 years in private practice in various firms advising primarily and, at certain times, exclusively employers. Before moving in-house a couple of years ago at Salesforce my interest in EDI is both personal and professional. As a queer man, second generation immigrant to Canada, linguistic minority within Toronto, I had a personal interest and a personal stake in this. But also as an advisor to employers who often struggle with this topic, it became a really large portion of my practice on that front. I just kind of organically came to it and organically developed my knowledge of it and became more and more engaged as time passed. Most recently I've become more involved in RODA, the Roundtable of Diversity Associations, as their Vice-Chair. In that role I'm obviously supporting our various initiatives, both at the Law Society of Ontario and more broadly, as well as working towards our large annual conference where we invite people in to talk about EDI initiatives within the legal profession, and just not initiatives but challenges that are faced by members of diverse and equity seeking groups.    Roberto: Let's start at the beginning, or for what many organizations is the formal beginning, of a commitment to moving the needle on diversity and inclusion. We hear a lot about organizations creating a diversity imitative as one of the first steps to improving diversity and inclusion in that work place. What do you think about framing diversity and inclusion as an imitative?   Adrian: You know, it's interesting, it's not something that's often spoken about in the milieux in which I operate. It's a fascinating question for you to ask. I do think that the word imitative is an important one. It brings a focus on trying, on starting from somewhere and often from a place where there's not a lot of knowledge. It kind of takes away from the concept of a commitment to EDI. For your listeners, just to be clear, whenever I refer to diversity and inclusion, I'm in fact saying equity, diversity and inclusion, so EDI initiatives. There is some debate in the community around should it be equity or equality, which was the starting point. Even in terms of terminology, and I bring it up now because we're talking about terminology, I don't know that we're ever going to find a ground that everyone agrees on. I don't really struggle to much with the idea of an imitative, especially in the starting stages, but I do want companies and firms to move towards real commitments to EDI, as opposed to just initiatives which is something that's on the corner of someone's desk.    Cindy: What would you say are the top three barriers to moving the needle on EDI in an organization?   Adrian: I think that it's largely demonstrated that it starts with the tone from the top. I think we're seeing that playing out right now at the Law Society of Ontario with respect to the various commitments to EDI that have been made over the course of the past several years, approximately a decade, and the unwinding a lot of the love of those initiatives, commitment to unwinding a lot of those initiatives. There needs to be a commitment from the top to these programs and to these initiatives and to understanding, really, what the impact of social and economic restrictions and barriers that are faced by equity seeking groups. I'm very fortunate to work in an organization now at Salesforce where, really, our CEO sees corporations as vehicles for positive social change and so has put this on the radar of his executive team, but also more broadly in the corporate community in the United States. But without that I don't think we would be seeing the broad based discussion that's taking place at our organization around EDI, and the increased knowledge that we have and the increased programing and commitment to our different equity seeking groups becoming more visible in the work place, but also better represented in the work place. That would be, I think, the first barrier. Once you've got commitment from the top I think that the second barrier is the dabbling. What we need when we're really talking about turning the dial on EDI are people with expertise in this space. I think that outside of people with expertise in this space, what there can often be is good intentions, but good intentions can sometimes go very, very wrong. In addition to commitment to EDI initiatives, leadership also has to be committed and organizations have to be committed to building out a framework that allows for the establishment and the development of meaningful EDI initiatives that are tested and proven to be effective. That can be a really rocky ride because it is a new space in terms of expertise, in terms of background, in terms of experience. There's currently a proliferation of EDI experts and I'm using air quotes now. But finding the right one for your organization, with the right expertise for your organization, can be like finding a needle in a haystack. With respect to the third barrier, is moving away from the tone from the top, is getting buy in from the broader community within your organization. Because with tone from the top and a commitment from the top and fantastic initiatives that have been built out by experts in the space, that's just a starting point. Because if you don't have buy in from your stakeholders, and primarily from your internal stakeholders, there's just not going to be any uptake of those programs. Finding meaningful ways to engage with your work force, talking about your organizations now, finding meaningful ways to engage with your work force to raise their interest, but also to raise their understanding of what we are talking about when we are talking about EDI initiatives, is very, very important. Because for so many people EDI initiatives are about preferential treatment to specific groups of people and there's a complete lack of understanding that it's not about preferential treatment to specific groups of people, it's about evening the playing field so education is so important to get that buy in and to get people to show up at these initiatives that have been developed by your organization.    