Supportive Environment Needed For Diversity To Thrive, Forum Told

  • By

While diversity is important to the Canadian energy industry, it won’t benefit from having those diverse perspectives until there is an environment where persons are empowered to bring them forward, an energy forum heard this week. 

“Diversity happens but inclusion is a choice,” Deanna Burgart, a chemical engineer and self-described “Indigeneer,” told the North American Women in Energy event.

 “I think that’s the biggest challenge that we have in society,” she said. “How do we change the environment within so that people do feel respected?”

Burgart, though, still believes that diversity is extremely important to a successful energy industry. It brings different perspectives and different ways of communicating and different ways of approaching conversations. “We can change the conversation and that means diversity of thought.”

Industry is doing a lot better in terms of consultation with Indigenous nations but it needs to be more than just a conversation with the people who have that term in their job title, she said. “If we have amazing consultation specialists working with nations and yet we are hiring people from the nation and those people are stepping on job sites and experiencing racism and experiencing barriers, then that goes back to the nation as well.”

For example, Burgart teaches pipeline monitoring courses in different communities and in a pilot project at SAIT. One of her students, a journeyman welder, had garbage thrown at her by the construction crew and was called the “token hire.” Another student was thrown off the job site because they thought she was a protestor as she was First Nation.

“Until we actually start having those tough conversations, and understanding what Indigenous peoples are actually experiencing at the boots-on-the ground level in the workplace, you can have the best consultation experts in the world but the communities are being harmed,” she told the session on pipelines.

Terri Steeves, vice-president of Canadian projects for TransCanada Corporation, agreed.

“It’s another area where the conversation is broader,” she said. “The conversation needs to include our contractors and our contracting community, and our owner contractors.”

It’s a conversation that will involve changing the narrative and building trust, according to Steeves. “But it is when the rubber hits the road, so to speak, where we need to make sure we are following through on that, that what we are proposing is sustainable.”

As an engineer, the TransCanada executive has done a lot of work in construction camps.  “I’ve got a lot of dirt on my boots and not everybody experiences the construction industry the same way,” she said. When women talk about not being heard within their company, “that’s probably times 10 when you move into the construction yard.”

For TransCanada as an older company, it’s about having a respectful workplace and inclusion because everyone has the right to show up in a respectful workplace, said Steeves.

 “That needs to be our minimal bench — it could be our bar —  so that we can leverage all of the available resources that we need to be able to successfully execute all of the potential work in front of us in Canada,” she said.

“But it takes a deliberate effort and it takes each of us being willing to say ‘that’s not acceptable.’”

Chris Bloomer, president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA), said the Canada needs to use, train and promote all kinds of talent, which is needed to run the economy.

In his discussions with the pipeline unions, their biggest concern is where they will find the necessary workers, said Bloomer. “It’s a fundamental issue of resources and bringing as many and diverse groups of people into the workforce and training them,” he said. “From the front lines in the field, right up to the board, we need people and we need to tap into as many diverse groups as we possibly can.”

However, all these different groups have specific needs and there’s a need for a deeper understanding of how to bring those diverse groups together and work together through the long term and that’s a really big challenge, said Bloomer. “We need the diversity but we need to change how we are approaching various groups.”