Originally published on LinkedIn. Brent Chaters is Accenture Canada’s Managing Director of Marketing Transformation. Accenture ranked No. 2 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.
June 21 is National Indigenous People’s Day, a day to recognize and celebrate the cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.
But it’s also a day to reflect on Canada’s treatment of Indigenous Peoples, which has made its way into the headlines once again with the discovery of the remains of 215 children found at a former residential school in British Columbia late last month.
At the beginning of this month, I encouraged businesses to reflect on how they work with Indigenous communities, people, and talent, to create inclusive environments. I want to continue that dialogue and share Accenture’s journey to creating a culture of inclusivity.
One big first step came in 2016 when Accenture began publishing comprehensive data about its workforce demographics, including Indigenous Peoples. It’s important for us to be transparent so we’re held accountable in our goal of becoming the most inclusive and diverse company in Canada but also helps us better understand more about our people so we can better serve their needs.
We’ve also set ambitious internal workforce representation goals across nine key dimensions of diversity inclusive of gender, race and ethnicity, among other drivers, both for our overall workforce and our senior leaders. One of the unique challenges with collecting demographic data though is the complexity of honoring Indigenous identities. For example, on job applications, Indigenous people may hesitate to self-identify if they don’t have legal status.
But transparency and recruiting efforts are just part of the equation. Inclusion and making sure that all voices are heard is how we learn from each other to create a more equitable workplace. In the past year, we’ve begun our all-people meetings with land acknowledgments and have hosted several internal open forums where our people can share their experiences, vent, decompress and listen with an open heart in a safer space.
Earlier this month I hosted our first open forum focusing on Indigenous Peoples, and later this week we’re holding another across many dimensions including race, gender, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation and religion. I’d say my biggest takeaway from the open forum was that identity in Indigenous communities has become complex due to government regulation and past laws recognizing status. The heritage damage is slowly being worked on, but we have a long way to go, and the impact is still felt across multiple generations. The last residential schools were operating as recently as 1997, so this is very much still “our generation’s” actions that need to be reflected and resolved, and the impact on the mental triggers from past trauma are both real and recent. Giving our people the opportunity to say what’s on their minds in a safer space has been a small step to begin healing.
Another important part of healing is celebrating and sharing Indigenous culture with everyone. This month our Indigenous Peoples Employee Resource Group has partnered with the McCord Museum to offer our people a chance to virtually visit the museum’s “Wearing our Identity” exhibit, so they can discover the importance of clothing in the development, preservation and communication of the social, cultural, political and spiritual identities of Indigenous Peoples. We’re also hosting the Cree Ojibwe Métis performer and educator Chantal Stormsong Chagnon as she shares the history, songs, and stories of her nation centered around the theme of hopefulness. And these events, and others, are open to the whole family, one of the pluses of working and learning from home. Organizations like TD Bank have even been hosting and sponsoring several community events throughout the month, partnering with Indigenous musicians or getting people moving with a Powwow workout class.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the news that September 30th will now be known as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Since 2013, thanks to the efforts of Phyllis Webstad, September 30th has been known as Orange Shirt Day: a day to honor all residential school survivors, their families and those who did not make it home. Now this day will officially be a day of reflection for all and an important step towards Canada’s reconciliation. My family and I look forward to wearing our orange shirts with pride.