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How to Implement EDI Strategy At Your Company and Where to Start Interview with Joe Persaud, Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Community Living Toronto



In acknowledgement of Black History month, PMIT brings insight into the journey of a Toronto not-for-profit organization to establish a space where everyone feels safe and has a strong sense of belonging that started with anti-racism. Hopefully, this can inspire you to start your, either personal or professional EDIjourney, or to embrace this cause even further.

Get to know the interviewee


Joe Persaud (he/him) is an Indo Guyanese-Canadian who immigrated to Canada as a child. He has been working for Community Living Toronto (CLTO) as a Regional Executive Director and now as a Director of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion (EDI) for approximately seven years. Overall, he has been progressing in the industry as a frontline staff toward various leadership roles for over three decades. CLTO is a government-funded agency providing services to people with intellectual disabilities to help them thrive, achieving their life goals and supporting their choices to actively participate in the communities they live in. In late 2020, early 2021, in lieu of the events from the previous summer, including the death of George Floyd, CLTO renewed and refreshed its commitment to the journey towards creating and nurturing inclusive and safe spaces, where all staff and the people we serve feel supported and a strong sense of belonging. In the Fall of 2022, Joe sat for an interview with PMI Toronto on the milestones of this journey, sharing how other companies can be inspired to start their own and how to create an organizational environment and culture in which everyone feels safe and valued. Highlights of this conversation follow below.

How to use the acronym

You may have noticed a handful of different acronyms alluding to diversity, such as EDI, DEI, D&I, EDIA, etc. According to Joe, the acronym is a flag that signals to internal and external stakeholders which element is more relevant to each organization’s context and level of maturity. “At the end of the day, I personally don't get caught up with the jargon. The substance is the work, not the acronyms or the order”. For instance, PMIT uses DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), whereas CLTO uses EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion). “Elevating equity is critical because individuals who come from different backgrounds can still run into policies, practices, or assumptions that prevent them from being fully engaged, supported and able to reach their potential”. Therefore, choose the one that makes the most sense to you and your workplace and dive into what is necessary to make it happen.

Preparing for the journey

It’s a life-long journey, a big cultural change, not a sprint. DEI is a moving target because there will always be areas to improve. Joe highlights, “don't just do it on your five-year Strat plan. Make it genuinely a commitment that this is something that is important for the culture and then hold people accountable”.

Doing this type of work is largely purpose driven, as this line of work deals with contentious subjects almost on a daily basis, “once you get started, just be open to that roller coaster.”, he says. The mindset is towards the collective. This is not one person’s work, “we all have to be part of this as a collective. So, I don't have to come and speak to [every topic]”. Therefore, you’ll be better off establishing a self-sustaining system that considers turnover and succession as natural components of it.

How CLTO’s journey started

The summer of 2020, despite the pandemic, had seen events, such as the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the local protests, that triggered this conversation internally. “In the fall of 2020, I was approached by the CEO to take on this role”, says Joe when he was first invited to co-chair the anti-racism committee being created in the organization as a result of the issue being raised by the union representing the frontline workers.

As Joe recounts, “EDI chose me as much as I chose EDI. [given everything that was happening] How can you not do this? You know, it clicked with me. I also saw it as an opportunity that I didn’t see coming for me personally. (...) Operations from frontline to the executive level for over 30 years”. The momentum motivated him to transition from Operations to a completely new role being created from scratch in the organization. It started as the co-chair of the Anti-Racism Committee and evolved into the Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

First bearing fruit

The road can be tortuous and full of ups and downs. The results, however, are also rewarding. “It was a bit of reinvigorating (...) be part of something so big, so impactful, so important in terms of a culture change and a significant impact on people’s lives, (...) I was really happy to take it on”, reacts to the first tangible achievements of the EDI workstream.

According to Joe, it is important to have tangible deliverables to support the work because they are self-sustainable and become a constant reminder to everyone of the progresses made. This is where you’ll find the most comfort and validation. It is also important to ensure the framework put in place resonates with your workplace.

