A new workshop as part of Western’s Excellence in Leadership program is helping equip leaders with skills and perspectives to cultivate inclusion on their teams and across campus.
A partnership between Western Human Resources and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), the initiative responds to feedback gathered during consultations for Towards Western at 150, the university’s strategic plan.
“Of all the aspirations voiced by the Western community, the expectation of a more inclusive Western stood out, and progress toward this goal will be foundational to our success.”–from Towards Western at 150, the university’s strategic plan.
“Western is investing in leaders, knowing their engagement in this work is critical to our success in creating a culture of inclusion and belonging,” said Annie Simpson, senior facilitator, leadership development with the Talent, Learning and Engagement team. “We know our leaders have the desire to create inclusive teams and that it takes a lot of learning. It may seem simple, but there’s a lot of complexity, involving people’s lived experiences and multi-layered identities.”
Simpson and Ana Boller, digital learning specialist, EDI, worked together to develop and facilitate the course, which has been completed by 50 Western leaders to date.
Boller said combining Human Resource’s experience in training Western’s leaders and the Office of EDI’s depth of understanding and analysis of EDI practice is a great example of the types of collaboration that enrich and strengthen an inclusive culture on campus.
“It’s been really interesting to work on this together,” Boller said. “We both have that leadership piece and Annie has an incredible passion for EDI. Her background differs from mine, which is also important in the sense of the subject matter. She grew up in London. She is a white cis-gender woman. I didn’t grow up here. I’m an immigrant from Venezuela and a person of colour. My lens is not only from the EDI office, but from my background. Our perspectives were so different, yet we fit everything together to enrich the learning process.”
Case studies, candid discussions
The six-hour training is delivered in two workshops, with a goal to engage leaders in developing their own understanding of EDI and how it links to leadership.
Learning outcomes of the series include:
- Fostering skills that build inclusive teams, where all members know they matter and belong
- Growing a broader understanding of EDI through guided, personal reflection
- Gaining confidence in addressing EDI challenges that may arise
- Sparking an ongoing learning journey about EDI
Key to the course has been the integration of case studies, which prompt brainstorming sessions and meaningful discussions amongst the leaders.
“We’ve been intentional about integrating cases where there isn’t a ‘right’ answer,” Simpson said. “People really have to roll up their sleeves and ask, ‘If this happened on my team, what would I do and what would my thought process be’ and hear how others might approach this situation.”
‘If it’s not uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right’
Another aspect of the course has participants consider their positionality – what it means and how it’s going to have an impact on their relationships with their teams.
“One of the most effective exercises we have people do is position themselves on the wheel of power,” Boller said. “We take the time to reflect on how our identities and intersectionality shape how we view the world and how our teams might have a different view of that wheel of power.”
That can make learning uncomfortable.
“We know it’s hard having the power and acknowledging it. It’s not necessarily fun,” Boller said.
Jennifer Devlin, manager of finance for the departments of anatomy and cell biology and medical biophysics, agrees.
Devlin enrolled in the course looking to become a better ally in advancing change on campus.
“One paper we studied was on white privilege, and being a white cis woman, for me, all those things ring true. It’s about having the ability to sit there with it, be uncomfortable and learn to be an ally by using my privilege to help,” she said.
“I enjoyed this type of workshop and working it through with others. It is uncomfortable. But with true EDI work, if it’s not uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right.”
Personal action plan
The final piece of the training centres on actionable, individual steps leaders can take to advance EDI on their teams.
“We need to be very conscious of the fact that failure or success in EDI rests in the hands of leaders. They model the way,” Boler said. “Their teams look to them. They see we have a mission and a vision, now where is the EDI in all of this?
“Individual actions are the starting point on an ongoing journey and demonstrate an interest and passion and acknowledge the need for diversity and inclusion in their units.”
It’s a concept Devlin has embraced.
“I’ve decided from this workshop that in my biweekly meetings, we’re now going to take 15 minutes and do EDI-D work. I’m going to give them homework every two weeks, whether it be a paper to read or a video to watch, and then we’re going to come back and discuss it. It’s just something small, but we can learn little tidbits that help make us better citizens. It’s just going to be part of our meetings now, and everyone is in absolute agreement,” she said.
Boller said Devlin’s commitment to take consistent action demonstrates what’s required to advance real change.
“I always use this example,” she said. “If you have a goal to either lose weight or get stronger, you decide to go to the gym or workout at home. If you do that just once, that goal will not be achieved. It is the same for EDI. It requires consistency and a lot of work.”
Simpson agrees and applauds Devlin and the other leaders who are willing to invest the time to learn and implement small, lasting changes.
“It is really great for leaders to show up and be vulnerable in this area,” Simpson said. “This is really meaningful work and I’m really grateful to play a role in this and to partner with Ana to develop and deliver this session.”
*The next intake for the Inclusive Leadership program is July 6 and 13, 2023. Register here.