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Leading in Changing Times: SFU Program Tackles Systemic Inequities

The Leadership Essentials Certificate program aims to decolonize traditional leadership approaches.

Kim Mah 13 Dec 2021TheTyee.ca

From the Black Lives Matter movement to growing calls for reconciliation, Canada is facing a racial reckoning like never before. But how equipped are today’s leaders to address systemic inequities in their workplace culture?

A new leadership development program at SFU Continuing Studies aims to fill that gap in skills and knowledge. Launched earlier this year, the Leadership Essentials Certificate program consists of four online courses created for new and aspiring leaders.

“For decades, there has been much research, academic work and activism in anti-racism, anti-oppression and social justice,” says instructor Indy Batth, a leadership coach and consultant who helped design the program. “And then there’s the field of leadership development. But the two areas have long been separate.

“What we’ve done is bring them together in one unique program where we can expose students to the next iteration of leadership for a changing society.”

Rather than focus only on skills taught in other leadership training, like conflict or communication, explains Batth, the SFU program approaches such topics through an unwavering lens of decolonization and social justice.

“What are the dominant ways of working that no longer serve, that actually exclude some and benefit others?” says Batth. “How do we unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) maintain those systems? This program reveals and helps name those systems.”

As a senior program advisor with the federal government, Vancouver’s Lupe Sibrian initially enrolled in the program to gain leadership skills that would enhance her ability to navigate the various systems within the public service. To her surprise, what she learned was essentially the opposite: how to shift away from colonial systems that lead to inequitable treatment.

“It’s been such an emotional journey of self-discovery,” she says. “As a person of colour, I felt validated in the frustration I had been feeling within these systems. It felt liberating to share and engage in topics that placed my lived experiences at the centre of the very topics we were discussing.”

In the program, says Sibrian, she felt safe, supported — and prepared to speak up: “Through this journey, I’m so proud that I’ve been able to push myself out of my comfort zone. I now feel better equipped to acknowledge the things that need to be acknowledged.”

Sibrian has been sharing relevant articles with her colleagues and hopes to bring in an external consultant to present on topics of inclusion and equity to deepen the programming already available. With the support of her department, she’s also working on a pilot project to provide employment opportunities for Indigenous youth in her workplace.

“I knew Indigenous groups were underrepresented at work,” she explains. “Since taking this program, I can now better identify the systems that hinder the success of individuals and reinforce it with all that I’m learning.”

Sibrian says she’s been impressed not only by the compassion and sensitivity shown by her instructors, but also her classmates. Learners enter the program with differing levels of understanding when it comes to systemic issues, she notes. While some don’t work in any formal leadership role, others hold high positions of power in their organizations.

For Sibrian, it was particularly encouraging to see those “powerful” leaders prepared to take what they learned and begin implementing change within their teams. Although the leadership essentials program hasn’t taught her what she expected, she says she’s grateful for all it’s given her instead.

“Everyone has a guidebook on how to be diverse and inclusive, but this program opens up your mind,” says Sibrian. “To lead with justice, inclusion and diversity — what leader wouldn’t want that?”


The next course in the Leadership Essentials Certificate program begins Jan. 19, 2022. Visit SFU Continuing Studies for more details.  [Tyee]

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