In late 2019, women working at Sherritt’s Fort Site and Technologies Division were invited to discuss and identify issues commonly faced by women at Sherritt. Some of the common themes uncovered were the need for more training, mentorship and support.
The culture at the site was lacking in diversity and inclusion of women, and it became apparent to the women hosts and to Sherritt that there was an interest from women and a need within the Fort Site to create a women’s employee resource group (ERG). Within months of that initial meeting, members met and created Sherritt’s first ERG and elected leadHERS’ first leadership team in early 2020.
Goals and Mission
leadHERS’ mission is to “cultivate an inclusive environment that supports and encourages women through opportunity, collaboration and advocacy”. The team developed a strategy based on four pillars – Inclusivity, Opportunity, Advocacy and Collaboration – and aims to work with both the employees and the organization to promote gender equity for women and those who identify as women.
leadHERS’ leadership team officially met for the first time in early March 2020 on International Women’s Day. However, one week later the COVID-19 restrictions were implemented, pushing the team and much of the organization to work remotely from home. While building the ERG had its own challenges, the pandemic led to the most significant obstacle: connecting and engaging with Sherritt’s employees. The team has been successful in countering this through virtual programming and content with part of the workforce. One obstacle that has been especially difficult is their inability to connect actively with the Fort Site’s hourly workforce, which is mostly on-site and not easily accessible through virtual means. leadHERS plans to counteract this through focused events in the summer of 2021 and with on-site targeted visits when restrictions allow.
Lending Hands Along the Way
Sherritt has been very supportive of leadHERS, approving a budget that has helped the team to overcome the “virtual challenge” and host high-quality events. The Fort Site leaders have been generous in providing a forum to launch leadHERS to their workforce, allowing the team to connect directly with as many employees as possible.
The Executive Sponsor, Patrick Etokudo (General Manager, Operations Services) and the other members of the Fort Site senior leadership team have been strong allies, helping to promote leadHERS’ mission and overcome obstacles that the team has encountered. Both the Global and Metals D&I steering committees have also been key collaborators in the ERG’s launch.
What is Sherritt doing to achieve a more inclusive workforce?
Sherritt is committed to increasing the proportion of women among the total workforce to 36% by 2030 and is working toward that objective by making the site more inclusive through facilities and PPE reviews, revision of Sherritt policies, review of recruitment practices and a renewed focus on the retention of women. While there are more opportunities for improvement, Sherritt is visibly committed to changing the mix and is progressing toward this goal in a guided and strategic manner.
How has this initiative been received by peers?
Our first year was mainly spent on starting a conversation on gender equity. We launched the ERG at the Fort Site through a series of virtual meetings to introduce ourselves and to ensure that our group and programming are informative, inspiring, professional and energized. We have also opened up the conversation on gender and gender issues in the workforce, which had never been openly discussed. Simply by virtue of starting the dialogue, we have received incredible support at our location and throughout Sherritt, which was evident in our most recent International Women’s Day event where leadHERS hosted a panel discussion that saw over 200 virtual attendees.
While there continues to be opportunities to educate and inform our employees on the challenges women face, we are seeing increased curiosity and awareness by the employees, such as shifting language, sharing information on women’s equality and visible steps to counter unconscious biases. As we delve into 2021, we will focus on collaboration by building alliances with many stakeholders to ensure alignment on goals and objectives, and continue to engage and progress.
How have things changed at Sherritt due to COVID-19?
The pandemic saw a large percentage of our workforce working remotely. This has become a catalyst for the organization to start talking about flexible work and work–life balance, and has increased awareness of the strain of mental health on our workforce. Studies have shown that women, regardless of employment status, bear much of the responsibility to care for the household. The pandemic has definitely put a strain on our employees, especially working mothers, and we are seeing these effects through our membership. However, it has also provided opportunity for discussion between men and women on these challenges. Sherritt has also been working with its leaders to create a supportive work environment to alleviate the effects on our employees, such as opening forums for discussion, and making support and resources available, including on mental health.
“leadHERS has focused on diversity and inclusion of women, and has come such a long way in a short period of time. It is a pivotal pillar in Sherritt’s drive towards gender equity in the workplace. The accomplishments of leadHERS in developing a vision, program design and communications strategy for engaging with the workforce – members, allies and non-members alike – has increased awareness of disproportionate gender representation, fostering a desirable work environment for all by focusing on areas of opportunity, collaboration and advocacy that supports and encourages women. The support of the company and its leadership has been instrumental in this success, and will pave the way for future ERGs.”
– Patrick Etokudo, General Manager, Operations Services, Fort Site