Seeking progress through diversity
“Wellness is not just a biomedical issue,” says Toni Tilston-Jones, SciMar’s Diversity Consultant. “We need to see wellness through the lens of who people are and the historical and current environments they live in.”
Easier said than done, of course, but the important thing is that diversity, equity, and inclusion are on the agenda of a growing number of companies and organizations. And many companies, like SciMar, are trying to be more than allies to diverse communities. They are trying to become “co-conspirators”, a term that is gaining traction of late.
In other words, going beyond words and taking tangible steps to make change and be inclusive.
“To be an ally is to offer support to systemically marginalized groups, like people of colour, Indigenous people, queer folk, trans folk, people with disabilities, and others. Being an ally means walking beside these groups,” says Tilston-Jones, a social worker by training. “Being a co-conspirator means going beyond being an ally. It means using your power and privilege, taking risks, and taking meaningful action without co-opting work already being done.”
Getting into that place, says Tilston-Jones, starts at a personal level and looking within ourselves.
“I have to do my own work, decolonize my own self, understand my own social location, my own power, my own privilege,” she says. “I’m queer, so I identify as gay, but I’m also white, and I’m economically privileged. So how do those things impact the way that I see and experience the world, and then how does that relate to the work that I do on a daily basis? And how can I use my power and privilege to break down the systemic barriers?”
On a daily basis, Tilston-Jones is the Executive Director of Youville Community Health Centre, a Winnipeg agency that encompasses Youville Diabetes Centre. Her agency serves many marginalized people, and many Indigenous people battling type 2 diabetes. Many of the people served by Youville are economically challenged, and often need to choose between medication and food, a poverty resulting from intergenerational trauma and the effects of colonization and the residential school system. When that level of poverty and isolation enter the picture, we need to look at what wellness means far beyond what someone’s bloodwork shows.
“Organizations need to be designed in a way that’s inclusive of all of those things. That means looking at policies, structures, training and development, recruitment—everything in an organization has to be looked at through those lenses so that we are not just running organizations based on what works for white, male, non-disabled people,” she says. “We kind of have to bust it up and, and then include diverse voices, centre those voices, and then actually make the changes.” For many organizations, she says, it can get “pretty messy to talk about power and privilege, but that discomfort should not stop organizations from doing it.”
For SciMar, a relatively young company that was born of a desire to use novel science to improve global health, the quest for best practice in diversity, equity, and inclusion is imperative. How will SciMar ensure that clinical trials are sensitive to various demographic groups? How will Wellness Transformation Network programming be co-created with Indigenous communities and other groups to ensure that they are culturally sensitive and inclusive? How will SciMar ensure that its work takes Gender-based Analysis Plus and other anti-oppressive processes into consideration? How will the company work with partners to ensure that the therapies it develops can be accessible to all people who need them?
“I think SciMar has an important opportunity here because they are showing through the Wellness Transformation Network that they can bring people together across sectors and across identities to achieve common goals,” says Tilston-Jones. “They are an example of a company prepared to do things differently, leverage the strengths of everyone around the table, have a positive impact in the world, and still be a successful business.”
As a learning organization committed to best practice in all of its operations and the authentic pursuit of global wellness, there can be no other way forward in 2022 and beyond.
“Everyone in the corporate world is talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We want to take it beyond talk and make sure that our work truly reflects these values,” says SciMar CEO Mick Lautt. “Toni is an expert in the field and is able to see diversity, equity, and inclusion through a health and wellness lens. Her guidance is invaluable.”