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Changing PHSA from within

The three new members of PHSA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team are working to ensure equity-deserving voices are heard and that PHSA is a great workplace for everyone.
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When Kathleen Johnson saw the job posting for senior consultant with PHSA's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) team, she stopped in her tracks.

“Because of the way the job description was written, I knew the person behind it was really authentic," says Kathleen, who has experienced racism and sexism throughout her life, and started her own DEI consulting firm in 2020 after George Floyd was murdered in the United States. “I feel like I've done this work forever just by living it, so I've been preparing and hoping for a role like this to come my way for a long time."

The person behind the job description was Melissa Crump, senior director for DEI at PHSA. In building a strong team, Melissa recently hired Kathleen (pictured right above), as well as Rebeca Avendano (pictured middle above) and Stacy Kairu (pictured left above), to support this crucial – and often difficult – work.

As an immigrant from Mexico, who worked with immigrants in previous roles, Rebeca understands the systemic barriers, racism and discrimination that newcomers can face in the workplace and beyond. 

“I know this is going to sound corny, but honestly, this role at PHSA has changed my life," says Rebeca, senior consultant for DEI. “I'm excited about the work I'm doing to make things better for others, and it's a privilege to watch it unfold and grow into something."

Originally from Kenya, Stacy is also an immigrant whose lived experience included racism at a previous workplace. This helped informed her desire to see change.

“I always wanted a full-time role dedicated to DEI, but there are so few organizations that are doing this, that are taking this seriously, and have the resources behind it to have meaningful work come out of it," says Stacy, project coordinator for DEI. “Now I get to come to work and do my passion every day."

Complex and tough – but rewarding – work ahead

The team has been busy planning the roadmap for DEI at PHSA, while developing relationships across departments and programs. As part of their strategic work, they're adding a DEI lens to existing PHSA policies and creating their own DEI policy, reinforcing DEI in hiring and onboarding, creating workshops and training, coaching teams and individuals, and much more.

The team hopes that their work with employees – in partnership with Indigenous Health – contributes to changes in the wider health-care system, in which equity-deserving patients have a history of mistrust.

“As a woman of colour and an immigrant, I don't see many representations of myself in medical books, and people don't know what it's like for me to experience and navigate this complex Canadian health system. That's why I love this work. Change starts from within and has far-reaching effects," says Stacy.

Stacy, Rebeca and Kathleen hope that employees look at the three of them and see people who look like them and can represent them. This is especially important when people feel they don't have the language or the tools to speak for themselves.

“It's a tricky thing to navigate, but I've always seen myself as a voice for people who can't articulate all of their frustrations, or the ways they're trying to navigate life or a workplace," says Kathleen. “It's important to bridge those gaps between what they're experiencing and what leadership knows."

The team knows that DEI work takes time and that it can be physically and emotionally difficult talking about things that aren't easy to talk about. But they're up for the challenge.

“I feel so fortunate to be working with this team, and with PHSA," says Rebeca. “I had imposter syndrome in the first month and wondered if I could do this, and having the confidence to know I can has come from having great coworkers. We have fun, we laugh a lot, and that's important because we're doing really heavy work."

SOURCE: Changing PHSA from within ( )
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