For CLTO, it made the most sense to start with the Anti-Racism committee, as it was the most pressing matter at the time for the organization and its format aligned with their modus operandi in regard to moving work forward in the long term. “They’re connected directly to the CEO and don’t have to go through a bureaucratic process to be heard and have their voice at the table”.

After the committee had been established, Community Living Toronto launched an outreach survey to all employees to get the lay of the land regarding how inclusive employees felt the organization was. As Joe remarks, removing your personal bias from the equation is crucial, “I could be in love with this thing and I see it as a priority, but the masses are saying ‘no, you need to pay attention to this [other] thing”. The survey is a good periodic benchmark to measure the effectiveness of the EDI initiatives on your workplace collectiveness.

As a consequence of the survey results, a dedicated team has been created to carry out the diversity workstream. The team collects, prioritizes, and advocates for the DEI stream within the organization. Unfortunately, there will always be competition for organizational resources. So, the organization must trade something off in order to get DEI going, just like any other work. So, be prepared for this reality and set yourself up for success.

They have also developed an information hub on their intranet that collects and distributes information for employees to get educated about DEI. The content is created in collaboration with employees from marginalized communities who volunteer to be part of resource groups during company time that work with the DEI Team.

Outwards-facing, a multi-organizational community of practice has been created to share best practices within the industry. “Engaging with like-minded partners [...], presentations at conferences, provincial initiatives, developing portals for resources to share with others, [...] we are trying to be part of the solution and sharing to help others get there”. As Joe mentions, this is a collaborative effort in which each member-organization lifts each other up for the betterment of the collective.

These are a few examples of self-sustaining initiatives that can be tackled in your workplace, and, as Joe mentioned, “Don't be comfortable with the status quo. When we think we've achieved something that is great, let's celebrate it. But let's continue to challenge ourselves. So, what's next?”. This is how you’ll be able to get traction and get past the initial inertia to get the work off the ground.

Where to start?

When asked this question, Joe prefaced his answer with “depending on where they are, it's the getting started. It's a critical point of reference.” As he did, getting to know the lay of the land could be a good starting point, “getting a sense of where people are at. How do we exist? How well are we doing? That survey along with focus groups [was] like a real, genuine engagement of folks to really help develop a foundation of where your starting point is.”

Then, Joe mentioned that having a clear objective, a “What are you trying to achieve?” the type of vision will provide the direction to which the organization must steer towards, always keeping in mind whatever “these initiatives […], is it truly getting to what the collective is asking for?”

Start small and incrementally. Instead of creating an elaborate organization-wide-5-step plan to overhaul the culture in no time, “dip your toe in the water [...]. Take the initiative but start with the one to one.” This is a sensitive area, and unmet expectations can quickly escalate to huge frustrations and kill the initiative altogether. It is important to recognize its nature and take a page from the agile rule book: lots of customer engagement in an iterative and incremental crescendo.

Find champions - leaders who are asking EDI questions or that have somehow demonstrated interest in this change journey. As Joe highlights, “my bottom line is, if someone is interested and wants to [contribute], I really want to encourage and empower that person because I see that person as an incredible resource”. Even if you’re not in a position of power, you can raise this conversation with your direct supervisor to get the ball rolling “and, once that sort of groundwork is done, you have your leader on board, you can take the initiative and lead the conversation. The leader doesn't have to lead the conversation because, like I said, leaders are not limited to titles.”

Lastly, create something that resonates with your workplace modus operandi. It is fundamental that this work is naturally embedded in the way the organization works as the content will naturally generate a lot of friction.

Key to success

During the interview, Joe mentioned a handful of areas that will play a key role in the success of your DEI initiative. Firstly, the change spectrum will be filled with people who, on one hand, think everything is good as is and no change is necessary, all the way to the other side, where people are eager to implement radical change. However, he stresses the importance of engaging and getting buy-in from the people in the middle of the spectrum, as they will form the required critical mass to steer the change process. “I always say good intentions in this area will get you into a lot of trouble if you don't engage people, [...] connecting to the people in the middle [of the change spectrum]” is fundamental.

