During the COVID-19 pandemic, some Canadian bio-economy companies fared better than others despite facing similar challenges. What’s behind those different outcomes? In part, varying levels of organizational resiliency. To learn more, BioTalent Canada explored organizational resiliency, its contributing factors and how companies can cultivate it.
Based on that work, this resource looks at the essential role of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) in building and sustaining organizational resiliency.
What is organizational resiliency?
Organizational resiliency refers to the capability of an organization to anticipate, absorb, react and adapt to internal and external disruptions and associated impacts. Fundamentally, it’s about how organizations overcome adversity to ensure sustainability.
This definition was validated in interviews with bio-economy employers, whose comments suggested three major characteristics shared by resilient organizations:
- They are agile, flexible and adaptable with their operations and internal processes.
- Their employees are engaged with leadership both formally and informally.
They have empowered cultures stemming from engaged employees who feel they are listened to and that their needs are considered during times of change.
What is “IDEA”?
IDEA stands for inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. These four key values can help organizations build teams that are representative of the communities they live and work in, and create work environments where all employees have equitable opportunities and access, and feel valued and heard.
Inclusion means creating a culture that encourages and values different thoughts and perspectives and nurtures feelings of belonging for everyone. It requires deliberate and equitable efforts to meet individual needs to ensure people feel welcome, respected and heard.
Diversity refers to the variety of unique characteristics and identities of people including their race, gender identity, ancestry, age, nationality, religion, ability, sexuality, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, physical appearance, ideas, perspectives and values.
Equity involves treating everyone fairly based on their unique needs so all people can access opportunity and advancement, participate, and engage to the same extent. Equity work is the identification and elimination of barriers that prevent the inclusion of all groups.
Accessibility is about the factors that affect the extent to which a person can function within an environment or participate in an activity regardless of ability.
At a minimum, organizations should create policies and systems related to discrimination in the workplace to comply with legislation, but they can go even further by actively promoting IDEA in the workplace. For more on how to integrate IDEA into the workplace, see the following resources that focus on strengthening IDEA:
- Building Workplace Resiliency: Adopting Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA)
- Building Workplace Resiliency: Hiring Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs)
- Building Workplace Resiliency: Understanding Canadian Human Rights
How does IDEA support organizational resiliency?
A small but growing body of research has examined the relationship between IDEA and organizational resiliency, particularly the role of diversity. When workplaces actively engage and promote diversity, they gain access to a wider variety of perspectives and experiences that can improve sense-making, decision-making, innovation and problem-solving. These in turn enhance organizational resilience, improving the capacity of organizations to identify and prepare for critical changes, mitigate and cope with disruptions, and quickly develop and integrate lessons learned.
It’s important to note that the mere “presence” of diversity is not usually enough to develop organizational resiliency. For example, recent studies on gender and organizational resiliency have found that the presence of diversity does not guarantee “equitable participation during change processes”. The benefits will only be achieved through concerted action and approaches to support equitable access and opportunities to contribute to change processes.
What does IDEA and organizational resiliency look like in the Canadian bio-economy?
Recent labour market studies of the Canadian bio-economy show the sector is lagging when it comes to IDEA awareness and implementation in the workplace. This lag is particularly concerning given projected talent shortages in the industry over the upcoming decade, combined with the known key role IDEA plays in building successful, resilient organizations.
Employers interviewed generally recognized the importance of IDEA in the workplace but did not clearly understand the link between IDEA and organizational resiliency, and many had implemented IDEA principles in only very limited ways. The most frequently cited current approach to IDEA, particularly among the smaller organizations, was to “hire regardless of background”. However, bio-economy employers reported a strong interest in learning more: 83 percent said tools for recruiting diverse talent would be somewhat or very useful, and 77 percent said tools specifically related to IDEA would be somewhat or very useful. Many also said IDEA would be something they would likely implement in the future once their companies had grown and become more established.
Other IDEA work currently underway in bio-economy workplaces includes:
- Development of organizational policies and statements on areas such as employment equity, discrimination and harassment.
- Significant accommodations and supports throughout the pandemic to help parents and caregivers continue to work while still meeting their family commitments. Examples include work from home, flex hours, the option to bring children to work, reduction in hours with no reduction to pay levels and higher allocations of care/family leave. These accommodations were particularly helpful for supporting gender equity.
- Extensive review of job descriptions to identify and rectify any systemic or unconscious biases that may negatively influence current and future talent.
- The establishment of DEI committees to inform organizational strategic planning.
- Implementation of DEI courses/training and speakers for all levels of staff on areas such as identifying biases and the basic principles of IDEA.
How can bio-economy employers use IDEA principles to enhance their resiliency?
There are various resources available to bio-economy employers to help them integrate IDEA principles into their workplaces, and many can be tailored to various sizes, stages and types of employers. For example, some employers may be just starting to explore and learn about IDEA principles and need some basic information to help them integrate these principles into their interviewing techniques. Others may be ready to develop IDEA committees to support strategic or succession planning, and they may need more detailed guidance.
Some BioTalent Canada resources include:
- I.D.E.A.L. Biosciences EmployerTM recognition program
The I.D.E.A.L Bioscience Employer Recognition program, which represents Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Leadership, will recognize organizations in Canada’s bio-economy leading the way in embodying the diverse and inclusive corporate principles needed to promote growth and success in the sector.
- Building Workplace Resiliency resources
Learn from others
Check out these stories for insight into how other organizations have incorporated IDEA principles into their business — and the benefits they’ve seen as a result.
- Shift Health: An inclusive future is a community effort that starts at home
- Origin Materials: Making inclusivity a standard business practice
- STEMCELL Technologies: How IDEA principles became embedded in one company’s DNA
Methods and sources
BioTalent Canada recently conducted research on organizational resiliency in the Canadian bio-economy in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the project, BioTalent Canada is producing a series of resources, including brief introductions to some of the key topics related to organizational resiliency.
This resource on how inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility contribute to organizational resiliency in the bio-economy is based on findings from:
- A survey of 344 employers in the Canadian bio-economy
- In-depth qualitative interviews with 33 employers
- A systematic environmental scan of literature and available training, tools and measures related to organizational resiliency
Funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre.
 Duchek, S., and Scheuch, R. (2020). The role of diversity in organizational resilience: A theoretical framework. Business Research, 13(1), 387-423.
 Witmer, H. (2021). Entrapment Between Narratives: The Millennial Voice and Degendering Organizational Resilience. Frontiers in Sustainability.
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 The Canadian bio-economy is made up primarily of small and medium-sized enterprises — 83 percent have fewer than 50 employees.