Jill Zelmanovits is chief executive officer of the Girl Guides of Canada.
When an organization talks about becoming more inclusive, the gap between what you want to achieve and making it happen can be wide and deep. Making progress often starts with small but meaningful changes. This year, we discovered with the launch of our new uniform how a simple shirt can be a powerful statement about your organization’s commitment to inclusion. In addition to our standard T-shirt, our uniform now offers the option of a long-sleeved tunic for girls who prefer more modest dress. This change reflects Guiding as a place where all women and girls are welcome and can feel a sense of belonging. In our journey to become more inclusive, we’ve learned plenty of lessons.
Make inclusion an actual strategic priority
As with many organizational objectives, if you don’t set it up for success, becoming more inclusive won’t gain traction. We were guilty of that – inclusion has been an agenda item over the past few decades, but there was little change in how we operated. In 2018, we made diversity and inclusion a priority in our current strategic plan. Now, we’re more accountable – for making progress, and for being able to measure it and intentionally learn.
Quick wins are great wins
Building a truly inclusive organization isn’t easy. This kind of work takes time and there is a very long ramp-up before things start to shift. You have to change hearts and minds and often long-entrenched ways of doing things. While we’ve been working our way through our more complex goals, we also tackled more short term, achievable items – such as an updated uniform. We’ve also embedded a diversity and inclusion lens in our in-house style guide, literally making sure we’re all on the same page in our language choices. These kinds of quick wins help build momentum and infrastructure for your bigger goals.
Lean in, reach out and listen up
To enact real change, you can’t just check off the consultation box and move on. You’ve got to continually reach out, act on what you hear and lean in with your heart knowing that this work is messy, but meaningful. For us, one of the big pieces of our diversity and inclusion priority is to better understand the experiences of girls in Guiding who identify as Indigenous. We had to be willing to admit to what we don’t know. We are trying to intentionally create a safe space for Indigenous girl members (and Indigenous women volunteers who support them) and to listen and learn how we can better meet their needs. By knowing more and listening often, we now are in a place to deliver on changes so that Guiding is a place where they can truly be who they are.
Look beyond your boardroom and the C-Suite
While we’ve worked really hard in recent years to present an impressive and diverse slate of candidates to our board elections, we’ve also been striving to diversify our overall recruitment, especially at the volunteer level. We want girls in Guiding to be able to connect with women from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences – a broader reflection of women in Canada, who will inspire them and help them soar.
Check your bias and trust your team
Good leaders know their decisions are limited by their own observations, experiences and knowledge. For me, outing my assumptions is a way of being more transparent in my thinking, so that others can challenge my assumptions or biases that are problematic. By starting sentences with “the story I have in my head is …,” I force myself to reveal how I am coming to a decision, opening space for others to bring new perspectives and knowledge. Trust is important here – in high-performing teams and boards, members need to trust each other so space exists where biases can be challenged. The thing is that the story you have in your head is powerful. You need to let it out so your personal biases don’t become barriers.
Girl Guides of Canada has a legacy of providing empowering experiences for girls for more than 110 years. We’re committed to changes – big and small – to reflect and include girls in today’s Canada. We’re making progress and learning a lot about how you build an inclusive community.
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