Out in the Open

How straight, white, able-bodied men can have a role in workplace diversity

Corporate inclusion manager Tej Singh Hazra says addressing inequality ‘means having everybody at the table’

Corporate inclusion manager says addressing inequality ‘means having everybody at the table’

Tej Singh Hazra has served as head of diversity and inclusion for HSBC Bank Canada and IBM Canada. (Submitted by Tej Singh Hazra)
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Workplace inclusion experts have a shorthand for the kinds of guys who dominate the top rungs of Canada's largest companies.  

They are the SWAMs – the straight, white, able-bodied males.

But according to Tej Singh Hazra, a set of SWAMs isn't necessarily homogeneous.

"You have diversity any time you have more than one human being in a room," Hazra told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay. "I can have 12 straight, white, able-bodied males in a room, and I still have diversity, because they've all had different lived experiences."

Over the past 12 years, Hazra has served as head of diversity and inclusion for HSBC Bank Canada and IBM Canada. While he acknowledged that some groups have traditionally been excluded from company boards and executive roles, he warned against cutting anyone out of the diversity conversations.

Hazra recalled a recent panel discussion on workplace diversity that he was asked to moderate. Upon arriving, he discovered that the panel included no white males.

"My feedback to the leader of that particular function was, I think it's great to have the conversation," he said. But why not build a panel that properly represents the makeup of the organization?

"Let everybody talk about this. This isn't a conversation just for the minorities or the underrepresented."

Rahul Bhardwaj, CEO of the Institute of Corporate Directors, on the push for more diversity on corporate boards 4:32

Diversity as 'human difference'

But can someone who hasn't experienced discrimination first-hand effectively lead conversations on inclusion?

Last fall, Catalyst Canada, an organization that promotes the advancement of women in corporate leadership, appointed CIBC CEO Victor Dodig as chair of its advisory board.

Some female executives pointed out the irony of selecting a man to advocate for women in the workplace, arguing that the move was a missed opportunity.

Hazra acknowledged that his own lived experience inspires his work. As a member of a visible minority who wears his Sikh faith openly, he's experienced discrimination. He also worries about the future employment prospects of his deaf son.

But diversity shouldn't be framed only in terms of ethnicity, gender, ability or sexual orientation, he said. Speaking of it simply in terms of "human difference" allows all kinds of people to relate.

Besides, he said, inequality won't be addressed without first recognizing existing structures.

"You cannot do it without those who are the brokers of power at the table."

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Allies".