Transcript: The Power of Taking Action
Joanne John: Welcome to The Power of Taking Action, a podcast on equity, diversity and inclusion. Guests will discuss frankly and openly, share stories and offer what they've learned about unconscious bias, privilege and other barriers to inclusion, as well as what they plan to do to take action within their teams and organizations. Tune in to be part of the conversation.
Joanne John: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Joann John, and I'm inviting you today to a podcast entitled The Power of Taking Action. I'd like to say a little bit about the podcast to begin with and the topic. It's something called "EDI," and I'm sure most of you are familiar with that acronym. So, by now, you know, it means "equity, diversity and inclusion." But not everyone is clear on how these three words take meaning in your day-to-day work life. How do these three concepts show up in your meetings, in your assigning files, in assessment processes and in interview sessions? So today I am joined with guest Natasha Rende and you will meet her in a few minutes. She was a participant in a four-part series that was the brainchild of Monique Ramdin at the School of the Public Service. The participants, including Natasha, had an opportunity to listen to a couple of assistant deputy ministers who came and spoke about their shared experiences. There were conversations about unconscious bias, about privilege, about allyship, and also opportunities for the participants to flex their muscles a little bit with peer-to-peer coaching.
Joanne John: A little bit about me. I am a former senior public servant in the area of communications, and I was engaged by Monique. And together we developed a series and we—and this has culminated in this podcast. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce Natasha, or Natasha will in fact introduce herself. She'll do a much better job than I will. So, I will turn things over to you, Natasha.
Natasha Rende: Oh, that's a lot of pressure, Joanne. Thank you so much. My name is Natasha Rende. I'm a director of Special Projects in the Office for Disability Issues at Employment and Social Development. I was extremely excited to take the pilot course that Joanne just referred to when I saw the message end up in my inbox. So, I was very fortunate to be among a small group of executives who participated in that four-part series. And I did so because I actually am very passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion.
Looking at people or determining that we know things about people because of one characteristic, is something that—it just goes against everything that is important to me, really. Right now, in a professional context, I'm a co-champion for my branch's inclusive workplace committee. So, I am putting into practice, to the extent that I can, my passion for trying to make the workplace as inclusive for everyone as we can. So, you know, I wanted to come here today to speak about the pilot series and really to urge anybody listening to reflect really carefully and ask themselves if they're doing as much as they can—maybe as much as they should be doing—to move the yardstick on diversity, equity and inclusion forward.
Joanne John: You were part of the whole pilot project, Natasha, so you were able to experience all of the areas that I spoke to at the very beginning. What I'd like to find out, though, is what do you think was the most challenging part of the series? Because I'm sure there were some things that were a bit challenging.
Natasha Rende: There were definitely some things that were a bit challenging.
Joanne John: Not just for you, for everybody.
Natasha Rende: So, and I think that's one of the great things about the way the program was designed, that we learned a lot about ourselves as we were going through this course, right? And that's, I think that's exactly what we need to do, that's the intention. For me, and I only say it's challenging because, for somebody who is very—as I think I've used the word impassioned in this space or believes very deeply in diversity, equity and inclusion—it's humbling to find out that, as much progress as we think we've made and as much as we think we know about these issues, there's still so much to do. And so, I only say the word challenging because I think it's a challenge to ourselves to make sure that we're continually improving. And, you know, it really is just one of those continuous development or continuous growth areas where I think about how I look at things differently today or would approach issues differently today than I did even two years ago when I became the branch co-champion of the Inclusive Workplace Committee. And that's because of all of the learning and the experiences that I've had in that intervening period. So, that's what I loved about the pilot course was the fact that we as participants were constantly being challenged.
Joanne John: So, I would, you know, take a leap here maybe and say that this—if you were to then now take some of those learnings back to your own team, into your own sort of workspace, then how do you think, you know, the series has helped you to be more comfortable with some of those challenges and to sort of find your own voice in terms of approaching those subjects with your team.
Natasha Rende: So I think that I've felt comfortable over the course of the last number of years raising issues and being an ally or a sponsor for not even employees of my own team. But I've been approached in in different organizations, or even in this organization, by different employees who have asked me to be their sponsor. It's absolutely a privilege for me to do that, but to be approached, as well, because I think there's a belief that I am sincere when I'm speaking about these issues, that this is something that I actually believe, and that I'm not just using the language or talking about the issue because this is what we're supposed to do now as leaders and we're supposed to champion this cause. So, for me, what the most important thing is to take from your course, or from any of the other courses that I've taken, is to make sure that I'm having those meaningful opportunities to engage with people, particularly with my team, because that's the area in which I'm starting.
