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Closing the Distance in Peel and Halton

"Creating Diversity Competent Organizations"

Sue, the Executive Director of a community agency, walks into her office and looks at her calendar. "Oh no!" she says, "I have to have my diversity competence training today! I've got a million other things to do!"

Sue talks about how important diversity is. "It's what makes our world so rich," she says, but she also talks about all the challenges and barriers to being diversity-competent. These barriers include lack of time and money, and fear of failure and change.

A funny, clumsy, clown-like angel pops up from under Sue's desk and tries to support Sue. She asks Sue, to think about some of the reasons why diversity-competence is so important. "Imagine yourself in a foreign country - you don't know the language, you don't know the culture and you can't go back to your own country. Your child becomes very sick and you have to rush her to the hospital. No one speaks your language. How do you feel? What do you do?" The clown then asks Sue to imagine "getting the help and support you need so that you are confident your child is in good hands." She asks Sue to imagine a world that reflects and includes the diversity of its people. (Opening scene of the Diversity Competence Training Conference sponsored by the Peel-Halton Closing the Distance Project, Mississauga, Ontario, January 22, 2004)

An audience of more than 100 human service managers from Peel and Halton regions responds enthusiastically to this short play on one of the major issues confronting them in their daily professional work. Following the performance, the audience, participants in a training conference on Diversity Competence, talk in small groups at their tables, to absorb and reflect on what they saw and heard.

Their response is strong. They talk about what they could relate to in the presentation, and which barriers and challenges to diversity competence they too are worried about. They say that some of the barriers that they can relate to are the overwhelming nature of the topic; resistance to change in their organizations; the idea that many people are afraid that diversity competence means having to give something up; that diversity competence is great in theory but difficult to do in practice; and how organizational and workload barriers often take over when you get back to the office, so that you either forget what you've learned in a workshop, or you feel like you can't act on it.

The daylong Training Conference is based on a resource manual for people working in and managing community organizations that provide health and social services. Titled "Developing the Diversity-Competent Organization", the resource manual was created by the Peel-Halton Closing the Distance Project. The Project created educational materials and training to increase awareness and knowledge about the need for service providers to be "diversity-competent" and to provide them with some tools to help make these changes in their organizations.

Just over a year earlier, the Peel-Halton Closing the Distance Project had decided on its key goal. On December 13, 2002, a group of community leaders from the health, social and education sectors came together for a community visioning meeting about how to "close the distance" in Peel and Halton regions. They decided that the Peel-Halton Closing the Distance Project should ensure that community and public services in Peel and Halton regions are accessible, welcoming and appropriate to immigrants, people of colour and other diverse citizens who need them.

A mural of "Diversity Competency" was created at this meeting, illustrating the different areas where social service organizations need to change to reflect and be appropriate to diverse people in Peel and Halton.

Angel Clown
The Angel Clown played by Laurie Williams for the skit at the Diversity Competence Conference, January 22, 2004

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