When you have critical mass, you start influencing the system to spin on its own. Joe mentioned the importance of teams being able to start conversations on their own, “If you welcome me and ask, I'm happy to do it. Whatever form. But it only comes to life when our leaders at all levels take it on, talk about [EDI]. Make it come to life and find out [...] what [employees] want to take on or invite external speakers to come in and help the team [on a specific issue].” This is a strong sign of culture shift.

It is important that your Champions have good organizational awareness and know how to navigate its underlayers and subcultures. This is a layered conversation many people don't want to have. So, start with inquiring about what you see “hey, what do you think about this? Have you noticed that?”. This will allow you to progress in the conversation without shocking your colleagues. Otherwise, “You risk people shutting down”.

Accept you will make mistakes and be open to talking about them in a shame-free environment. Be ready to have lots of debrief conversations. Joe elaborates on this piece explaining the difference between calling someone out VS calling them in. “When you look at the concept, calling out is done when you're very direct” and does not allow time for reflection. The objective is to stop the perpetrator dead on its tracks. The latter, on the other hand, is more subtle and invites the aggressor into a reflexive exercise, allowing time and space to both stop the aggression and provoke questioning, sparking behavior change.

Making someone shift from their perspective to someone’s who has the lived experience they don’t have “takes longer”, but, as Joe reflects on publicly calling someone in, “It's more engaging, you get to a better place, I think, and people feel heard [...] and you actually did end up treating people the way they want to be treated and not [...] how you want to be treated.”

Beacon of hope

Regardless of the situation in which your workplace is, once you start this journey, your champions will become beacons of hope through which all matters related to equity, diversity, and inclusion will funnel. “They say well, you know, I'm calling you because you got this title [Director of EDI]. Give me some advice.”

Therefore, it is important that you not only equip them with the right facilitation and advisory tools, but also tightly connect the DEI framework with the overall organizational policies and practices. This is crucial, so that these resources are not overwhelmed with the influx of requests that brings the work to a halt. “They don't have sort of an independent objective arbiter or someone they can consult with [regards EDI matters and] don't know how to approach this with [their] boss [or peers]”.


Changing an organizational culture is no small deed, mainly when it goes against the grain of the societal culture that permeates everyone’s lives. DEI is a commitment, “it's not a declaration from the people at the top. It's ‘what are you doing to behave differently [...] and then being truly open to the good, the bad, the ugly”. Whatever the trigger in your situation, getting started is, many times, the most important step.

If you’re on the journey, you must be in it for the long haul. There will be quick wins, as well as areas for improvement. “Make it genuinely a commitment that this is something that is important for the culture and then hold self and others accountable” on a permanent basis.

“When things get tough, because they will, keep your eyes on [the principle]: ‘It's the right thing to do’.”. You’ll know you've done a good enough job when new hires from diverse backgrounds come through the door “and see a possibility of something more than just a job. They do see a career. They see themselves at the top”

“Celebrate [your wins and accomplishments], but also continually listen, but really, really listen to folks.” DEI work is highly dependent on the buy-in from the majority of the employees in your workplace. So, removing your bias and keeping the work true to what the collective needs will allow this work to deeply root into the workplace culture and continue beyond yourself and the first champions.

Lastly, “If you try to make everyone happy, you’ll make no one happy. But it's also […] making sure people are included.” Making sure voices of marginalized groups are brought to the table in the first place. Let us know how your DEI Journey has been going writing to [email]. For more information on DEI, access PMIT DEI Blog Posts here.

More on CLTO: Celebrating 75 years of belonging, Community Living Toronto has been a source of support for people with an intellectual disability and their families. They offer a wide range of services including respite, person-directed planning, employment supports, supported living, and community-based activities. The organization is proud to support over 4,000 individuals and their families in 80+ locations across Toronto. The "community living movement" began with families who wanted their children to live in the community, rather than institutions. Today, we continue to advocate for inclusive communities and support the rights and choices of people with an intellectual disability.



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