By Sandy Gough

<span”>Diversity, inclusion and passion were front and center at the IABC Calgary event last Thursday. Rachel Wade and Kerilee Snatenchuk from ATB Financial shared their story of developing an award-winning communications project in Diversity and Inclusion: A Communicator’s Guide. While they set their sights on producing an award-worthy project from the beginning, it was clear that getting the approach to this daunting topic right and making a real difference for their organization were more important.

Recent studies have shown that implementing a successful diversity and inclusion initiative can have a positive effect on revenue and employee satisfaction. Rachel pointed out that employees are “more engaged and productive if they can bring themselves to work and aren’t under pressure to fit in, and customers are more likely to trust your organization if they can see themselves reflected in it.”

Our wonderful guest presenters from ATB Financial (L-R) Rachel Wade and Kerilee Snatenchuk

Sounds good, but where do you start? With trust, thoughtful discussion, lots of feedback, and support from senior executives.

The first phase of the initiative was working with executives and team leaders to get buy in. The key turned out to be using data to counteract assumptions. Perceptions can be very different from reality. Comparing data about diversity in Alberta to diversity at ATB provided some aha moments for the leadership team. It also pointed out that diversity and inclusion apply across the board. It doesn’t just mean having a woman on the committee, it means taking intentional action to ensure that everyone is respected and included at all levels of the organization.

Through employee engagement surveys, Rachel and Kerilee identified five underrepresented groups at ATB:

  • Women in leadership
  • Visible minorities in leadership
  • Indigenous people
  • Persons with disabilities, and
  • Members of the LGBT community.

Rachel and Kerilee had their own aha moment when they realized they needed to include Allies to bring everyone on board. Allies are team members who don’t self-identify with one of the target groups but who support taking action on diversity and inclusion.

Event participants look over some of ATB Financial’s internal communication tools

One of the highlights of the evening was seeing some of the internal communications tools they produced to stimulate conversations between team leaders and team members throughout ATB Financial. These materials also stimulated conversations among the 72 communicators who braved the snowstorm to attend the event at Wurst. Colourful examples of the “What’s your story?” mailer and sets of diversity and inclusion pamphlets were scattered across the tables.

The six pamphlets featured a face and a symbol representing the identified group, but they did not feature the usual corporate “happy talk” about diversity.

Instead, each one included an honest quote from an ATB team member who self-identified as a member of the group, a pair of statistics comparing diversity in Alberta with diversity at ATB for that group, and a set of points that outlined what ATB and its team members were doing to improve performance on diversity and inclusion for that group.

Another key part of the initiative was a digital flip book that featured stories gathered from ATB team members about their experiences – good and bad – with diversity and inclusion. These stories were submitted anonymously using the “What’s your story?” mailer. The decision to gather stories on paper rather than by a digital link was intentional. Rachel and Kerilee knew that ATB team members would feel safer if they could write their stores down, seal up the mailer, and send it directly to Kerilee, who read every one.

Kerilee and Rachel with Sharon Lee, VP for IABC/Calgary

That level of attention to the human element was evident throughout the project. They went through several rounds of feedback from the groups involved and external resources, such as First Nations representatives, to be sure they got the images and symbols used to represent each group right. Rachel and Kerilee didn’t stop at good enough, but used their passion and commitment to the project to push through resistance and produce something their team could be proud of. It’s easy to see why this project won a Gold Quill Award in 2017.

It was also easy to see why this presentation engaged the audience. Many local communicators are dealing with issues of diversity and inclusion in their own lives or at their workplaces. The questions from the audience after the session were thoughtful and, in some cases, challenging. The event sparked a flurry of social media posts on Twitter and Instagram (#IABCdiversity). Clearly this is a hot topic for local communicators.

Alisha Edgelow, Will Tigley, Erin Fahey and Natasha Cousin at the busy registration desk

If you’re planning to attend the 2018 IABC World Conference in Montreal, June 3 to 6, check out Rachel and Kerilee’s session, Successfully navigating the path of diversity and inclusion communication on June 4.

Thanks to Rachel and Kerilee for their time and insights on this timely topic. Also thanks to the IABC events team for organizing this session: Erin Fahey and Julie Duncan, Co-Directors Professional Development (Events); Natasha Cousin and Alisha Edgelow who helped out on the registration desk; and Sharon Lee, VP for IABC/Calgary, who gave the executive welcome.

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