Diversity, Equity And Inclusion: Moving Toward The Light

by Janice Sutton

At this stage in our evolution towards a more diverse, equitable and inclusive industry, we can all agree that DEI is a critical priority for the long-term success of member contractors and the construction industry as a whole. Businesses with a diverse team and an inclusive workplace are more successful and better equipped for the future.

In practical terms, what does a culture that reflects diversity in all people, equity in all practices and inclusion in all aspects look like? Where real, sustainable DEI exists, a company’s recruitment and promotion processes, leadership and supervision practices, language, and all functions are free of bias and prejudice. Imagine that.

The fall 2022 issue of the Ontario Electrical Contractor Magazine had a timely focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. In the Spring 2023 issue, the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario (ECAO) revisited the subject with Ticha Albino (they/them), Human Rights Business Representative for IBEW Local 353, union activist and electrician.

Ticha Albino
Ticha wiring a 230,000V transformer panel.

While recognizing that there is much more that we can—and will—do, ECAO is proud of the commitment we’ve made towards a more inclusive and equitable construction industry here in Ontario. In 2021, we established a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee with a mandate to educate and provide resources on the topic of DEI to member contractors. Committee representation comprises a broad range of industry professionals who bring DEI experience, enthusiasm and expertise to the table—including Ticha themself.

A significant initiative of the Advisory Committee in 2022 was the launch of diversity and inclusion leadership training led by speaker, author, educator and former NFL player Alex Willis. Over the ensuing 12 months, local union and management leadership and staff completed six training modules focused on DEI, and participants expressed the significant impact of Alex’s teaching on their approach to DEI in the workplace.

We spoke with Ticha to gather their insights into the current state of DEI in the Ontario construction industry, particularly as it relates to their participation as advisor for ECAO’s DEI Committee. Ticha believes that we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to DEI—that the new generation of apprentices have less tolerance for bias of any kind and expectations of a safe, accepting and engaging workplace; that leadership buy-in is occurring on both the contractor and union sides; and that awareness and understanding of equity and inclusion are finally beginning to take a toehold across employee groups.

At the same time, Ticha, whose personal experiences and jobsite observations of bias inform their perspectives on the criticality of this cultural change, knows that the light is still a distance away.

Ticha sees ECAO’s DEI Committee as a strong beginning in the long-term efforts to enable and support sustainable cultural change among our member contractors. “The DEI Committee has been—and continues to be—important [in] getting our entire industry and community on board with culture change that is beneficial to all. Bringing in Alex Willis and making his impactful DEI education available to members was huge. When you help people’s mental health, you help productivity, efficiency, morale and, ultimately, the financial health of employers.”

With the recently announced change in chairmanship to ECAO’s Anthony Tofano and the addition of representation from the IBEW CCO in James Barry, the DEI Committee is poised for an energetic new start, and Ticha has ideas. “I’d like to see a collaboration of contractors and union on programs like  ‘Be More Than a Bystander,’ a  training program course that has been transformational inside organizations in Western Canada where it got its start,” Ticha said. “Additionally, policies among construction employers and trade unions must evolve, and there must be repercussions for behaviours not in keeping with DEI practices. The Occupational Health and Safety Act already lays out the structure for identifying, investigating and addressing infractions, but we need more buy-in and oversight. As a Committee, we can help with that.”

In October 2022, ECAO became a signatory to the Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC) Leadership Accord on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and we were proud to state that we denounce all forms of bias and hate and commit to developing and nurturing a diverse, inclusive and equitable community of individuals dedicated to safely and collaboratively serving customers and our communities.

Unlike many Electricians, Ticha didn’t come to the trade right out of high school but after a university education and many years of employment in a range of occupations, including several years as a volunteer firefighter as well as military training. As a new Electrical Apprentice at the age of 40, they understood the importance of learning on the job every day. “Another opportunity to create a sustainable shift in attitudes and behaviours is through a change in the way people are apprenticed,” Ticha stated. “Being paired up with a skilled mentor and learning every day, understanding what constitutes appropriate and acceptable behaviour and the repercussions of not adhering to those standards, and greater collaboration between contractors and the IBEW will all help change workplaces for the better.”

Courageous and committed advocates for change like Ticha are critical to the sustainability and health of employers and employees alike. At ECAO, we’ve made it our business to actively seek out and advocate for partnerships that position us to help our members explore alternative resources for recruitment, such as Indigenous centres and marginalized communities. These partnerships are increasingly critical to accessing a sufficient and skilled workforce to meet the needs of Ontario’s growing and evolving construction industry.

ECAO’s DEI Committee invites applications for new members. Applicants must be an ECAO member or member representative who has demonstrated knowledge of diversity, equity, and inclusion and must be able to build meaningful relationships and connections within the industry. We invite qualified applicants to contact Kamakshi Ahluwalia at kahluwalia@ecao.org.

This article was also published in Volume 61, Issue 1 of The Ontario Electrical Contractor Quarterly Magazine, produced by ECAO.

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