But I think it's—even though, you know, it's more than just whether I have my own team, it's about organizational culture as well, right? The way I comport myself when I'm dealing with colleagues or my superiors or just employees in the organization is still important. And I can take these lessons that have been learned and apply them in any kind of a personal or professional setting. And one of the things I really loved about the course was when we were told that we needed to get comfortable being uncomfortable because there were—there are going to be situations where we need to intervene. We need to have a difficult conversation with someone about behaviour or something that was said. And it's not going to be easy, but we have an obligation and a responsibility to our employees, to our team, to the organization to uphold our values and to have that difficult conversation. And one of the things that we had done, that I thought was so useful in that course, was when we worked on coaching. We broke out into groups and we did some peer coaching so that we could practise how we could approach a difficult situation. We were given a scenario and, even though it was a fictional scenario for the purpose of the exercise, it was really relatable. It was without a doubt, something that most of us will encounter at some point in our careers anyway, if we haven't already. And I think having the opportunity to have that conversation with colleagues to prepare yourself, now, that was a fantastic best practice and something that I will make sure that I incorporate into my approach to these kinds of situations. If I need to go and address an issue, I'm going to talk to my colleagues or trusted colleagues—some of the people from the course I will reach out to, I think—so that you have an opportunity to get some input, some advice before going in, and it then makes it a little less uncomfortable. That preparation.
Joanne John: Right, right. That's great. And so, you're talking about, you know, what you can sort of bring back and incorporate in these conversations, whether they're with the team or they're with your colleagues, with your superiors. It is all about being able to be prepared and feeling comfortable about having those conversations or maybe a little uncomfortable, but having them anyway. Any more tools that you can think of that would be useful to be able to incorporate into having those meetings, having those conversations, having, you know, those encounters—you mentioned, you know, taking the peer-to-peer coaching model and using that. Are there any others that you think would be useful not just within your own workspace but within the organization?
Natasha Rende: I feel that we were provided with a number of tools and resources in the course. And some of it, though, was really just a list of questions that we were given about things to consider when we're thinking about whether or not we have privilege. That was a really powerful tool for me to kind of get a bit of perspective and step back and think, "You know, we hear about privilege and I've read about white privilege, but I'm not faced and I don't recognize, on a day-to-day basis, that I am benefiting from privilege."
So, I feel that, as leaders, being given the opportunity to have conversations and engage with people who are going to continue to put these issues at the forefront and make us realize, this isn't, "Okay, great, I've taken this course, I'm checking the box, and now my work here is done, everything's going to be great." I think it's almost the more that we learn, the more that we continue to engage on these subjects, in this space, the more we realize, "Wow, there is never going to be a shortage of things that I need to do, things I need to be more aware of, questions I need to ask." Coming out of this four-session pilot course, I think that might be where it really sank in for me that I need to keep at this regularly.
Joanne John: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Natasha Rende: And I—it's one of those, you know, we always say to employees, "Do you want to take on a stretch assignment? This might be a really good area for you to explore if you're interested in advancing, you need to develop this competence or this area of knowledge." We all need to realize that we have that obligation when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Joanne John: Yes, well, I think during one of the modules I had mentioned that, for me, it was when my son said to me one time, "But Mom, don't you recognize that you're a senior public servant, you're a DG, you're an acting"—at the time I was the acting ADM, and he said, "You are privileged," you know. And he's like—and, you know, because we tend to look at the lens of the privilege of others sometimes, and not necessarily that we might fit into that privilege space ourselves. And when I heard that, you know, it was an opportunity to reflect and think about that, because there are these continuous growth opportunities, I think was the words that you used. And that was certainly, for me, a kind of a, you know, a wake-up in that way because you kind of go through your day-to-day, "Oh, yeah, we're all public servants, we're all senior public servants, we're all the same," you know, and forget that, "Yeah, but we're all in this cadre of pretty privileged people, very privileged employees, you know." So, yeah, I can totally relate to what you're saying.
There was a question that I had, and—I had to think about it a bit myself—and that is what we were talking about, what you would call a human-centred approach to inclusive leadership, and if so, what does that mean to you?
