It has been three years since a staff survey revealed the vast majority of employees at Mississauga’s City Hall were white, fewer than one in five members of the City’s leadership team were racialized and just one councillor identified as a visible minority.

In a city where about two-thirds of residents are not white, the mismatch was becoming more and more problematic.

The 2021 survey of City Hall found the municipality does not look like, or share the cultural values of the residents it is supposed to represent.

According to the internal staff survey — which was only completed by 47 percent of employees — at the time, just under 30 percent of staffers were racialized and only 17 percent of the City’s leadership team was non-white. According to the 2021 Census, about 62 percent of Mississauga’s residents identified as a visible minority.

City council had just one racialized member, Dipika Damerla, out of 12, and City Hall’s senior leadership team (commissioners and city manager) was entirely white. The number of racialized members of council has since climbed to three, with Alvin Tedjo and Martin Reid stepping onto council in 2022, and the City’s senior leadership team has since diversified only slightly with the hiring of Commissioner of Corporate Services Raj Seth.

White employees who participated in the survey did not have the same outlook as their racialized colleagues. Reports in 2017 and 2021 showed employees who were part of majority groups in the workplace believed the City was more committed to diversity and inclusion work, compared to contrary views reported by equity-seeking staff. 

The survey revealed only 56.3 percent of Black employees who responded felt the City was committed to diversity and inclusion, while 53.8 percent of Indigenous staff, 53.8 percent of gender non-conforming employees, and 66.8 percent of employees living with a disability felt the City was showing a sustained commitment to equity and inclusion. Meanwhile, 82.3 percent of white employees believed the City was committed to diversity and inclusion, while 79.5 percent of heterosexual staff felt the same.

Three years later, the latest progress report on the City’s equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work — which was kickstarted by the 2021 survey — shows the City is improving its EDI efforts. 

According to the City’s latest progress report on its EDI efforts, the work that has been marked as completed includes launching EDI webpages on Inside Mississauga (an internal employee site) and an external page on the City’s website to provide a centralized resource to both employees and residents on equity initiatives. An employment candidate experience survey was also introduced to gather feedback from those seeking to work at City Hall, with a specific focus on EDI, which the City said will support its efforts “in achieving an inclusive and equitable candidate recruitment experience.”

The City has also implemented an optional e-learning module on foundational EDI practices available to City employees that includes explaining important terms surrounding EDI, describing the need for EDI in Canadian workplaces, explaining the various dimensions of diversity and how they shape attitudes and behaviours, with resources to practice allyship in the workplace. Mandatory training for all employees addresses accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities, a respectful workplace, other critical features of a positive work culture, and Indigenous cultural awareness.  

To improve its hiring efforts, the City has introduced “inclusive recruitment toolkits” into the process.

Andria Barrett, founder of The Diversity Agency and member of the Anti-Racism Advisory Committee with Peel Regional Police, said that while the City of Mississauga is making progress, more needs to be done.

She highlighted several of the City’s initiatives that she has been pleased to see come forward over the past few years, including the launch of five Employee Resource Groups, improved consultation and partnerships with external community groups, the implementation of respectful workplace policies, improved Indigenous cultural awareness, intentional recruiting, and the improvements to accessibility in City spaces. Barrett also acknowledged that while the review of the City’s Asset Naming Policies through an EDI Lens, which staff presented to council in April, may seem insignificant or controversial, it is an important step in reflecting community values.

“There’s lots of check marks,” she told The Pointer. “They’ve created a sustainable plan. I like that what they’re doing doesn’t appear to be performative. It looks like it’s something that’s embedded throughout the organization, and doing it through a corporate-wide manner.”

“I appreciate that they’re not doing things on their own. They’re reaching out to outside groups.”

“It’s something that seems to be woven throughout the entire organization” and that it appears the City has “really taken the feedback that they received in the report from 2021 and are rolling it out.”

Improvement, she said, needs to be seen in the City’s procurement policies, to engage a larger, more diverse base of vendors and suppliers that reflects the business community. Barrett also wants equal pay audits to analyze whether compensation across the entire corporation is equitable. She also noted the importance of analyzing how residents feel and what their experience is like when dealing with local government. 

“How is the community feeling in response to the direction that the city is going?” she asked. “Do you feel like you belong? Do you feel comfortable walking into the library? Do you feel included when you go to Celebration Square? Do you feel included when you go to the museum? How do you feel?”

“The worst thing is to feel like you don’t belong, where you live, where your kids go to school, where you play, where you entertain. You want to feel like you belong.”

