Seven grass-roots employee networks, along with the Disability Advisory Council (DAC), were recognized in June 2014 with the Ontario Public Service’s prestigious OPS Amethyst Award in the category of Building a Diverse Organization.
The OPS already is an award-winning employer with a distinguished record for its commitment to diversity, accessibility and inclusion. Among the reasons for this recognition: the many individuals and groups within the OPS who have championed the cause.
The winners of the Amethyst Award have an important role in creating a supportive and inclusive culture in the OPS.
The networks are voluntary, employee-driven associations, organized around shared interests, issues and a common bond or background. Historically, they support under-represented groups in the OPS, helping members work toward more welcoming and equitable workplaces, and greater career opportunities.
Together the networks and DAC form the OPS Diversity Council, a powerful voice within the public service providing valuable insights and recommending solutions to advance the organization’s diversity, accessibility and inclusion journey.
“They show courage, initiating frank and candid discussions with OPS leaders about difficult issues such as systemic barriers, under-employment and under-representation,” says Yvonne Defoe, acting chief officer of Diversity and Accessibility.
The Black Ontario Public Service Employees Network (BOPSers) was one of the first networks established. Chair Cikiah Thomas believes the group has played a vital role in raising awareness and understanding of the “lived” experiences of its black members.
“The recent move by the OPS leadership to champion an anti-racism strategy after lengthy discussions with the BOPSers executive team is cause for optimism. We’re confident that strategy will have substance and tangible outcomes that can be measured and tracked. This will move us further toward the vision of an inclusive OPS that provides equitable non-discriminatory services and employment.”
Nation to Nation, launched in 2010, is comprised of First Nations, Inuit and Métis professionals. Co-chairs Ashley Johnson and Selina Young say winning the Amethyst Award is a major boost for their members and for all the groups.
“The employee networks demonstrate leadership across the organization, having courageous conversations that champion, support and create a more inclusive, engaged culture in our workplace. This award helps reinforce the importance of the networks and the work they do.”
While the OPS Diversity Office requires that employee networks are strategically aligned with the inclusion vision and strategic goals of the broader OPS organization, the networks are free to achieve their own respective vision, goals and objectives. This has provided the opportunity for them to maintain a grassroots approach.
A number of factors make the groups’ contributions particularly valuable.
First, as one of the world’s most diverse jurisdictions, Ontario needs a public service that reflects and responds to its diversity. The groups give members a platform for information sharing, guidance, support and mentoring, as well as a vehicle for interacting with the employer. This, in turn, helps the OPS maintain an environment that attracts and retains a diverse workforce.
Second, current fiscal realities make it crucial that the OPS be able to tap into the collective skills of every one of its members. By increasing employee engagement, the networks are helping employees reach their full potential and become catalysts for increased productivity and strengthened organizational performance.
Finally, the groups are driving the OPS far beyond its legal obligations as set out in the Ontario Human Rights Code and other legislation. As an employer, policymaker and service provider, the OPS believes it has an obligation to lead by example. The networks and DAC provide a model others can emulate to build and sustain diverse, accessible, inclusive and successful organizations.
Together, the networks have helped position the OPS as a public sector leader of diversity and inclusion. Their efforts are supporting the journey toward a barrier-free Ontario by 2025. They are critical change agents, helping to improve service delivery, foster participation in public policy and programs, and ensure the OPS is responsive to the needs of more than 13 million Ontarians.
The Ontario Public Service employee networks
• Black OPS Employees Network
• East Asian Networking Group
• Nation to Nation
• OPS Pride
• OPS South Asian Network
• Tomorrow’s OPS (TOPS)
• Disability Advisory Council (DAC)
Collectively, the networks have over 10,000 members. They are inclusive – any of the OPS’ 63,000 employees can join any network. They offer opportunities for mentoring, networking, professional development and community volunteerism.
Learn more about inclusion initiatives in Inclusion Now!