Roberto: To take the other side, to take the inverse of that question, can you tell us about an environment or organization where you saw an equity diversity inclusion imitative really thrive.    Adrian: At the risk of tooting the horn of my own employer, Salesforce, and frankly it was a huge value proposition for me when I made the choice to make the transition to in-house practice, and for a bit of context, Salesforce had been my client for approximately 5-1/2 years when I was in private practice before they approached me with this opportunity and I was not looking to move in-house at the time. But through my discussions and my knowledge of the organization, I made the choice to take the leap, and the risk, to see how it would play out. And a very, very large part of that choice was Salesforce's very public and very open and very transparent commitment to EDI within the organization, but also impacting representation for equity seeking groups in the communities in which they operate. I'm not alone, I can tell you amongst the work force at Salesforce, who will say that one of the driving factors for joining the organization was that. The way it plays out internally has been an experience all on its own, quite frankly, I don't know that I was necessarily prepared for how this would play out. We have a chief equality officer, so we often joke about it being our second CEO, who reports directly to our CEO. Now we have co-CEO's for approximately a year and a half, but reports directly up to one of our co-CEO's. There's a very clear commitment within the organization, and more broadly to these initiatives, and it's very visible. The office is very visible, within the organization, and external to the organization too. They do a great job of marketing the initiatives but more importantly they also do a great job of building out opportunities for our work force. There are a number of different strategies that have been adopted by the company to move the dial on EDI. The first one, and I think quite frankly the one that came as the largest surprise to me particularly as employment counsel, is the sharing of data around the make-up, the social make-up, of our work force. They've been doing this for years. First, in terms of gender break out, and more recently in terms of the various equity seeking groups in the organization. It's specifically US based but we are certainly talking about expanding that outside of the US. Given that it is US based, we have approximately 26,000 employees in the US, and that's in a work force of about 45,000, so well over half of our work force is subject, not subject, but has the option of voluntarily self-identifying along the under-represented minority identities, under-represented group identities and we report out on this which is huge. Because it definitely demonstrates, first of all, that we're prepared to open the kimono around where we are doing well and where we are doing less well and where there's opportunity for improvement, but it also frankly arms our employees with the tools they need to advocate for change within the organization. I can assure you that our employees do that. There is a lot of discussion internally, but also externally, about what opportunities are available to the organization to recruit, to retain and to promote members of under-represented minorities and under-represented groups within the organization. We see through the data and it's posted on our website, it's available to anyone, we just launched our annual equality reports last week so that data is available to everyone. That there are definitely opportunities for growth. There are definitely opportunities for improvement. Collecting the data and providing transparency and availability of the data to folks, just not internally but externally, is extremely valuable but also a great accountability mechanism. Another large imitative for us has been around the employee resource groups, which in some part of the world are called "affinity groups", where members of under-represented groups come together with their peers to create both programs as well as opportunities for networking and support. We currently have 12 employee resource groups. I can run off them very quickly but basically they are for employees. We have ability force for employees with disabilities, bold force for our black employees, faith force with respect to our employees who practice some sort of faith, gen force around age discrimination, Latino force, out force, veteran force, well vet force actually, and the women's network, are just a few of the larger and more active groups that we have within the organization. Those have proven to be a great incubator for these initiatives because they become employee led initiatives and there's so much more buy in as a result of that. We provide quite a bit of support, both financial support as well as technical and resource support for these groups, to be able to design programs that are meaningful to their membership. Those are just a few of the examples of opportunities that we've created. The other thing that I find fantastic about the organization, and I think that a lot of organizations particularly in the