It started with a vision of the Ontario Public Service Pride Network (OPN). The OPN is a volunteer, employee network striving to create an inclusive public service with respect to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Intersex, 2-spirited, Queer, Questioning, Straight and Supportive) issues in the workplace. “Being ourselves at work” is the outcome of the OPN’s Positive Space campaign launched in April 2010 across the Ontario public service (OPS).
What is a Positive Space? An individual who is trained as a Positive Space champion creates a welcoming and educational space for all staff through use of Positive Space identifiers and ensures that LGBT employees can speak of their lives without editing or censoring their words; that whatever sexual orientation they are or gender they identify as, they will be welcome and treated equally in the OPS and that there are visible symbols reinforcing the OPS commitment to create an inclusive workplace.
The OPS is the first provincial government to endorse a Positive Space campaign and recognize the linkages between inclusiveness, employee engagement and productivity.
Three Positive Space champions agreed to share their perspectives on the campaign. They are: Neill Kernohan, chief Positive Space champion for the OPS and manager, Employee Engagement for the Children, Youth and Social Services (CYS) Cluster in the Ministry of CYS; Ellen Waxman, an executive Positive Space champion, and Assistant Deputy Minister of Ontario’s Accessibility Directorate in the Ministry of Community and Social Services and an executive sponsor of the OPN; and Karen Kessler, a manager of the Service Excellence and Business Improvement unit in HROntario, Ministry of Government Services.
What was your impression of the launch and the way the Positive Space campaign was integrated within the work environment?
Kessler: Interest was very high in 2009 when the OPN volunteers facilitated eighteen “Let’s Start with Words” discussions with human resources staff across the province. Turning that session into an innovative e-learning course meant it was flexible and accessible for everyone. Having that course as a prerequisite to the Positive Space training helped me more fully understand the array of words, their meanings and the need to remove the stigma from words like transgender, lesbian, and intersex.
Waxman: It was the right time to launch the Positive Space campaign. The OPN had the perfect convergence of OPS ministries knowing that more needed to be done, the OPS Diversity Office able to offer enhanced support, and employees becoming more aware of the positive impacts of an inclusive organization. The 2009 Employee Engagement survey results indicated that a full 15 percent of respondents did not want to indicate their sexual orientation; that would not be the case if the OPS was a completely safe, tolerant and open-minded environment.
Kernohan: I was impressed with how well the campaign was embraced as the right thing to do. It was an emotional journey for us. As we walked into deputy ministers’ offices, senior management meetings, and finally into the Secretary of the Cabinet’s office, we put ourselves on the line. We shared our dream with all those people and they confirmed it was also their vision.
How has the Positive Space campaign made a difference in the OPS?
Kernohan: We’ve heard from so many of our champions on the difference we’ve made so far, from the mother of a gay son who realized that she was not alone in the workplace, to LGBT people who trust the visible identifiers and are now “out” at the office, to the senior executive who sees the Positive Space campaign as one of the key aspects of their ministry’s Diversity Plan.
Waxman: In addition to the visible impact it is having, the Positive Space campaign is one of the reasons that the OPS has been recognized as one of the Canada’s Best Diversity Employers for the third year. It is a fantastic example of horizontally integrated approaches to collaboration across an organization.
Kessler: I’m more aware of the language I use in the workplace and make efforts to be as inclusive as possible. My team members are paying more attention to their assumptions. At a higher level, I’m inspired by the amount of change that a volunteer organization can create. It has helped me see what is possible in the OPS.
What’s next for the Positive Space campaign?
Kessler: In the past nine months the OPN has trained almost 350 champions throughout the province; that’s impressive! I’d like to see more Positive Space identifiers in OPS offices.
Waxman: We need to share the campaign with other provinces and public sector organizations; put it on Ontario.ca. Until then, we can be reached at: OPSPride@ontario.ca.
Kernohan: We now know that at least one ministry is including Positive Space wording in recruitment ads; this shows the campaign is genuinely inspiring change in the OPS. The Positive Space campaign will continue to evolve and grow because it is meaningful to so many people.
Sue Sneyd is a chief Positive Space champion, former chair of the OPS Pride Network and manager of Youth Programs and Outreach in the Ministry of Government Services.
To become a Positive Space Champion in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), candidates complete two training elements:
- An e-learning course available to all OPS employees at any time – “Let’s Start with Words.” It provides a basic overview of LGBT terminology and the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a pre-requisite course for the Positive Space Champion webinar training
- An interactive webinar facilitated by three volunteer champion trainers and accommodating up to 15 participants. Meeting in a web-based training room and using conversations to examine scenarios that Positive Space champions may be involved with, champions learn about the resources available to them.
The OPN’s Positive Space Campaign and training elements have received two awards:
- Neill Kernohan received the 2010 Pride Toronto Award for Human Rights for his work on the OPN’s Positive Space Campaign
- The Positive Space Campaign team won a 2010 OPS Showcase Ontario Merit Award in the category of employee engagement.