Linda Rosencrance
Contributing Writer

Carolyn Levy on how Canadian IT leaders can build and embrace diversity and inclusion

Jul 11, 2022
Diversity and InclusionIT Leadership

The chief diversity officer of Randstad Canada talks about establishing or retrofitting a working environment fit for the long term.

Credit: Randstad Canada

There are no easy solutions when it comes to creating diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. Creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace comes with many challenges – and requires a nuanced approach that might not play well with existing blunt and outdated mechanisms.

To be successful in this space, companies are often faced with ensuring entire workforces comply with corporate directives while developing and nurturing cultures of inclusion, belonging, and respect.

[ Lisez la version française : « Comment les dirigeants canadiens des TI peuvent favoriser la diversité et l’inclusion » ]

While there are many pitfalls when it comes to hiring a diverse workforce, it can be done if you take a structured approach, says Carolyn Levy, group president of staffing and recruitment agency Randstad Technologies.

“A challenge that we’ve had is just making sure that our journey has D&I really embedded into our organization from all aspects, [including] what we do with recruitment,” says Levy, who also acts as chief diversity officer for Randstad Canada.

“We’re able to reach different marginalized communities and work to represent the community that we serve.”

Reaching out to the community

Reaching out to and gaining awareness of the communities around a company can be a great way to start.

For example, in collaboration with representatives from local Indigenous friendship centers, both Randstad’s IT Solutions and D&I divisions developed an internship program specifically geared towards Indigenous communities.

The Randstad IT Solutions Indigenous Internship Program offers guided work experience for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students who want to explore careers in IT-related fields. The program consists of three months of training and work experience with the Randstad IT Solutions team followed by a mentorship program.

In addition, Randstad Canada is working with several organizations to recruit and retrain women interested in working in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

“I love it because [these organizations] help us and we help them break the stereotypes that little girls shouldn’t be doing engineering and science,” Levy says. “And we do things like highlight the successful journeys of female role models because it’s so incredibly important for women who are in senior positions or in the field to share their journeys.

“One of these women, for instance, is Farah Alibay, a Canadian senior systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and part of the team that pilots the Perseverance rover on Mars.”

“It’s really cool because we profile these women and say, ‘Hey, come hear this story’ to get little girls to say, ‘I want to do that too,’” Levy says.

Taking personal responsibility

Many executives, including CIOs, don’t realize they have to take personal responsibility for D&I and deliver it take to their executive teams, Levy says.

Organizations’ CMOs, CFOs, and CIOs are really connected in this world of work now, she says, so it’s crucial they have their own buy-in and then help those on their executive teams, who may not understand D&I yet.

“From a statistics standpoint, if you have a diverse leadership team, you attract and retain people in an entirely different way when they can see themselves within the organization because they believe they’re going to be heard,” Levy says.

So, CIOs have to go on their own learning journeys to understand their companies’ D&I initiatives completely.

“CIOs don’t need to ask for a business case about why it’s important to do this and what their responsibilities are,” she says. “Just take a minute, reflect on your own experience, drive action to improve your awareness, and then look for it to happen in your business. Make a business case for how it’s going to happen, not for getting permission for it to happen.”

Rise in demand for IT workers

Although the Canadian IT sector was already hot before the pandemic, the push for organizations to digitize their operations has increased the demand for IT workers. Consequently, companies need to accelerate technology efforts to modernize their IT infrastructures to support remote teams as well as position themselves to succeed in the ways they interact with their customers.

However, the productivity of Canadian companies is being challenged by the scarcity of tech talent and the skills gap, Levy says. That’s why it’s becoming essential for anyone who’s a leader within human capital to use data to make smarter decisions about the talent they’re looking at.

Although Canada has experienced a scarcity of IT talent before, it’s now being increasingly plagued with IT and technology companies looking for talent because they’ve had to change the way they work as a result of the pandemic, according to Levy.

For example, because of the shift to remote and hybrid work, more companies are looking for IT professionals who can support digital technologies.

“Enhanced digital capabilities are absolutely critical because employees and consumers now depend on them,” Levy says. “We really saw that shift during the pandemic, but those services are now the norm. Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies that failed to advance their digital capabilities so they’re really at risk of being left behind in the post-pandemic market.”

Additionally, the top jobs in the tech sector in Canada require skills and experience pertaining to data and security, scrum and agile development, and e-commerce, according to The Best IT and Tech Jobs in 2022 report from Randstad.

Reskilling and upskilling

“I think we’re going to see, as we go through recovery in Canada and around the world, that we have to get into reskilling and upskilling to sustain the economy,” Levy says.

However, according to Levy, many organizations have maintained a narrow focus on building those technological capabilities, so they’ve failed to acknowledge the people component during the transformation.

“The reality is that investment in technology without an equal investment in people, including training and skills development, can prove futile,” she said.

And from a people perspective, there’s also the question of how to establish the company culture in a remote or hybrid workforce. If everybody’s remote, managers have to do things differently to help keep people connected, which involves ensuring leadership has the right training to keep remote employees engaged.

Part of Levy’s role at Randstad Technologies is to help organizations hire IT professionals from helpdesk employees to CIOs to fill their open opportunities as well as assist companies with their digital transformations.

“As the chief diversity officer on top of that, we look at our entire business strategy through a lens of D&I, which is so important in the Canadian market,” she says.

“We depend highly on immigration and we need to make sure organizations see what happens when they’re diverse and focus on inclusion to bring that into the tech side of the business.”