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Exploring careers in the EDI space

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Posted 2021-04-30
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Promoting equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace is a growing priority for many organizations, resulting in a new job category: the EDI practitioner. This emerging field is attracting interest among individuals who are drawn to the work of supporting historically marginalized and under-represented groups and creating a more equitable and inclusive society.

In response to student interest in the EDI movement, the UBC Sauder School of Business recently invited a panel of EDI experts to discuss career opportunities in this space. BCom students Folukè Ogunyannwo (she/her) and Ky Sargeant (she/her) and MBA student Lucas Giareta (he/his), in partnership with the Hari B. Varshney Business Career Centre, co-hosted the online event. Here are some highlights from the conversation.

Celebrating a growth mindset

Kathy Kwon (she/her)

EDI Manager, Bench Accounting

“We experienced a tipping point at Bench last summer during the Black Lives Matter protests,” says Kathy Kwon, the EDI Manager for Bench Accounting in Vancouver. “As the company’s first EDI hire, it was incredible to see how the startup culture coupled with highly motivated senior leaders enabled rapid change and the adoption of new, more equitable ways of doing across the company.”

According to Kwon, all leaders at Bench Accounting are responsible for identifying and dismantling systems of racism and discrimination throughout the workplace, and building more inclusive ones.

“Every quarter, our executive and senior leaders generate new commitments to integrate EDI into the way we run our business units and lead our teams. We also meet monthly for updates and engage in retrospective conversations. Supporting our leaders along the learning curve is one of the best parts of my job.

Turning a big ship

Seema Bakthula (she/her)

Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Lightspeed HQ

“A lot of people are leaning into their own education these days and a lot of leaders are pushing for change,” says Seema Bakthula, who recently she accepted a leadership role at Lightspeed HQ as Director, Diversity Equity and Inclusion following a career at Rogers Communications as Senior Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager.

“EDI is a journey and everyone is on a different point in their learning, so moving quickly can be a challenge. While more and more companies are developing EDI commitments, unfortunately many companies and leaders still view EDI as a “nice to have” rather than the extremely urgent priority that it is. That’s the biggest challenge for EDI professionals. EDI takes constant commitment and it’s up to us to keep trying to hold leaders accountable.”

“You don’t need to have the title to start doing the work.”

Gaby Jordão (she/her) – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager, Hootsuite

Leveling the playing field

Dmitri Stupak (he/him)

Inclusion Recruiter, IBM North America

From a very young age, Dmitri Stupak felt compelled to fight for the protection of vulnerable people. Today, as a leading EDI advocate at IBM North America, he works to ensure employees are on equal footing and treated with the respect they deserve.

“Professionally, when you want to balance the playing field, in any company, there are people that are going to be pushed down and there are people that are going to be raised up. So, for the people that have been in power for a long time, they may not be as privileged as they used to be and they’re going to fight against it.”

Stupak says in addition to practicing resilience, EDI specialists must also be strategic thinkers and persuasive communicators.

“This role requires a lot of problem solving and out-of-the-box thinking. It’s not a traditional role where you are launching some sort of program or developing some sort of software, it’s really more about trying to connect all the dots across the organization. So being able to see the bigger picture and selling people on the opportunities and benefits of EDI programs is central to what we do.”

Practicing EDI wherever you are

Gabriela Jordão (she/her)

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager, Hootsuite

Gaby Jordão has worked as an HR professional in the EDI space since 2014.

“In my experience, once you embark on this journey, you never let it go. At Hootsuite, our leaders are really bold with wanting to affect change, which makes my job easier. If you want to break systemic barriers, you need to be bold and you need to be courageous.”

When asked by a student how to land a career in EDI, Jordão suggested volunteering with a community organization.

“There are many non-profit organizations working to improve the lives of under-represented groups. You can also join an EDI employee resource group at work or start your own—then when a formal position does come along, you’ll have the skills and experience and it will be a smoother transition.”

Growth opportunities

UBC Sauder assistant professor Dr. Rebecca Paluch, whose academic focus includes diversity and inclusion in organizations, was inspired by the dynamic conversation between students and industry experts.

“I was so impressed with the ways that EDI practitioners are rising to the challenges of today’s complex and diverse work environment and creating real change in their organizations, says Paluch. “I think the underlying message from all the practitioners was that students should take charge of their career paths, especially when there doesn’t seem to be one already carved out for them. Doing so can lead to a truly fulfilling and meaningful career with real impact in organizations and on society.”