Nov 19, 2020

EllisDon announces Anti-Racism and Intolerance Leadership group

We have all seen disturbing, racially motivated and sometimes violent events unfolding in the news, on TV, in social media. We may think this doesn’t touch us. We may assume this is only an American problem. When people come to Canada, we celebrate their differences, we welcome their culture. We proudly proclaim that Canada is a cultural mosaic. We may also think that racism doesn’t touch our industry. Construction and the construction services industry employs people from all walks of life, from all trades, it’s a universal language. We might have convinced ourselves that racism wasn’t a problem at EllisDon.

But then nooses started appearing at our job sites.

These deplorable acts of hatred call into question whether or not EllisDon has clearly articulated our position on inclusivity. Now we must. Geoff Smith, President and CEO, EllisDon, has clearly stated that we have zero tolerance for racism; his specific message to any racist working at EllisDon is “Get out now. There is no place for you here.” But we must do more: we must actively endorse inclusivity across our business. We must actively speak out against racism and intolerance of any kind. We must celebrate the diversity of our country, the freedom to celebrate that diversity, and explore and applaud the diversity of our ED workforce.

Most of you will have seen the recent launch of Say No to Anti-Black Racism week, along with our survey to capture each and every ED employee’s view on racism in the workplace. Samuel Ajobo wrote a moving introduction to his team leading the anti-black racist platform: Alliance of Black Employee Experience and Leadership (ABEEL) (article here) He talked about racism as an acquired habit. As children we don’t innately recognize differences in race as negative. We are not born racist. Instead, we have been taught to react with negativity when encountering new cultures, new faces, perhaps anything new. If left unchecked, these feelings can swell into acts of hatred, and the intended message of a noose hanging in a job site is surely an embodiment of hatred. But isn’t this also a sign of fear? Isn’t any racial, religious or gender intolerance an act of fear – fear of differences – fear of the unknown? If intolerance is a learned behaviour, then the root of that behaviour is ignorance, and the first step towards change should be education and outreach.

Eradicating intolerance takes action; it means putting an end to pacifism. We must all assess our words, actions - and take the brave step to actively speak out against intolerance of any kind. I am a white female. It is not enough to think that I am open and inclusive. It is not enough to believe I am helping and this is a sufficient contribution to an inclusive society or workplace. I cannot stand behind the comfort or privilege of being white any longer. I cannot engage, no matter how harmless, in conversations that in any way speak negatively about another race, another human, even if just casual banter (and full disclosure, I have done that…innocently, but shamefully). It’s just not enough to say I’m not a part of the problem.

We must speak up and speak out and not only identify, but celebrate our differences. We must highlight our diversity and actively participate in events that broaden our experiences and exposure to new cultures and new ways of thinking. We must force every single one of us to look critically inwards and ask ourselves how we are contributing to the problem. And most importantly, we must ask ourselves, how we are bravely and purposefully contributing to the solution.

We’ve launched the EllisDon Anti-Racism and Intolerance Leadership group. We will endeavor to build a team here at EllisDon that is focused on Inclusion in our industry, and more specifically here, at EllisDon.Jody Becker, Chief Strategy Officer, Senior Vice President Infrastructure Services & Technology at EllisDon will act as our Executive Sponsor, stressing the importance of Inclusion at the highest levels within the organization.

Inclusion means everyone: no matter your race, your cultural background, your religion, your gender or your sexual orientation – everyone. Our teams will reach out to our communities in which we live, work, build, operate – we will talk to the unions, to our clients, the educators, and most importantly – to all of you. At every level, within every EllisDon business and in every province and city we will create opportunities for growth, education, careers, and friendship.

Sometimes, learning is hard. My experiences and your experiences aren’t the same as everyone else’s, so there is work to do. But when we start to focus on the value of everyone’s experiences, we learn. We are looking for ambitious and eager volunteers to do some heavy lifting, and help spread the word of inclusivity at EllisDon. 

-Jane Chapman, Chair of Anti-Racism and Intolerance group, EllisDon.