Understanding and enhancing diversity in the workplace is a primary commitment for Vancity, a member-owned financial institution born of community and co-operation.

Vancity is an ambassador of the Abilities In Mind (AIM) Program at the BC Centre for Ability. It is also the recipient of this year’s Employer Award from the Centre. Vancity in Vancouver was selected for the award based on numerous best practice criteria,and stands out for hiring, retaining and promoting persons who have a disability, including individuals supported by the Centre. Organization Development Consultant Erin Robinson says Vancity has ramped up its work with the Centre over the last year and, as a locally-rooted organization, deeply appreciates the recognition from a community partner that shares a common goal of inclusion.

“This award is particularly meaningful because we’ve been so targeted in trying to improve our ability to support employees with disabilities over the past couple of years,” Erin says.

In addition to its continuing work with the Centre, Vancity has launched a multi-year Workplace Accessibility and Review Mapping (WARM) project. The needs of five key groups of disabilities are examined independently, with everything from physical accessibility and training to policies and procedures reviewed. Some new technologies are also being tested.

This portion of WARM has been completed with implementation plans coming for 2013.

“We’re really trying to build the gold standard, and implementation will take time because we’re on a 10-year renovation cycle at Vancity… The idea is to set the gold standard and to ensure we have the policies and procedures to support it as well,”  Erin says.

Vancity is also taking a deliberate, three-pronged approach to understand factors impacting diversity to help enhance its rate of employees who have a disability.

“We’re looking at attitudes, access and accessibility, they’re our 3 As of diversity,” Erin says.

Vancity’s commitment to diversity – one of its core values – is embedded in its roots. It grew in to Canada’s largest credit union from its first location in Vancouver, which was established to provide banking services to any city resident who wanted to join – an unusual premise at that time.

“We were founded on financial access,” Erin says.

Vancity’s ground-breaking work continued. It was the first financial institution to lend to women without a male co-signer, and to actively bank gay and lesbian couples before they were recognized as marital partners in Canada.

Any gaps in diversity and inclusiveness “would be such a huge contradiction for us that it’s all systems go to correct that and try to understand why they exist,” Erin says.

“We are a member-owned financial institution. Our members own us and our members are Vancouverites, and so it’s more important for us than anyone else that we reflect our membership,” she says.

Erin describes the Centre as a supportive partner in unlocking the keys to diversity, in particular in their understanding that “change takes time.”