How a power utility became one of Canada’s best diversity employers

A conversation with Kathy McCrum, Sask Power

This year, SaskPower was named one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers, marking the corporation’s 13th consecutive appearance on this list. The distinction recognizes employers from across Canada with exceptional diversity and inclusion programs.

SaskPower has been Saskatchewan’s leading electricity supplier since 1929, employing over 3,300 people across the province and providing power to over half a million customers. Developing its workforce is one of SaskPower’s strategic priorities, along with its overarching vision to power the province to a cleaner energy future through innovation, performance, and service. A diverse workforce is central to that priority.

Kathy McCrum, SaskPower’s vice-president of human resources and safety, shared the company’s approach to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.

What are some of the challenges SaskPower faces regarding diversity and inclusion?

These days, the terms diversity and inclusion are at risk of becoming buzzwords. The terms are easy to throw around, but there must be meaningful action behind them. But meaningful actions can be challenging. In my experience, it takes leadership, commitment, discipline, and innovation.

We have found success by making diversity and inclusion sponsorship active and visible at the senior executive level. This visibility may seem like obvious good governance. Still, you would be surprised at how many organizations continue to misplace the critical sponsorship with human resources alone — and that just isn’t enough. At SaskPower, even our board of directors plays a leadership role. They challenge us as executives to do better by asking questions, encouraging progress, and holding us accountable for keeping diversity and inclusion a priority at the highest level.

As many human resource experts have come to know, focusing on inclusion will bring about greater diversity — yet inclusion is much harder to measure. SaskPower has made the shift to primarily focus on inclusion as the pathway to increasing workforce diversity.

How has SaskPower become a leader in diversity and inclusion?

It’s been an evolution — one that hasn’t happened by chance — and we’re not finished. It’s been the result of intentional efforts to grow, learn and change. Part of that evolution has been
the realization that to move the dial, the branches of diversity must grow up, down, and throughout the organization.

This includes weaving diversity and inclusion into an actionable plan. To that end, SaskPower recently revised our diversity and inclusion strategy to include three overarching pillars — people, partnerships, and culture.

SaskPower Executives

Can you elaborate on those pillars?

Let’s start with people. We have a dedicated full-time diversity and inclusion specialist who works closely with our leaders, diversity and inclusion committee, and employee resource groups (ERGs). We have many active and highly engaged ERGs with executive sponsors. The ERGs help increase awareness, provide education, and grow commitment for diversity and inclusion practices.

The current ERGs include:

  • Indigenous Employee Network
  • Network for Employees with Disabilities
  • Visible Minority Network
  • LGBTQ Network
  • PowerGen Group
  • Women’s Resource Group

In the last two years, many of the groups have collaborated to host various joint awareness activities and learning events to support our workforce.

We continue to focus on growing a more diverse workforce through sourcing, hiring, and partnerships. SaskPower partners with the CNIB, Gabriel Dumont Institute, Regina Open Door Society, Regina Immigrant Women, Canadian Mental Health Association, Neil Squire Society, and Autism Resource Centre, to name a few. The corporation also has strong partnerships with many
educational institutions within the province. For example, we developed an employment and training policy to create long-term opportunities for Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan.

SaskPower is committed to growing our workforce to reflect the communities we serve, and therefore we emphasize Indigenous peoples and perspectives. We are active in our communities during Indigenous Peoples Day and Orange Shirt Day (a day to honour and remember and learn about the Indigenous children who were sent away to residential schools), as well as Pride celebrations
and the Transgender Day of Visibility.

We recently began mandatory online training for our employees to increase historical and contemporary knowledge of Indigenous peoples and the complex relationships with SaskPower and our facilities. The training focuses on the legacy of hydropower facilities in Saskatchewan, economic reconciliation, environmental assessments, and community consultation. We also offer additional
Indigenous awareness training through an external partnership that provides a practical perspective on working with First Nation and Métis people in Saskatchewan.

How do you track and measure your diversity and inclusion progress?

We built a diversity and inclusion index within our employee engagement survey to gain insight into opportunities to improve our diversity and inclusion practices. There have been significant learnings and growth since we adopted this new index and process.

In general, awareness is raised and senior leadership at Canadian companies understand they need to focus on diversity. If I can be so bold as to say that many organizations tend to focus on numbers and targets and have trouble getting past the talking. Don’t get me wrong, SaskPower does pay attention to its diversity numbers, setting annual targets and reporting to the board
of directors. Setting accountable targets for senior leadership is important. It shows commitment at the highest level. But we learned over the last few years that there is so much more to chasing numbers and our focus needed to change.

Are there other external practices that reflect SaskPower’s commitment to diversity and inclusion?

SaskPower is seeking Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) recertification through the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business. In 2018, we achieved gold standing and we are hoping our efforts will see us earn that status again. PAR is Canada’s only corporate social responsibility program emphasizing Aboriginal relations. PAR status demonstrates that SaskPower is a good business partner, a great place to work and that we’re committed to prosperity in Indigenous communities.

For example, we’ve made great strides in bringing new Indigenous businesses into our supply chain. Spending on Indigenous procurement increased from $25 million in 2015, to $56 million in 2016-17. This represents nearly eight percent of all Saskatchewan procurement at SaskPower. In 2019-20, we increased that number to almost nine percent.

We also host annual sessions to share updates on our Indigenous procurement policy, upcoming capital projects, and more.

What are the decisions and discussions around the executive table like when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

Nowadays, we create space at our executive table to talk openly and explore and uncover unconscious biases. We consider equity and intersectionality — and their role in our understanding of inclusion and throughout our decision-making.

As a corporation, we’ve begun looking at our end-to-end employee experience to create and improve conditions that promote inclusion daily. For example, we’ve scoured our job descriptions for discriminatory language and have replaced traditional terms with more-inclusive ones. I will admit there was a surprising amount of language we had been using that was not inclusive.

We’ve also undergone a significant review of our intranet, website, and communication tools to ensure we use inclusive language written for diverse audiences, including new Canadians. We also work hard to meet our web content accessibility guidelines that make digital content more accessible for people with disabilities. That’s because we believe everyone should be able to interact with SaskPower in both digital and print environments. We want our customers with differing abilities to interpret, understand and engage with our content.

Concerning some of our talent management strategies, we’ve integrated inclusive behaviours into our leadership model, leadership development programs and leadership expectations. We’ve also
enhanced our succession-planning practices to ensure a diverse and robust pool of future leaders. And we’ve been working with our senior leaders on the importance of creating and sustaining a psychologically safe work environment where people feel free to express themselves fully without fear of repercussions.

This is all about culture. As SaskPower continues to navigate unprecedented change in the utility industry, diversity of thought is essential for driving business transformation and innovation. Therefore, we need our employees to speak up and share their ideas, opinions and concerns. We believe cultivating a psychologically safe work environment for everyone is at the heart of a strong
organizational culture and critical to achieving true inclusion.

Do you feel optimistic about the future at SaskPower?

I will be candid and admit that we still struggle to think differently and occasionally risk falling back into an old pattern or two. But I see it as part of our ongoing journey. If genuine inclusion and great diversity were easy to achieve, more organizations would be knocking it out of the park. Instead, it takes true belief and unwavering commitment from the SaskPower team. From the executive level to our customer service representatives and our power line technicians to our plant operators, we must challenge traditional norms and ways of thinking. We must also continue to learn from one another within our organizations and across our industries.

There’s a great line that I heard recently around our executive table that I think sums up our philosophy nicely: “It is about progress, not perfection.” Learn more at