Bay area are spending a lot more time on, is investing in education to cultivate opportunities to grow the work force, particularly with respect to under-represented groups. A lot of this is pipeline. We've come to realize this. We talk a lot about TAM's, total addressable markets. It is wonderful for us to say that the population of Canada, for instance, is made up of x percentage of members of the black community. Let's say 10%. Let's pull it out of the blue, 10%, and then at Salesforce in Toronto for instance, will say that our work force is only made up of 2% of members of the black community. It's very easy for us to point and say, "Wait. What is this disparity?" But as I started digging into the data what we realized was that of the tech community only 2% of them were members of the black community. We were representative to the extent that we could be given the market in which we were operating. But that pointed out another issue for us which is, why? Why is the market not reflective of the broader social reality? We realized a lot of this is about access to education so we're investing a lot in education in the various communities in which we operate, primarily in San Francisco in the Bay area, because that is where we are HQ'd and there's 10,000 of our employees based there, in the hopes that we will create a pipeline down the line so that our work force diversifies and better represents the communities in which we operate.    Roberto: We appreciate you've had the opportunity to work with many organizations of different sizes and in different sectors. What are some of the common obstacles or points of resistance you see organizations face when it comes to fostering more EDI, more cultures?   Adrian: In my mind there are really three obstacles … main obstacles. The first one being around, I talked about it briefly earlier, which is a lack of education. How do you reach people at a level where they will want to become engaged and better understand the purpose of EDI? Because without that, again, there's no buy in and without the buy in you're not going to see opportunities for these programs to grow and to make a real social impact. And that's, as I said, throughout the organization from leadership right down on to entry level positions. The second piece is related to, but not quite the same, it's about lack of education but in a different space. Where you have people who are committed to EDI, or who believe in the value of EDI, but are ill informed or misinformed or unconsciously making decisions that impact on people around them. How do you arm those people with good intentions to want to remain committed, but to also invest in their education so they become better allies of EDI initiatives, as well as of the under-represented groups that they are intended to support? The last piece, and I think this is where most of fall down, is that EDI often becomes a corner of the desk initiatives. It's nice to have. Everybody's committed to it but in the noise of everyday life, in the fast paced environments that most of us are working in, it becomes a second thought. There's a commitment from the top but there's no real commitment to implementation because there's no accountability around it. Building out those accountability mechanisms are so important in the EDI space. So much more important than in a lot of other areas in the work place because they can so easily become second thought.    Cindy: Adrian, what advice do you have for the management of organizations to challenge those three barriers that you just talked about.   Adrian: I think that it's accountability. Accountability, accountability, accountability. I think that until EDI initiatives become baked into performance metrics at every level of the organization, that we see and will continue to see for a long time to come, really slow movement in this space. Hopefully not atrophying but slow movement. How to go about creating accountability. How to go about tying this to performance metrics is a lot more tricky because it is often very soft-skilled based. For instance, we at Salesforce, one of our accountability measures is the score card. We talk very openly about it. Leaders within our organization who have teams of 500 or more employees will get a score card that breaks down the under-represented group metrics throughout their organization, compared to our organization and compared more broadly to the community so that they can really see where there might be gaps within their own organization. That is on a regular cycle. I'm embarrassed to say that the exact cycle is escaping me now. I believe it's on a quarterly basis but don't quote me on that. What it has resulted in our leaders are asking a lot more questions. A lot more questions around why there is gaps, potentially, within their organization and how they can go about addressing those gaps. That's one of the accountability metrics that we have implemented but there's certainly opportunity within different organizations of creating other robust mechanisms and we're certainly looking at more robust mechanisms then simply reporting out to our leadership. What we decided to do, and this first year that we've done it, is that last week we announced publicly that we are now committed to diversity, EDI targets, within our work force. That target is that by 2023 our global work force will be represented, by a minimum 50%, and this is not just globally but in the US as well. 50% of representation of under-represented groups. Having a very visible target and a very publicly announced target is certainly a huge motivator for us to say when we are reporting in  2023 we are going to have met and exceeded this goal and there is a lot of momentum around that.    