“As an organization, you must be willing to have tough conversations and look at your own biases, which is both difficult and extremely rewarding work.”
How IDEA principles became embedded in one company’s DNA
STEMCELL Technologies has been an IDEA champion since its founding in 1993 and has never been afraid of having difficult conversations about equity and diversity. Through its work, it aims to improve health outcomes in the communities it serves — and because those communities include people of all backgrounds from all over the world, IDEA principles can never be an afterthought.
Q: When did STEMCELL Technologies start incorporating IDEA principles?
Helen Sheridan, Chief Human Resources Officer: They have been at the core of STEMCELL Technologies’ DNA since day one. Our founder always believed in hiring people based on their capabilities and values rather than shared intersecting identities. Today, our employees are able to look up and see leaders who are women, people of colour and members of other equity-deserving groups.
Q: Who’s responsible for incorporating IDEA in your organization?
HS: Along with our founder and CEO, I co-chair the DEI Steering Committee, which is made up of senior executives and also gets input from six employee resource groups (ERGs) focused on women, Indigenous people, BIPOC, mental health, LGBTQ2+ and diverse abilities. They provide employees with safe spaces to talk and share experiences, with these multi-way conversations leading to proposals on how to strengthen IDEA internally. The ERGs also receive funding to launch their own projects promoting IDEA within the business.
Q: How would you describe your approach to collecting and working with IDEA data?
HS: In science, we thrive on data, evidence, experimentation and sharing ideas — and we apply this principle to IDEA. A few years ago, we launched a survey asking people to self-disclose diversity and intersectionality information so we can measure our population and then, as appropriate, adjust and continually improve the resources we offer to support them. Nearly three-quarters of our North American workforce contributed to the survey, helping us engage in more productive dialogues.
Q: What’s something other companies might get wrong about IDEA?
HS: Simply making a statement on social media is not enough — you should also be able to back up your words with actions. In the aftermath of the discovery of children’s remains at Kamloops Indian Residential School, for example, we made a public statement but also partnered with Indspire on scholarships for Indigenous youth and held a week of events so our staff could learn more about Indigenous cultures.
Q: Do you have any further insights to share with companies looking to apply IDEA principles?
HS: Psychological safety is really important; it drives both scientific progress and cultural change. People need to feel safe to speak up and bring their best ideas and creativity to the table. As an organization, you must also be willing to have tough conversations and look at your own biases, which can be exhausting but rewarding work. And make sure that your diversity champions, those that drive those conversations and do much of the heavy lifting, get the support they need so they aren’t carrying that burden alone.
Head office: Vancouver, BC
Employees: Approx. 2,000 across 16 countries
STEMCELL Technologies supplies high-quality reagents, tools and services to scientists working on stem cell, immunology, cancer, regenerative medicine, cellular therapy and other life science research.
Is your organization a leader in inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA)?
The I.D.E.A.L Biosciences Employer Recognition program 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.Learn more