Invisible Diversity at the Workplace

Searching for my AFP Fellowship project was an admittedly difficult process. Looking in the mirror, I see what others see – a privileged white male – and yet for most of my life, on the inside, I hid and repressed my sexuality out of a deep fear of retaliation from people I loved and cared about. I was intrigued by the relationship between the deep vulnerability I felt with the outward perceptions that people had of me. I decided to lean into the idea.

As I explored project ideas with friends, people would often share their own version of a deeply-held vulnerability that they lived with in silence. In one instance, a person disclosed their HIV status, in another situation someone shared their current struggle with substance abuse… in each case someone related with the gap between the outward presentation of who they are and the challenges of their own unique circumstances.

Previously, in my work as Vancouver Park Commissioner, I worked directly with communities to pass a set of recommendations aimed at making Vancouver the most inclusive city in the world for trans and gender-variant peoples. Learning from that experience told me that an intersectional and community-led – meaning those who the solution is designed to help are the designers of the solution itself – approach was needed in order to be authentic and responsive to real needs.

Based upon my experience, I worked with other staff on Tides Canada’s reconciliation, equity, diversity, and inclusion committee to source the various ways that people can identify within the varied spectrum of invisible diversity as a start to begin exploring ways to address them. We then went out to all staff, inviting them to participate, and engaged with them in discussions about the various ways that we should consider invisible diversity. Our experience generated great response and discussion, leading to the following list:

Class / Economic Status
Salary / Income
Inherited vs. earned capital
Economic / job opportunity

Mental Health
Isolation / Loneliness
Eating-related illness (bulimia / anorexia)
PTSD / schizophrenia / cognitive-related issues
Suicidal thoughts
Memory loss

Sexuality and Gender Identity
Heterosexuality / Homosexuality / Bisexuality / Pansexualiy / etc…
Non-binary gender / male / female /  intersex / 2-spirit / hijra / butch / femme / trans man/woman
Gender reassignment surgery / hormones

Physiological Health
Ability to live independently vs. dependency for tasks/activities
Wheelchairs / walkers / physical access restrictions
Disease / infection / chronic illness
Organ-related conditions (heart, liver, kidney disease, etc…)

Personality Type
Introversion vs. Extroversion
Innovation vs. traditional approaches
Conflict / disagreement style

Cultural Norms
Language / dialect / vocabulary / communication style
Music / food / cultural traditions
Routine / daily practices
Family structure
Holidays / celebrations

Religion / Spirituality
Monotheism / Polytheism / Nontheistic religion / Spiritual practice / Agnosticism / Atheism
Philosophy / ethics

Political Beliefs / Affiliations
Left-wing / right-wing / centrism
Political affiliation vs. no affiliation
Voting rights / privileges
Stances/beliefs about individual issues

Silent Generation / Baby Boomer / Gen X / Gen Y / Millennials / iGen
Life experiences

Marital/Family Status
Children vs. no children
Married/partnered vs. not


Access to education (affordability, geography, privilege)
Level of education
Experiences of trauma
Individual vs. intergenerational

I recognize that this list cannot possibly consider all needs of all people, but through sourcing directly from those people who will be impacted by decisions – the staff themselves – we can feel a degree of confidence that the unique ways that people identify at Tides Canada are captured in our list. Our work in this space will continue by focusing on each issue over the course of the year, and engaging staff in conversations about the considerations of each, and how we can make a more inclusive workplace by making practical changes that furthers inclusion for all. Already, thanks to this project, Tides Canada has started the “invisible diversity” subcommittee as part of our work on reconciliation, equity, diversity, and inclusion, to look at ways to bring unseen intersections into our work furthering an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.

Trevor Loke is development manager at Tides Canada Foundation and principal of Trevor Loke Consulting