In the organizational context, diversity if often defined in the legal terms of the Canadian Employment Equity Act which mandates employers to remove barriers to employment for four designated groups: Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, members of visible minorities, and women. While this type of inclusiveness is very important, I view diversity in its broader definition to include age, gender, transgender, race, ethnicity, physical and intellectual ability, sexual orientation, religion, opinion, social custom, thinking pattern, personality profile, and more.
In my role as Board Chair, I also welcome a different type of diversity on the Board of Directors. When appointing new board members, I look for different talents, expertise and experience, but above all I look for different perspectives that can culminate into healthy conflicts when discussing issues relevant to the governance of the Society. I know we’ve done our best work when everyone around the Boardroom table has had a chance to present their ideas and voice their points of view. And I know that we’ve done an even better job when these ideas and points of view are divergent.
It is true that it would be more comfortable to agree with everyone on every topic, but not only is this unfeasible, I don’t believe this Society would be what it is today if that were the case. The very genesis of Semiahmoo House Society was based in conflict: the tension between parents of children with developmental disabilities and a system that insisted on institutionalization. Loving families living with disabilities had different notions than government and the medical community about what was best for them.
It’s not that the people in authority had bad intentions. It’s just that they perceived inclusion from the medical model: people with disabilities need to be fixed. Conversely, the families viewed their situation from the social model: disability is a human construct imposed by the environment. I realize that these statements are simplistic given the complexity of the issues. Nevertheless, they serve to prove the point that if parents had not used their inherent diversity to advocate for change back then, our society would not be so inclusive today. People with cognitive disabilities would be even more marginalized and would not have the opportunity to demonstrate that, given the chance, they are capable to learn, grow, integrate and contribute to society.
As a society, we can achieve way more when we embrace diversity and realize that it is unifying rather than being divisive.
Rich Gorman, Board Chair
Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community.
The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.