Whitchurch-Stouffville moves forward with plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion

Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A four-month collaboration has given Whitchurch-Stouffville a framework to build diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE and I) into its municipal and community culture.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion is something that not only impacts us on a personal level but, of course, on a professional and governmental level as well,” said Jessica Cryer, partner of Customer Service Professionals Network (CSPN) at the Sept.21 Council meeting.

CSPN engaged with a DE and I project team, plus representatives from the Leisure and Community Services department, human resources, and corporate communications to develop the strategy and plan.

Consultation with town staff, members of council, community groups, and residents through various surveys, interviews, and focus groups, provided feedback to guide the effort.

The strategy and implementation plan was built on the concept that the municipality is responsible for the quality of life of its residents.

As a foundation for change, CSPN recommended diversifying the town’s staff and management to be more representative of the community.

By bringing in multiple perspectives, there is a deepened understanding of the various perspectives within the community groups, plus an overall increase in employee satisfaction and engagement.

The design of the DE and I Strategy and Implementation Plan included an internal assessment of town employees and a community assessment of residents and community groups. Surveys, interviews, and focus groups were among the tools used to gather feedback.

The internal staff assessment found that without a formal DE and I mandate, there is room for improvement and growth.

Among the suggestions were expanded effort and investment in DE and I initiatives, improved equity and representation, enhanced recruitment and retention practices, and formalized evaluation of DE and I practices.

CSPN consultant Jenelle McCulloch confirmed that better education, awareness, and training were cited by several employees as priorities, with several expressing uncertainty about how to handle certain situations when dealing with the increasingly diverse needs of community members.

Community feedback outlined needs for better awareness of DE and I priorities and initiatives, expanded supports and creation of more safe spaces for youth, and improved representation for under-represented groups through leadership and events.

A lack of affordable housing, inadequate public transit options, and limited physical access to buildings were accessibility concerns cited.

Approximately 30 per cent of residents also reported experiencing discrimination.

Education and awareness, improved delivery of inclusive and equitable services, increasing representation of diverse perspectives, and fostering belonging among Town staff and the community are commitments outlined in the DE and I strategy.

Central to the strategy and plan is the Town’s governance of DE and I initiatives going forward.

Currently, DE and I is a portfolio within the Leisure and Community Services Department and is decentralized among multiple roles.

CSPN suggests the transition to a “strategic focus role” to ensure the alignment of the DE and I strategy with organizational priorities. The creation of a DE and I resource group is also recommended.

“What we wanted to do is provide the foundation for DE and I for the town to increase its awareness and then go from transformation and engagement to ultimately the sustaining phase,” said McCulloch.

“We are a growing and diverse community,” Ward 6 Councillor Sue Sherban said. “We need to recognize that and be frontline in helping (everyone) to feel welcome.”

Council motioned to approve the DE and I Strategy and Implementation Plan in principle.

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