Cindy: That's incredible. I'm curious what advice you might have for individuals who are not in management to try to challenge some barriers that they might experience in their organization. To move the needle on EDI.    Adrian: For individuals not in management, I think that there are two ways to … At first, if you are a member of an under-represented group, recognizing that intersectionality exists and though you may be a member of an under-represented group, privilege doesn't necessarily just attach to white, able bodied, heterosexual cisgender males. It also attaches to people, like myself for instance, and maybe I may identify as a gay man, but I'm still a man and I benefit from the privileges associated with being a man. So understanding that a member of an under-represented group that you do still have privilege and choosing to exercise that privilege in a way that evens the playing field for others. But also speaking out as much as you can, if you have comfort of speaking out, and the best way to speak out is to approach your organizations management to suggest, and I think this is a really easy thing to do regardless of whether you feel you have a voice or not, is to approach your management team with the idea of creating employee resource groups. Employee resource groups have proven to be very effective, particularly with respect to the recruitment and retention of members of under-represented groups. Depending on the organization they don't have to cost a lot of money to establish. They don't have to require a whole lot of resources. What you need are motivated employees who are members of those under-represented groups and support from management and time for them to create those groups. The time is important. It can't be done off the clock. It has to really be built into a portion of their job. I think that, again as a member of an under-represented group, those are easy ways. Low hanging fruit, really, to be engaged in EDI. Then obviously, on the flip side of that is, is talking about allyship. I touched on it briefly. Recognizing you're privileged and acknowledging that others don't have the same the privilege and showing up. Showing up to events. Showing up at meetings. Showing up at discussions around EDI initiatives. Listening carefully to what people have to say to better understand their experience and speaking out, as an ally, when you see or observe things that are problematic or that hold people back. I think that would be recommendation to individuals who are not in management on how they can commit to EDI initiatives. Even if there aren't any formal initiatives within their work place.    Roberto: For a final question, what tips or advice do you have to share with champions of equity diversity inclusion who may be feeling discouraged by the pace of change around them?   Adrian: Don't give up is I think I what I would say. I mentioned early on that I'm the Vice-Chair of the Roundtable Diversity Associations, RODA, and that one of our big initiatives is an annual conference that brings together practitioners of under-represented groups, but it's taking place on December 9 and it's a full day conference. I raise this because the theme of the conference is "Resilience in Challenging Times". I think that this question is something that a lot of people are asking themselves right now. But I think it's reinvigorating and re-empowering people to become engaged and to become vocal. I am seeing that in RODA and I am seeing that within the profession. It is pulling us together in a way that's important for us to be pulled together, and it's underlying for everyone who's involved in the EDI space, that our work is never done. That's there always going to be opportunity for growth. There's always going to be opportunity for education. There's always going to be opportunity for moving the dial even if it may sometimes feel like one step forward two steps back. The point is we still took that step forward and brought a whole lot of people along with us and we're going to take another step forward in the not so distant future and remaining committed to taking that step forward.  Surrounding yourself with people who share those beliefs and who share that commitment can be very empowering and reinvigorating.    Cindy: Adrian, thank you so much for being here with us today and sharing so many gems. For our listeners, if you ever have any questions, comments or ideas for topics and guests please look us up at gowlingwlg.com/diversonomics and get in touch with us. We'd love to hear from you. Also, please make sure to check out the show notes for this episode at diversonomics.com and last, but not least, make to subscribe on Apple podcast, or Spotify, so you don't miss an episode. While you're at it please leave us a review to let us know what you think.    Roberto: You can also follow me on Twitter at @robaburto. Adrian, do you have anything to plug?    Adrian: No. I plugged the conference for those who may, please do push it out to the extent that you can and if it's after the conference there's still an opportunity for folks from the legal profession to become engaged with the Roundtable of Diversity Associations that represents 20 equity seeking legal associations. Which means there are 20 legal equity seeking associations out there that you can become a part of. Look it up. Find out where you fit in and join.    Cindy: And you can follow me on Twitter at @ckoutweets.    Roberto: Diversonomics was presented to you by Gowling WLG, produced by Rachael Reid and edited by Matt Rideout. Thanks for listening.