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OAA establishes equity, diversity and inclusion education program

Dan O'Reilly
OAA establishes equity, diversity and inclusion education program

In what could be a first for any architectural regulatory body in Canada, the Ontario Association of Architects introduced a mandatory equity, diversity, and inclusion education program earlier this year.

Delivered by Turner Consulting Inc., the program is comprised of a set of three independent one-hour education webinars—although members only need to take one to earn a continuing education credit.

Specifically tailored to meet the requirements of the architectural profession, the webinars include one titled Understanding and Minimizing Unconscious Bias in the Hiring Process. The speaker is Turner Consulting owner and principal consultant Tana Turner, a researcher, consultant, and social justice advocate. She is also conducting a seminar on The Business Case for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

The third webinar is on Human Rights in the Workplace and the speaker is Brenda James, a senior practitioner in human resources and employment equity for the past three decades and a former federal government public servant.

Asked to provide a brief outline of the objectives of each, Turner explained that Human Rights in the Workplace covers the obligations of employers and employees under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Understanding and Minimizing Unconscious Bias in the Hiring Process will be of particular relevance to small practices with small or no human resources departments.

As for the business case webinar, Turner notes some firms may understand that addressing the issues of equity, diversion and inclusion is: “the right thing to do, but not necessarily the smart thing to do.”

In a province as diverse as Ontario, it just makes business sense to capitalize on the talents and skill sets of all potential employees, she points out.

Offered every two weeks, the webinars have been attracting a large audience. One webinar peaked at 400 viewers, says Turner.

Every licensed member, and that includes all of the province’s architects, non-practising architects, and licensed technologists, must take one of the webinars before June 30 of next year.

“Participating in all three would be even more valuable,”  says OAA president and Toronto architect Susan Speigel.

A 2019 membership survey which revealed that 30 per cent of respondents had experienced harassment and bias in the workplace was the genesis for creating the seminars, says Speigel.

“This number wasn’t specific to any gender or any one factor. The issues ran the full spectrum of possibilities from gender bias and sexual harassment, to race and religion, and age and appearance biases.”

Similar concerns about discrimination were further shared by participants in the OAA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Roundtables in late 2020. Examples ranged from aggression to outright harassment, to differences in how people were treated with respect to career advancement or salary, she says.

As the OAA’s mandate involves regulating the practice of architecture in Ontario to protect the public interest, it has a duty to investigate disgraceful, dishonourable, or unprofessional conduct that may contravene the Architects Act.

But it can only investigate known incidents, and most harassment and discrimination go unreported because of fears “over potential backlash”.

However, one of the ways is trying to address equity, diversity, and inclusion imbalance in the architecture profession is this new requirement for its continuing education program, she says.

As for how the courses were created, Speigel explains that OAA staff was instructed to search for an educational provider in October 2020 and that search eventually led to signing an agreement with Turner Consulting this past May. The first webinars were launched in June.

Since each session has live question and answer periods, the information disseminated becomes shaped towards the needs of the architecture profession, she says.

Approximately 25 per cent of the OAA membership has met the requirement for participating in at least one hour of the accredited programming. More than 10 webinars have been conducted, with more than 1,200 registrations.

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