Edgar Martinez-Soberanes, USask PhD student in mechanical engineering, working with the YMCA

Promoting diversity and inclusion at the YMCA

Diversity is an issue that resonates with me. When I arrived in Saskatoon from Mexico City seven years ago, I had to learn to break down my prejudices and preconceptions of other cultures. With this project with the YMCA, I wanted to help other people do the same.

The Challenge

Diversity is an issue that resonates with me.  When I arrived in Saskatoon from Mexico City seven years ago, I had to learn to break down my prejudices and preconceptions of other cultures. With this project with the YMCA, I wanted to help other people do the same.

In my own experience as a mechanical engineering student working at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) language centre and as vice-president of student affairs with the USask Graduate Students’ Association, I have worked with people from many different backgrounds. I have found diversity to be essential in solving problems, as it not only brings more voices but also ideas from different perspectives.

A diversity strategy is very important for the YMCA of Saskatoon which offers a wide range of services to the general community that include fitness and health, childcare, day camps, and various community building projects. Diversity has several dimensions—from opinion and belief, to gender and sexual orientation, to ethnicity, and to social class. Diversity is critical to helping the YMCA achieve its vision of becoming a diverse community where people are healthy and have a collective sense of belonging. 

The Study Method

Originally, I was tasked with developing  a diversity strategy that would lay out the principles, goals and areas of focus to achieve an institution in which every individual could access, participate in, and benefit from programs and employment. However, it soon became apparent that such a thorough strategy would take a lot of time and resources. Instead, we decided I would use the work placement to assess the current level of diversity among the organization’s employees.

To do this, I developed a questionnaire to be used in a half-hour interview format.  Interviews were chosen over other impersonal delivery methods to promote a more in-depth conversation in which employees would be able to share confidential information in a safe environment.  While the sample data was reduced compared with an on-line survey, the approach was more meaningful than simply administering an online survey to all employees.

The questionnaire was developed through research and in consultation with the YMCA. The sample population for the interviews was randomly selected, while making sure that it included personnel from all departments and roles.  I did three mock interviews with employees to test the questionnaire, and then conducted 12 of the planned 30 interviews before the COVID-19 situation ended the work.

The Impact/Benefits

The results of this project will inform a long-term diversity strategy.  A byproduct of the project was heightened awareness among the employees of what diversity means in the workplace.

I observed wide diversity and a multicultural workplace. The results also pointed to opportunities to expand gender, sexual orientation, and economic background diversity by, for instance, tailoring information to members of the LGBTQ community, and interviewing YMCA members to learn the extent that programs are being used by people from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. While working towards more incusion, the YMCA should focus on recognizing and celebrating their diversity with the community they serve.

Although this project does not relate technically with my field of engineering, it allowed me to put into practice my solving problem-solving skills and improve my interpersonal skills when doing the interviews with people from different backgrounds. I also enjoyed the opportunity to help others achieve their goals. 

Disclaimer: Any omissions in fact or interpretation remain the sole responsibility of University of Saskatchewan. The findings do not necessarily reflect the views of Research Impact Canada, its funder The Conference Board of Canada, or its partner the Future Skills Centre.

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