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EllisDon committee pioneers new LGBT+ benefits policies

Don Wall
EllisDon committee pioneers new LGBT+ benefits policies
ELLISDON — EllisDon workers fly a PEACE banner during last year’s Toronto Pride parade.

The tiny but determined LGBT+ community within Canada’s construction sector has identified new frontiers to conquer after taking small steps in recent years to gain initial traction in workplaces, says an EllisDon employee who is a pioneer in the movement.

Dustin Victor of Kamloops, B.C., a quality co-ordinator on major hospital projects in recent years, has worked in the industry for over two decades, first in a family-owned business and then EllisDon.

Last year, EllisDon launched a new employee-led group called PEACE (Proud Employees for Allyship, Community and Education) and Victor said the group realized it had to take “baby steps” to find its way in those early days, with such initial modest efforts as co-ordinating Pride parade efforts.

A year later, among a range of initiatives, PEACE is leading the industry with its development of a new Gender Affirmation Policy and a Gender Affirmation Plan that are establishing new benchmarks for formal HR recognition of equity for gender-diverse and trans workers. The plan provides a roadmap for individuals to express their gender identity in a way authentic to them, including the necessary medical, psychological and social support for a gender transition. 


Significant progress reported

PEACE emerged from a broader group at EllisDon called ALLIED last year but Victor said leadership on LGBT issues within ALLIED dates back a few years.

Overall, there has been significant progress, he said.

“This year’s been great,” said Victor. “There’s way more people involved.

“In the three years that we’ve been doing this, it’s huge, significant change. What’s going on at the construction site, whether it be language, whether it be graffiti, your workplace culture, safety, sense of belonging, it definitely has improved a lot.”

According to a 2023 report from the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC), 2S/LGBTQ+ populations in the trades in Canada: Exploratory insights, only 1.3 per cent of people within the construction industry identify as belonging to the LGBT+ community.

That report found perceptions of construction as unsafe or unwelcoming, stereotypes about who “fits” in the trades, and toxic masculinity.

“Once in the workplace, microaggressions, homo-, bi-, or transphobic language, bullying, physical violence, sexualization or sexual harassment, and a lack of management support,” were all reported in the SRDC survey.

“We often focus on the physical safety within construction, but we also need to be aware of psychological safety and the sense of belonging,” said Victor, noting one large jobsite he worked on was plagued by homophobic graffiti, bullying and harassment.

In response EllisDon launched a “take back the graffiti” campaign, Victor said, which included a template for people within the company to send messages of support, artwork and awareness.

“In the three years that I’ve been on the project since, I’ve not noticed any sort of homophobic graffiti.”

Victor cited a long list of positive steps taken by EllisDon in recent years to make the workplace a more inclusive place.

As an example, EllisDon has long had quality and safety pledges but it now has an inclusive diversity pledge that extends to all the subtrades on a site.

That pledge has had a “huge, huge impact,” said Victor.

In developing its gender affirmation program, PEACE found that a procedure as simple as a name change can be quite complicated, Victor said, and in addition there are tax implications, professional certificates to change and much more.

New policies are already part of the EllisDon employee handbook and the next stage, to incorporate those policies into actionable plans, is underway, said Victor.


Controlling your own process

“There’s quite a bit to it, but the policy basically shows that we have created a structure,” he explained, that “allows the person who is transitioning or gender diverse to control their own process.”

A gender affirmation company from Calgary, Terra Firma, is assisting as EllisDon wades through such issues as providing gender affirmation coverage through its health care providers.

Another 2023 survey, Deloitte’s Global 2023 LGBT+ Inclusion @ Work report, found while the vast majority of respondents think it is important to be able to be out at work, less than half feel comfortable being open about their sexual orientation (43 per cent) or gender identity (47 per cent).

EllisDon benefits from being an employee-owned company, Victor said, supported by a progressive attitude from management. The environment tends to create a setting where all employees can be their authentic selves without fear of retribution, he said.

“It opens up a side of them that allows them to express their interests, their diverse perspectives.”

Follow the author on X/Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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