“We should see our own reflection.”
Last month, Mayor Nenshi ruffled a few feathers by stating that the City of Calgary is "too white and too male", generating a flurry of angry tweets. As one of only two female members of City Council, I received several media calls asking for my opinion. I'll start by saying that I don't support an Affirmative Action approach to hiring practice. Absolutely, the most qualified person should be hired for the job. I also have an unshakable belief that a diversity of people and ideas is essential to building a creative workforce. Rethinking how we work and who we work with, engaging people from all backgrounds, nationalities, ages, and genders will produce better outcomes. And rather than a closed circle, governments should be a reflection of the people.
If diverse workforces are important, then why are we trending in the wrong direction, with fewer women and people with diverse backgrounds applying for and being hired in upper management at the City of Calgary? And as a city that has a long history of strong women leaders in local government, why do we have the lowest number of women on City Council in two generations, and how does that impact our decisions?
Why does it matter? Some examples:
- Women make up half of Calgary Transit’s passengers, so it is important to recognize that women’s views of
personal safety differ dramatically from men’s. Having women involved in transit planning helps us understand what makes our customers feel safe and hence more willing to take transit.
- Building partnerships with an increasingly diverse community is an important part of crime prevention. A diverse police service helps the police respond effectively, appropriately, and sensitively to all members of the community, particularly those who have traditionally been marginalized by society.
- Generations, like people, have personalities. As we plan Calgary for the next generation, with their growing cultural diversity, distinct lifestyles and changing priorities, rather than making decisions for them based on our own experiences, they need to be part of the decision-making team.
- The City of Calgary plays a central role in promoting the principles of equity and diversity and it’s vital that we demonstrate our own principles.
So, when planning our city for a multi-cultural, millennial generation, or designing a transit system that is heavily used by women, or developing safety and crime prevention strategies for victims of family violence, decisions must be based on recognition of the distinct roles, needs, and experiences. We’ll understand our clients better, and that deep understanding of the different needs across the city will lead to better service.
Diversity doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen because powerful people make concessions to the less powerful; it’s about people who are prepared to go the extra mile to get involved and make their voices heard. It happens when citizens, employers, and City Councils, recognize that to be successful we need a workforce that reflects the demographic of their community.
We need to make it happen, not by quotas, but by setting goals and targets and mentoring that next generation of leaders. Citizens need to be able to look at the people sitting behind the desks at City Hall and see their own reflection.
This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.