Written by Keanna Kennington, Marketing and Communications Coordinator
Far too often, people with intellectual and physical disabilities are excluded from the conversation when discussing diversity in the workplace. Information from Statistics Canada shows labour market participation for people with disabilities is at least 20% lower than the general population.
Oly Backstrom, President and CEO of SCE Lifeworks, recognizes the importance of celebrating businesses in Manitoba that are paving the way to a more diverse workforce that includes people with disabilities in the conversation. On top of running an organization that works with and supports people living with intellectual disabilities, Backstrom saw the opportunity to commend the businesses that are doing more to support people with disabilities.
In 2018, Backstrom collaborated with Manitoba Supported Employment Network (MSEN) to coordinate an award ceremony that celebrates and recognizes those making a conscious effort to support people with disabilities and give them equal opportunity in the workforce. Thus, the MSEN Diversity Awards were born.
“Part of what we want to do is build a point of reference for businesses so they can see which businesses are doing it well and are being purposeful in hiring people with disabilities,” said Oly.
“On the one hand, we have a historically tight labour market, and on the other hand, Manitobans with disabilities are grossly underrepresented in the workforce.”
Our President and CEO, Loren Remillard, was asked to host the MSEN Awards Ceremony, which awards three Manitoban businesses that went above and beyond in their efforts to support Manitobans with disabilities in the workforce.
“It would be one thing for a business to receive an award from someone like me, an executive director or a service provider, but here’s an opportunity for them to receive the award from Loren, one of Winnipeg’s business leaders and champions,” said Oly.
Loren’s implementation of CODE (Our Commitment to Opportunity, Diversity and Equity) at The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has been a big part of our mission in the last year. The commitment to creating an inclusive society that allows everyone to thrive has left a lasting impact on the community, and this is only the beginning. Through advisory boards, community-wide consultations and public engagement events, CODE continues to work with community organizations and leaders to spark conversation on how the community can implement diversity into their organizations in a meaningful way.
“As a business leader, I recognize the tangible benefits of hiring a diverse team, including individuals with supported employment needs; as an uncle to two incredible nephews with developmental disabilities, I know the depth of talent that is eager to participate if given the opportunity,” said Loren.
“It has been therefore a personal and professional honour to emcee the MSEN Diversity Awards for many years, highlighting the companies and organizations that are leading the way in building an inclusive workplace for all.”
For businesses with 20 or fewer employees, the award went to the Regent Avenue Joey’s Seafood Restaurant, and for businesses with 21-99 employees, the award went to Panda Bear Daycare.
The award for businesses with 100+ employees went to Parian Logistics. They’ve worked with many supportive employment organizations in Manitoba and have hired dozens of Manitobans with disabilities to work in their distribution centre. Within their warehouse, packing areas, and call centre, 32% of their workforce identifies with having a disability. The Parian team has made it a mission to make sure they have a diverse workforce, and for them, it all starts with the hiring process.
“For many of the people we support, people with intellectual disabilities, their strength may not be telling you what they can do well through an interview, but they often are great at showing you what they can do,” said Backstrom.
Parian Logistics is an excellent example of including people with disabilities in the conversation of diversity in the workforce.
For Backstrom, the MSEN Diversity Awards is meaningful because it celebrates inclusive employers, creating excellent examples for other businesses in the community to be purposeful about hiring people with disabilities. Not only that, but it also sheds light on the significant contributions that people with disabilities make in the workforce.
“Many employers who win the awards will say ‘I shouldn’t be getting an award for doing this. We’re doing what we should be doing,’ and I love that and agree,” said Oly. “I look forward to that day where we no longer have to give these awards, but in the meantime, it’s an opportunity to highlight great success stories and continue to build points of reference for other businesses.”
*Photos provided with permission by Oly Backstrom.