Another key effort the City must improve on, she pointed out, is the lack of metrics used to measure progress and compare it to previous data. Barrett said it is hard to comment on whether the City’s recruitment processes are improving without those metrics. 

“Without seeing numbers…we don’t know if they’re trending in an upward direction, if they’re plateauing or if the numbers are actually reversing because we don’t have the metrics to look at,” she explained, adding that even showing incremental statistical changes annually would be helpful and may also lead to higher employee participation. A helpful way to measure data, she highlighted, is through employee surveys (like the 2021 report conducted by the City) or through examining the City’s human resources department. 

“It would be nice if they had surveys that they offered their employees annually,” she said. “I know that they didn’t get 100 percent employee engagement the first time, but if this was something that they offered yearly, and it became something that employees were used to, that would help. Then you can track trends and see if you’re trending in the right direction or in the wrong direction, because without knowing that, you don’t know how to fix something.”

“You need the data to understand, to see the picture. The numbers always tell a story.”

According to the 2023 progress report, the City is measuring the success of the initiatives laid out in its most recent EDI progress report — used as a tool to catalogue the activity across the city — to ensure Mississauga is completing its EDI work. A spokesperson also said the City is measuring employee engagement and demographics in a combined survey every three years. 

“In 2020, the City implemented its first ever Diversity & Inclusion survey and in 2022, we implemented our fist combined Employee Engagement & Demographic survey, both survey results are used to identify issues and ensure we are making progress on creating a diverse and inclusive workplace,” they explained. The next survey is expected to be completed next year.  

The City has also introduced a “job required leader curriculum” which outlines a learning curriculum and course that provides hiring managers with a greater understanding of EDI as it applies to the recruitment process. But without recorded data, it is difficult to back up any success City Hall might point to — something Barrett said is increasingly important in a municipality like Mississauga where diversity among its population is flourishing. 

“If your city is made up of a diverse group of people, your leaders and the employees at City Hall should reflect that, because where are the people being hired from? Hopefully each city is hiring people from within their local city,” she said. “It’s important that the people who live in the city, take public transit in the city, drive on the roads, and support the businesses in that city are reflected within the corporation. It just makes it makes things easier, it makes things stronger, and it fosters a really strong sense of community.”

Through a review of the committee structure for the 2022 to 2026 term, the City has established the Combating Racism Discrimination Hatred Advisory Committee (CRDHAC), meant to define local government work moving forward, after council adopted a recommendation to retire the City’s Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Committee (DIAC), which accomplished little between its creation in 2014 and its recent termination. Frustrated by the lack of action, former mayor Bonnie Crombie previously moved a motion to reform DIAC to improve its mandate, declared racism a crisis and formed a Black Advisory Caucus to steer the mayor’s policies around anti-Black racism. Since its inception in 2023, CRDHAC has met four times and the City’s EDI progress report notes the recommendations from the Black Caucus report to council in 2022 “are well on their way to being implemented.” The work includes establishing the Black Caucus Alliance as a formal organization. A strategy for the implementation of recommendations from the 2022 report and a reporting framework to monitor progress have also been developed. 

Mississauga is also in the process of developing an Anti-Racism Anti-Oppression Strategy to move “the City towards becoming a leading organization on anti-racism and anti-oppression.” It will include all the current EDI practices and projects, produce a six-year action plan from 2024-2030, develop key performance indicators to measure progress, and produce an Equity Lens tool and an Equitable Community Engagement Charter and Implementation Plan. According to the progress report, “This Strategy will address all four key areas of work that define any municipality: As an employer, As a policy maker, As a service provider, As a purchaser of goods and services.”

Five Employee Resource Groups with facilitators and members have been launched. They are at different stages of development but are now officially functional, a City spokesperson explained. The City has also established new partnerships with equity-deserving organizations to attract, hire, and retain talent as part of the commitment to creating a diverse workforce that reflects the communities it serves. 

An Employee Equity Advisory Committee (EEAC) has also been established. The spokesperson confirmed it meets monthly to “provide a space for employees from across the corporation to learn and share their experiences, and to provide input and advice to EDI staff and management.” The spokesperson explained the Committee does not report to council, “as it is an internal-facing group.”  

Acknowledging that many of these measures take time and resources, Barrett told The Pointer the City’s pace so far has been positive. 

“I appreciate that it takes time and money to make all of these changes, but they’ve been listening,” Barrett said. “You can tell after consultations or sessions or reports if people are listening, Mississauga is listening.”

Email: paige.peacock@thepointer.com 

Twitter: @mcpaigepeacock

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By Paige Peacock, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 27, 2024 at 13:07

This item reprinted with permission from   The Pointer   Mississauga, Ontario
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