Everything we do is about getting the balance right — and the new conversations we’re fostering around diversity in the workplace are very much a part of that.”
As a founding member of the LGBTQ+ employee resource group, Aiden Beattie is helping to put our robust diversity and inclusion strategy into action — within Canadian Blood Services and across our stakeholder community.
“I spend a lot of my workday simplifying communications about complex issues,” says Aiden Beattie, an analyst with the IT team at Canadian Blood Services. “Part of my job is to translate what can sound like technobabble into clear explanations of our technology strategy for senior executives, board members and business partners. But when it comes to talking with colleagues about my life outside work — or explaining to friends in the LGBTQ+ community how our organization sets blood donation policy — sometimes the conversations aren’t so easy. Being part of the new LGBTQ+ employee resource group is helping to change that.”
After nearly a decade with Canadian Blood Services, Aiden, who identifies as gay, feels that the workplace culture is generally welcoming and supportive of diversity. But there are still challenges — for instance, when he encounters people who don’t realize they’re making insensitive comments.
“When this occasionally happens, someone needs to point out that it’s just not right to talk like that,” Aiden says. Fortunately, such comments are becoming less common. But even with colleagues who are more sophisticated, discussing his personal life can nevertheless feel awkward. “If you’re working with a new business unit and don't know people well, there’s a discomfort to overcome in sharing that part of you — in saying something like ‘I went out with my boyfriend.’ Each new situation is a kind of coming out, and that takes trust. So it’s validating to share stories within our new group and hear I’m not the only one who’s been having these experiences.”
Inclusive — inside and out
The LGBTQ+ employee resource group, which held its inaugural meeting in May 2019, is the first of several such groups that began forming at Canadian Blood Services over the past year. They reflect the robust commitment to diversity and inclusion that is a key component of our new five-year strategic plan and a cornerstone of our broader efforts to cultivate a safe, healthy and respectful workplace where all employees feel included ands supported.
Internally, we’re working to ensure that all employees feel equally accepted, free to express themselves and empowered to pursue rewarding opportunities. As people across the organization voluntarily self-identify with various aspects of diversity, we’re gaining a deeper understanding of their unique priorities, concerns and aspirations. Over the past year, we’ve introduced new training programs to raise awareness about issues such as accessibility, unconscious bias and workplace harassment, and to illuminate the perspectives of specific groups — notably the LGBTQ+ communities.
At the same time, we’re also directing our diversity and inclusion efforts outward to ensure that Canadian Blood Services appropriately represents our various stakeholder communities. In the fall of 2018, we hosted a session called Diverse Donor Syntegration, bringing together nearly 50 external and internal stakeholders to share insights and recommendations aimed at increasing donations from diverse communities, better meeting the needs of diverse patients and more accurately reflecting Canada’s population in our donors base.
Cool heads and warm hearts
For Aiden, the employee resource group likewise spans the internal and external dimensions of diversity and inclusion. It provides support not only at work but also in his interactions with other members of the LGBTQ+ community — some of whom have been highly critical of Canadian Blood Services for our policies on blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men (MSM). Even as the ineligibility period has been further reduced from one year to three months (see below), there’s still a great deal of impatience over the incremental pace of caution.
“It can sometimes be challenging for those of us with friends in the community to help people understand the logic behind the policy,” Aiden says. “You can’t explain all the reasons why we do what we do through small talk. But I approach those conversations with empathy, because I know when someone is angry about our MSM policy, that anger is not necessarily focused on scientific facts. It’s about their accumulated experiences, the feeling that they’re facing one more slammed door after already being hurt so many times. Any perceived slight can cause a lot of anger, so it’s helpful to look at the big picture.”
Talking to colleagues who struggle with similar conversations has helped Aiden shape a clearer response — one that’s grounded in the fundamental values of our organization. “As Canadian Blood Services has renewed its sense of purpose over the past year, we’ve talked about balancing a cool head with a warm heart. The cool head says we’ve got to be rigorous on safety because people’s lives depend on us getting it right every time. There’s a process that needs to unfold, and in just five years, we’ve moved the marker significantly. At the same time, the warm heart is focused on engaging all Canadians who want to help patients through our work. To me, everything we do is about getting the balance right — and the new conversations we’re fostering around diversity in the workplace are very much a part of that.”
To be eligible to give blood, men who have sex with men (MSM) have to wait for a certain period of time after their last sexual intercourse with another man. In December 2018, Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec formally requested that Health Canada further reduce this period from one year to three months.
This proposed change was based on scientific evidence and supported by extensive stakeholder input. The submission was approved and the new eligibility standard became effective in June 2019. Meanwhile, Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec, with funding from Health Canada, are supporting 15 evidenced-based research projects investigating alternative screening approaches for blood and plasma donors — the findings from which could help to further evolve MSM eligibility criteria.