“Equity, diversity and inclusion in freight transportation: a panel discussion” was presented virtually March 1, 2022, by the Smart Freight Centre Freight Leaders Series, co-sponsored by Mobility Network and UT-ITE.
Inspired by the desire to create an equal and inclusive work environment where individual differences are valued, many government and private sector organizations have initiated practices to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion.
To provide examples of such initiatives in practice, Sophia Sniegowski Begidzhanov (The Musket Transport Ltd. and CHET – Commercial Heavy Equipment Training Ltd.), Melissa Magder (Region of Peel), and Rebecca Wellum (Geotab) came together with moderator Alia Galal (U of T) to discuss some of the initiatives that their organizations have put in place to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion. The panelists also talked about the outcomes they have observed, as well as the challenges their organizations have faced along the way.
Melissa Madger is the Advisor of Strategic Initiatives within the Office of Culture and Inclusion at the Region of Peel. She has been working in the field of diversity, inclusion and equity for the past 12 years, driven by a desire to create a strongly inclusive environment.
Madger reflected on how the importance of her work and the conversations surrounding EDI have evolved, especially since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd shone a light on the importance of this work and the need to understand and address the underlying issues.
“It seems to be much more normalized right now, where we sit in 2022, but this [EDI] work has been happening for a number of years.”
Data is critical for any organization to understand and tackle issues. Madger identified two initiatives the Region of Peel used to gather data: a workforce census and a “Courageous Conversations” discussion group series for black employees.
The workforce census was an employee survey that collected demographic information and details of workplace experiences. Magder reported that, on average, 30% of employees said that they experienced racism or discrimination in the past three years.
Following the George Floyd murder in May of 2020 and subsequent events, the Region of Peel organized Courageous Conversations, a series of seven sessions open to black employees to provide them with a safe place to share their experiences with racism and discrimination with seven organizational leaders. About these sessions, Magder said:
“There were tears. There were cracked voices. There were people openly scared that they were jeopardizing their employment by being so transparent. And the reaction from those seven leaders of the organization — to say they were floored is an understatement.”
She recounted the sessions as an emotional experience that was well-received by the participants. The Region of Peel continued this initiative and expanded it to include all dimensions of diversity for all staff.
The data that came from these initiatives was developed into a set of EDI recommendations that the Region of Peel will implement.
She explained that after the events of George Floyd, the investment sector pushed hard to require companies that report on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), diversity, and sustainability and to provide audited results. Essentially, socially conscious and responsible investors want to invest in companies that have the same values, and they want the companies to document their commitment to those values.
Wellum discussed the challenge, with a family-owned corporation like Geotab, to increase diversity in the upper levels of management. She decided to initiate measures to gather data and goals for the company. One of these was data gathering through the employee onboarding process. Another was setting up pipelines to encourage more individuals in priority under-represented groups into the STEM field using external partnerships.
“Where we’re at right now, is we’re focused on these pipelines, understanding what we can do through external partnerships to push more folks who meet those priority under-represented groups for us, into STEM education, STEM careers, STEM passion. And that will help us, to help fuel the freight and logistics industry, to go further into their environmental, sustainable goals – with diversity a part of it.”
Geotab participates in Canada’s 50-30 Challenge, a goal-setting framework to accelerate diversity actions in the organization to improve equity and diversity.
Sophia Sniegowski Begidzhanov is the Corporate Communications Officer of The Musket Transport Ltd. & CHET (Commercial Heavy Equipment Training Ltd). She represented two companies that share a unique relationship: The Musket Transport Ltd. is a private company employing commercial drivers; and CHET is a private career college that trains and certifies commercial drivers.
Female truck drivers are the main target group for their industry, said Begidzhanov, explaining that it is rare to see women employed in this field. She reported that Musket has 2.3% female drivers, which is a low percentage statistically but very high compared to the industry average.
Begidzhanov mentioned several initiatives undertaken by Musket/CHET:
- Creating scholarships for women drivers at their training college
- Rebranding marketing materials with more female representation
- Taking a multi-channel approach to showcase the existing workforce diversity
- Approaching each diversity focus independently
- Investigating the current employee base to ascertain the issues most important to them.
She also talked about a recent initiative that appealed to their senior drivers, the majority of whom are part of the Slavic community. The company committed to support Ukrainian refugees with funding, subsidized training, and subsequent employment opportunities.
“I think that it’s really important to not just think about the long-term demographic groups that you have in mind, but to also respond in real-time to the needs of your immediate community. And then to also consider what are the important subjects or concerns of your existing employees, so that they are being heard and supported.”