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EllisDon’s diversity committee gives employees a powerful boost

Don Wall
EllisDon’s diversity committee gives employees a powerful boost
ELLISDON - EllisDon workers flew the Pride flag at the Pearson building jobsite in Ottawa.

EllisDon flew the Pride flag more prominently than ever at its jobsites across the country in June but that public display was more than matched by a surge of empowerment felt internally by the firm’s LGBTQ2+ employees. 

So say two members of ALLiED (All Inclusive EllisDon), EllisDon’s new employee-led inclusion and diversity committee. ALLiEd was formed last year in the wake of the George Floyd murder and worksite noose incidents and this June was the group’s first Pride Month.

Clarice Medina, a construction co-ordinator at EllisDon’s modular plant in Stoney Creek, Ont. has grown into a leader of the LGBTQ2+ subgroup within ALLiEd and played a key role in organizing educational and entertainment events during Pride Month. The group’s efforts were documented throughout on social media and there was a groundswell of support on EllisDon’s internal employee network.

“After Pride Month, as a member of the community, I felt so much more welcomed, because I saw all of the outpouring of support, and people came in and said ‘this is fantastic, how can I help?’” Medina said. “We ended up getting a lot more volunteers for ALLiED. We had some collaborations with the other diversity groups that we had in the company. It’s fantastic to see that there’s very authentic support within EllisDon where the culture is truly inclusive and diverse and welcoming and accepting.”

EllisDon has flown Pride flags for several years but with the added impetus from ALLiED this Pride Month, new flags were hoisted across the country. ALLiEd developed extensive programming with four major campaigns including one to address anti-LGBTQ2+ graffiti in addition to various social events. Educational programs included airing the movie Stonewall, information on two-spirited people and lessons on inclusive language including pronouns.

“It’s really important that we continue with that message throughout the year with everything that we do, where it’s both celebratory and educational,” said Medina. “One way to connect people is to just have fun, and also encourage them to discuss these topics if they don’t feel comfortable about it.”

ALLiED has two other subgroups, the Alliance of Black Employee and Experience Leadership (ABEEL) team, formed last spring in the aftermath of the Floyd incident, and Together, focusing on gender equality including promoting opportunities and equal pay for women. ALLiED member Jane Chapman, an operations manager out of EllisDon’s Mississauga office, explained that about 75 per cent of the groups’ activities involve internal discussion and support.

While CEO Geoff Smith and head of inclusive diversity Jennifer Khan are fully supportive of the ALLiED initiative, Chapman said, and are prominent in addressing diversity issues at the industry level, ALLiED is employee-focused and not a business-development venture.

“We realized the need to create a grassroots movement within EllisDon based on employee leadership,” said Chapman. “We needed to feel invested, not as though we were being told that we needed to be inclusive, but rather that it was something we wanted to do as individuals.”

ABEEL has developed significant programming and besides Pride Month ALLiED was active during Ramadan and has seized upon Indigenous issues as its next major focus.

EllisDon has extensive reach across the country, Chapman noted: one London-based EllisDon employee who was touched by the London truck attack in June that killed four members of a Muslim family wrote an “incredibly moving” tribute that ALLiED posted, while EllisDon has a worksite across the road from the former Kamloops residential school site in British Columbia so there was a major impact on those workers when the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered. EllisDon has a connected voice when the scourge of residential schools is discussed, she said.

“ALLiED had to figure out where we could focus our energies with the resources we had at the time, and we had a really passionate group of folks out west that are very connected and working with Indigenous communities as part of an outreach. So that’s our focus this year in terms of specific outreach,” said Chapman, noting EllisDon has four apprentice positions posted within the Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta.

Chapman said that external ALLiED communications are monitored by EllisDon’s marketing team but its internal network has become a powerful forum for independent employee expression.

Medina said the messages of support that are now routinely posted are inspiring to the whole ALLiED team.

“I think one of the best messages that we ended up receiving, my favourite one, was, ‘Being yourself is never the wrong thing to do,’” she said. “Just receiving that feedback from people and seeing all the Pride flags come across and seeing people join our events, it was really a touching, touching month.”

SCREEN GRAB – Clarice Medina and Jane Chapman are two members of EllisDon’s growing ALLiED committee. Medina said she was grateful for the outpouring of support that her colleagues offered during Pride Month: “It helped me realize how many people were so kind and supportive and accepting, because in the construction industry, you hear too many stories of people saying, I hesitate to join this group because I heard that they’re not welcoming.”

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