An extended online sidebar from our Jan/Feb 2023 cover story.
When people talk about a collaborative workplace culture, the first image that usualy comes to mind is everyone seated at table together.
But an even better image, says Tim Tang, is “inviting people into the kitchen. Now they have the opportunity to influence the meal, influence what is being served. They're a part of contributing and giving something of themselves to it.”
Tang, director of the Tyndale Intercultural Ministry Centre in Toronto, is quoted extensively in “A place to flourish,” a recent Faith Today article on healthy, collaborative Christian workplaces.
The invitation into the kitchen that Tang talks about is a hot topic across much of the nonprofit and private sectors, where different language is commonly used – diversity, equity and inclusion.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission offers some clear and demystifying definitions.
- “Diversity: the presence of a wide range of human qualities and attributes within an individual, group or organization. Diversity includes such factors as age, sex, race, ethnicity, physical and intellectual ability, educational background and expertise.”
- “Equity: fairness, impartiality, even-handedness. A distinct process of recognizing differences within groups of individuals and using this understanding to” accommodate differences to ensure equal access and a level playing field. (Also see “equal opportunity,” “equal treatment” and “equitable.”)
- “Inclusion: appreciating and using our unique differences – strengths, talents, weaknesses and frailties – in a way that shows respect for the individual” and incorporates their uniqueness into the work and culture of an organization.
This concern for increased diversity partly stems from underrepresentation. For example, women comprise 41% of board membership despite being 51% of the overall population, and minorities make up 10% of boards despite being 23% of Canadians, according to a 2020 presentation by the Diversity Institute in Toronto.
The proportion in the voluntary sector is slightly higher: 43.1% of board members are women and 11.6% are minorities.
The Diversity Institute published a detailed argument for increased diversity and inclusion in their Diversity Leads report, also from 2020. It begins by making a business case, listing ten benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace for an organization’s productivity.
One of those benefits involves the fact of change itself. Hiring new personnel and a new staff made up of more diverse employees “prevents counterproductive behaviours taking root via mechanisms such as groupthink, which subsequently allows boards to make more rational decisions.” Both the reality of a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace and the “shot in the arm” it takes to get there can open up an organization to new ideas and avenues for growth.
A more diverse workplace is a more collaborative one, and it’s also more accountable. Diversity Leads argues that diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces provide a “strength in numbers” discouragement to the belief that employees and leaders can get away with actions that make colleagues feel unsafe and excluded, such as offensive comments and arbitrary favouritism. [Editor's note: A recent podcast episode, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Canada's Nonprofit Sector, was released by Charity Village this month.]
Why should Christians care?
Tang explains why Christian organizations and workplaces should work to be more inclusive, in addition to the “operational” and psychological reasons listed in Diversity Leads.
First, he says that increased representation in leadership positions means that young women and cultural minorities have role models already paving the way “on stage,” be it in the boardroom, the pulpit, the academic lecture or any other prominent position. This helps young people open up to the possibility that God is calling them to new things.
More importantly, he says, increased representation is about showing everyone that intercultural and women leaders “are part of God's kingdom and that God's kingdom is much broader than we often realize.”
Second, he argues that Scripture is clear about the injustice and sin of racism and sexism, and that Christians are called to work for justice and wholeness. He says this work can include collaborative dialogue with secular organizations and movements, especially if those groups do a better job confronting injustice than Christians do.
“God created everything,” he says. “If the church doesn't stand up for justice, then why wouldn't He use another means by which to raise things that are valuable to him?”
He also echoes Diversity Leads’ foundational argument for representation, but with an eye to an organization’s community, ministry and mission. Both Tang and the Report maintain that the makeup of organizational staff and leadership teams ought to reflect the diverse makeup of the people and communities that the organization serves. This means that the organization can hear and express what its community needs and cares about, enabling it to do its mission more effectively and insightfully.
He points out a diverse makeup is the contemporary reality for most communities in Canada. “The nations are literally here,” he says, citing the millions of new immigrants that have arrived here in recent decades. Statistics Canada reports 2.98 million newcomers between 2012 and 2022. Immigrants made up 23% of the population in 2021, and visible minorities made up 26.5% (the term is being replaced by “racialized groups” but the older category was used in this data).
Tang turns to a scriptural example to highlight the spiritual implication of increased attention to this reality that the nations are already here in Canada – the opportunity to show God’s loving hospitality for all.
“The church in Antioch was intentionally very diverse,” he says, “and yet it was Antioch where they were first called Christians, where that loving nature became missional in who they are, an intentionally multicultural church that really has the DNA and fingerprints of what we think God's intention was.”
Work for equity and inclusion are rooted in the biblical practice of hospitality, writes Rev. Liz Testa of the Reformed Church in America (at Faithward.org). She describes biblical hospitality as “A sacred duty to treat strangers and friends alike, welcoming one another into our homes, communal spaces, and lives.”
Similar to Tang’s example of the Antioch community, she amasses New Testament references that paint a vibrant picture of Jesus’ ministry and the early Church as expressions of inclusive hospitality.
Tang is clear that intercultural competence doesn’t happen by itself, but “becomes something that really needs to be developed intentionally. Hence the work of the Tyndale Intercultural Ministry Centre, which helps churches, Christian organizations and non-profits improve their capacity to welcome a wider variety of people.
They offer training, coaching and a university diploma program, as well as an Intercultural Development Inventory which they describe as “an assessment tool to help individuals and teams reflect on where they are on their intercultural development journey.”
It’s up to leaders to take the initiative and ensure a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace, according to Diversity Institute founder Wendy Cukier and the other authors of Diversity Leads.
“Leadership and governance is extremely important for the successful top-down implementation of diversity strategies,” their report states. “Leadership is also responsible for setting an inclusive tone in an organization” such as through its mission statement.
Their report offers six strategies to help leaders foster more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces. In an appendix, it includes a checklist detailing how the Diversity Institute uses these strategies measure an organization’s or corporation’s collaborative health.
Alongside intentional ownership at the governance level, these strategies include specific practices such as diverse hiring and professional development and ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion practices are integrated throughout the organization’s operations.
Another helpful resource is available from the federal ministry of innovation, science and economic development. It provides a What Works Toolkit as part of their “50-30 Challenge” program.
Testa (at Faithward.org) invites churches and Christian organizations to consider nine practices to improve their capacity for inclusive hospitality. They include authentic communication, barrier-free access and attention to context and power dynamics. Echoing Tang’s “kitchen” metaphor, she begins by calling Christian workplaces to develop a deeper “sense of belonging and ability to contribute” among employees, volunteers and members.
Matthew Neugebauer is a Toronto writer and a digital marketing co-ordinator for Salt + Light Media. Last summer he interned at Faith Today. Illustration by Daniel Castiñeiras.