What Zenbooks has learned this year during Pride Month

The conversation during Pride Month (June) happen again this year, to discuss 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, issues, and support.

In May, we noticed Pride month coming up and we thought about what exactly Zenbooks could do. To really do something real and impactful. We didn’t want our efforts to come across as an empty corporate gesture.

We did some research on 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, issues, and support in the accounting profession and found that 20% of accountants (In the US) who identify as LGBTQIA left the accounting profession because of lack of diversity, equitable treatment and inclusion. However, it was mostly because of Lack of diversity and Lack of inclusion. Diversity being a hiring initiative and inclusion being something we could do right now. The accounting industry is typically pretty archaic, and we at Zenbooks are trying to lead the progressive shift within the industry on many fronts.

We reached out to our client/contacts at Chroma NB, to get their thoughts on what we could
do.

They provided us great resources like the PrideAtWork Resources and valuable actionable suggestions for all employers.

Review of Health Benefits PREC

We did a full review of our health benefits package to identify any shortcomings in our plan that may not adequately address 2SLGBTQIA+ needs. Zenbooks is committed to helping address inadequacies in the health benefit package we provide for employee. We’ve learned that many health benefits plans don’t cover:

    1. Same sex family plan coverage
      1.  We received confirmation that a same-sex couple (married or common law) would be covered equally as a hetero couple under our plan. 
    2. Adoption, IVF or fertility treatments equally accessible by same sex couple and hetero couples
      • Same sex couples get equal coverage to hetero couple coverage.
    3. Trans-inclusive healthcare (Surgery, hormones, etc)
      • Sun Life offers a Gender Affirmation Coverage (See details here).
      • This is an upgrade to our existing plan that Sun Life would charge an extra 24% premium over our existing plan. We decided as a firm that this would a very steep increase for us to afford.
    4. Non-binary declarations of sex/gender on the enrollment form
      • The enrollment form NEEDS to have a gender filled out. However Sun Life confirmed that the gender does not have to correspond to the individual’s sex at birth.
    5. PrEP coverage for Gay, Bisexual, Queer, and Trans men?
      • I learned that PrEP was covered by OHIP (Ontario), RAMQ (Quebec), BC Provincial Plan and Alberta Provincial Plan. That means for us, all of our employees have access to PrEP at no (or low) cost. 

Our benefits representative Ian Keith has been great at going back and forth with Sunlife on this. Lots of emails to help understand the nuances of our plan in this regard! Ian also mentioned we were the ONLY client/company who reached out to him to see how their current benefits may or may not properly address the needs of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.  We were disappointed and surprised to hear that more companies were not looking into it.  

Survey

Zenbooks learned that this is a good opportunity for us to assess our own firm’s diversity within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. We can’t know what issues in diversity we’re facing if we don’t know where we stand. Just because someone is in a committed hetero relationship, could still mean they are bi-sexual, queer, transgender, Asexual, etc.

Therefore, we launched the internal anonymous survey for voluntary responses on 2SLGBTQIA+ self identification (and employee engagement metrics). This will help everyone understand our current diversity on the team, in addition to opportunities for improvement.

The use of pronouns in the workplace

We’ve learned about why pronouns are used in email signatures and how impactful they can be. While a cisgender (personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex) individual may not get mis-gendered regularly, their use of pronouns in their email signature help normalize pronouns and helps demonstrate the inclusive nature of our work environment. Anyone receiving emails from an individual with pronouns in their email signature better understand the inclusive nature of that person and their workplace.

There’s a great article about this here and here, that discuss this in detail.

We have encouraged all team members to voluntarily use their preferred pronouns in their email signatures from now on.

Employee handbooks

We learned that many workplace policies and employee handbooks do not properly factor in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Common issues in policies are:

      1. Not including gender identify base harassment
        1. Our handbook included gender identify based harassment as a recognized form of harassment. 
      2. Including a male and female dress code examples
        1. We did not have a gender based dress code. We learned that some employee handbooks say for example: Men need to wear dress shirts and women need to wear skirts. Our dress code conversation does not specifically discuss gender.

We did a full review of our employee handbook to address inadequacies and/or make more inclusive changes to our handbook. What we found was that our employee handbook was actually not in bad shape.

 

Hiring practices

In the past, we’ve posted our jobs on indeed, employee referrals and social media messaging. We didn’t realize that if we don’t have good existing diversity, this could lead to an echo chamber of applicants that will reflect our existing diversity on our team.

A great way for us to widen our search pool to ensure to include everyone is to ensure to post our jobs on immigrant service organizations,  Indigenous related organizations, and 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations.

This ensures we gather candidates from all walks of life within/outside of our typical echo chamber so we can hire the best candidate. On our next job posting we will ensure to include these job sites.

We initiated new mandatory unconscious bias training in our team for all employee. Within our ZenUniversity training.

This is a good way for us to ensure all team members improve their unconscious/implicit biases whether it relates to 2SLGBTQIA+, race or other matters.

Impacts to tax returns

The CRA asks for every taxpayers’ gender on their personal tax return. Why is that?…. That’s a bit weird that CRA would ask that information. Zenbooks has taken the stance that we will not fill this box on ANY of our personal tax returns going forward. Period.

    1. No need to update CRA on changes to gender.
    2. This also removes any information from CRA on sexual orientation of family and couples.

Overall

It was a good exercise for us to reach out to our benefits provider and clarify our plan. The 24% suggested increase in overall premiums was a bit of a shock for the Gender Affirmation Coverage. I was surprised to learn that 1 of 2 genders MUST be filled out on the forms. I suspect that if more companies reached out to their benefits provider Sun Life may feel more pressure to update their policies/processes.

Running a company wide internal survey really helped us understand where we stand right now. I would encourage other companies to do so as well. The use of pronouns in the the email signature was a interesting way to show support and make the environment more inclusive for colleagues, clients, suppliers (Happy we did that one!). Employee handbook and hiring practice review seems like common sense, that somehow we had not originally considered (but glad our HR folks (HumaniHR) did when they drafted our employee handbook!)

The unconscious bias training was an easy one to implement and actually enjoyed watching those videos to create a training. We’re also glad we could take a stance against the CRA on the gender reporting on tax returns. 

Overall this was a great exercise that we would recommend to all businesses to do. Well worth the peace of mind.

Eric Saumure, CPA, CA, Principal

Eric Saumure, CPA, CA, Principal

Eric is a recognized Chartered Accountant (CA) and Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) in the province of Ontario.
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