Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Diversity of Joe

When working in any industry, even when off the clock, one has a tendency to notice work-related details as they happen across them while going about their day. A plumber walking down the street might notice that a discarded pipe is actually a galvanized steel pipe, and the reason it’s being disposed of is because it’s not environmentally-friendly and will corrode over time. A florist’s eye might be caught by the inappropriate use of a Night-blooming Cereus in a park that is strictly closed in the evenings. What’s exciting for me as a diversity and inclusion professional, is the fact that the details that catch my attention are quite often rooted in the people I encounter.

I feel fortunate to work in a profession that constantly introduces me to people that I believe embody everything that I and my group of companies stand for: equality, diversity, empowerment, innovation and positive cultural cohesion.

I’d like to tell you about my friend  Joseph, the spouse of a colleague of mine. When I met Joseph, I was astounded as he began to describe to me his day-to-day life in detail. He is a living example of how diverse individuals function within a variety of inclusive work environments, bringing home the point that, while the workplace may change, the culture of diversity and inclusion is everywhere, becoming increasingly, socially and economically imperative as time goes on.

Five days a week, Joseph works 9-5 for the Government of Ontario as a bilingual public information agent, ensuring that accurate information is available to the Ontario, Canadian, and quite often international public in both English and French. He shares his office with co-workers that represent over 20 different countries of origin, who in turn provide services in over 25 languages.

When most people call it quits from their work-day at 5, Joseph’s time card isn’t punched just yet. One of the things that defines Joseph as so individually diverse is that, in addition to working with the Ontario Government, he is also a professional classical singer, having sung all across Canada, the U.S. and Europe, in a multitude of languages.

As a Heldentenor (another example of his complex diversity for those of you who know how rare this type of tenor is), Joseph has appeared with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, on multiple occasions over the last several years. His favourite production was War and Peace and you may have even caught his picture in the Globe and Mail, boldly singing in Russian on the front page of the Arts section.

The performing arts industries, especially opera, are an incredible example of how diversity of thought on a business level can create innovative experiences for an audience. Take the Canadian Opera Company’s 2007 production of The Marriage of Figaro for instance: an operatic work, based on a French play, sung in Italian, written by an Austrian composer, with an English conductor, directed by a Canadian director in a Toronto opera house. With tickets ranging from $22.50 to $318 and the consistency of playing to sold out houses of 2071 seats, this opera company is a prime example of how a diverse team, working on a diverse product can create revenue and appeal for an organization.

Though the curtain may have come down, Joseph’s work week is not over just yet. As many have to take on several jobs to support their families, he is also hired to sing for the Rosedale Presbyterian Church, where he is the tenor section lead of a multi-generational choir, singing religious hymns and anthems every Sunday Service. While Joseph is not of the Presbyterian faith – and considers himself to be Buddhist if he “had to choose” – the congregation welcomes him with open arms. It’s not a rare occasion when a lovely women in her late 80’s should stop Joseph on his way out of a service, to tell him just how glad she is that he is there, because hearing him sing is something she looks forward to every Sunday. Despite his alternate views on faith, he devotes a portion of his work-life to enriching the religious experiences of those that care deeply for their Presbyterian background.

I could go even further when describing the many facets of my dear friend Joe, including his “self- proclaimed” overzealous passion for books, his adorable Parson Russell Terrier, or how he enjoys running half-marathons and that his husband’s name is Michael.

While you may not live and work in such culture-based environments as Joseph, I truly couldn’t resist the opportunity to illustrate all the magnificent varied ways diversity is being represented both on a personal as well as an organizational level in this one person’s life.

I encourage you to be inspired by Joseph, as I have been, and to examine your own personal facets of diversity. Then don’t stop there. Examine the diversity of all of your environments, both at home and work. By constantly striving to understand ourselves and our surroundings, we can thoughtfully assess the best ways to naturally co-operate with one another and mindfully move forward in business and life. Our goal should consistently be to place ourselves in situations where we are encouraged and even potentially required to interact with others of varied backgrounds, beliefs and passions, all the while having a firm grasp of our own. It is this hands-on approach to multiculturalism that will further educate and in turn innovatively elevate all of our futures.

“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves. Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there”
~ Meister Eckhart, German writer and Theologian, 1260-1328


  1. I knew Joe as a small boy living in Calgary - he was pretty wonderful then - it's great to find that he has lived up to what we all knew he could do and then some.
    Elsa Rose Bryant