Natasha Rende: Absolutely, I would call this a human-centred approach to leadership. I think that a human-centred, inclusive leadership is about empowerment and developing our employees. And that's—I've always felt that, as the manager, that was my job. My job was to champion my employees. My job was to support my employees and to find out what it is that they need to succeed. When I think about being human-centred, I always have connected best with real people, the people who I could see—who they actually are, whether it's at work or who they are outside of work. Like what is the essence of this person as opposed to just seeing "professional work Joanne," you know? Who's Joanne? And so, my management philosophy has always been, if I'm honest about who I am, and if I can genuinely accept others for who they are, then that philosophy, I think, trickles down. And you create this open environment where people are going to celebrate the successes of others, where people are going to be comfortable sharing difficult experiences. And I have had some of the strongest, happiest and high-producing teams by doing that, by having everybody feel that they're valued members of the team. Everybody is contributing. Everybody's bringing something to the table. And we need to recognize that and empower that.
Joanne John: Mm hmm.
Natasha Rende So, I think human-centred, inclusive leadership is about recognizing what we need to do, it's about being a humble leader, admitting mistakes, admitting we have a lot to learn, asking questions, putting in the effort, and that gets reflected back to us by the employees on the team. I really think that builds a strong, cohesive, healthy unit.
Joanne John: Yes, yes. And I think what I'm hearing you say, too, is, you know, being an authentic leader.
Natasha Rende: A hundred percent.
Joanne John: Yeah. And that's a key piece, because if you—certainly in my experience and I'm sure yours as well and the experience of others—if you are an authentic leader, then you tend to attract authentic colleagues, authentic team members, you know, authentic superiors. And it sort of tends to, you know—I mean, it doesn't always happen. People are people. But that's, you know, a big part of, I think, the experience that we're talking about here.
We've covered, you know, a fair amount of ground here. But I have just maybe one kind of specific question. What do you see as something very kind of tangible that you would like to implement now that you've gone through the series, now that you've had, you know, these reflections? Is there any one or two things that you would like to bring back? You mentioned the peer-to-peer coaching model as one. Anything else?
Natasha Rende: I spoke with my inclusive workplace—one of the co-champions—I spoke with her, I think, two weeks ago and was telling her about this course and shared some of the materials with her and we got quite excited about thinking about, you know, like, we kind of have struggled in finding ways or activities that we could do as the co-champions in the branch. And, you know, to get a sense about what it is that inclusion means to the employees in the branch. With a lot of the materials that I've gotten from the course, some of the—even some of the questions to ask ourselves for reflection or the circle of trust exercise, I think these could be a really good starting point with them, of small lead-off activities that we could do with small groups of employees to start really socializing this idea in a more concrete manner. I think everybody talks about inclusion. Everybody has their own idea. But I'd really like to open the dialogue on a broader basis at the branch level. I really would. I think we need to start advancing that conversation and looking to see, okay, where do we have gaps and what do we need to focus on? Because that's our job as leaders. We need to show that we are dedicated and invested in making improvements, not just in, like, in the organization because we're told we need to, but because we believe it's the right thing to do.
Joanne John: I totally—I'm on side. I think this has been a great conversation. Is there anything else that you would like to say before we sign off?
Natasha Rende: It's not easy to look critically at yourself and your behaviour, maybe some of the things you say, right? And I think we're sometimes in a difficult time where things that we used to say or sayings that used to be mainstream are now changing, perceptions are changing, and some people are having difficulty keeping up. I would just say that it's difficult. It's not only difficult for you, it's difficult for everybody, right? We're in this together. We should be in this together and be open to hearing what people are telling you. Like, if somebody genuinely takes you aside and tries to explain to you why, "You know, Natasha, when you said this expression, it didn't sit well with me and this is why." "Oh, okay. I hear that now and think thank you for telling me." Like, we need to, we really, I think, need to take these things in and respect the person who's telling us, because it's not easy to tell people that either, right?
Joanne John: I think that that's a great message that, you know, a great message to wrap up on. I think you've delivered some good thoughts and ideas and, you know, spoke to quite—you've spoken quite candidly about not only your own personal experiences, but your experience within this series. And I'm just really thankful that you could take the time out of what I know is your busy schedule to come and participate in the podcast.
There will be another podcast in French. It's going to be hosted by Courtney Ammo, whom I think I mentioned was my partner in crime and all of the development of the series. Once again my name is Joanne John, and this has been fantastic. Thank you very much, everyone.
Natasha Rende: Thank you for having me.