Just prior to leaving the Ontario Public Service, I was asked to participate in an OPS media initiative called In Frame featuring individuals throughout the public service. In a video taped recording, I reflected briefly on my work experience. Here is a transcript of that recording.
In response to the question as to who I am, I would say that I am Mel White. And in the current parlance of the OPS, I am a visible minority employee. I'm racialized, under-represented in the senior leadership. And I belong to a group that’s most likely to experience discrimination and harassment in the OPS.
But that’s not really who I am. I would say I am someone who has had the opportunity to transcend the barriers of race and the ability to transcend the barriers that come with systems of oppression and exclusion.
In a few days I will leave the OPS after some 28 years of work experience. I've had a wide range of employment opportunities at varying levels, from frontline work to corporate management. I have learned how to transcend the barriers of race and I've also learned how to lead without a title. And these are blessings and assets for which I'm very, very grateful.
There are some who say that the cup is half full and there are others who say that it’s half empty. Usually, it’s the people with power and privilege who have the luxury of saying the cup is half full. For those who say the cup is half empty, they’re usually the ones looking in from the outside.
There are also those who say that change takes time and they’re OK with the pace of glacial change. Again, they’re usually the ones with the power and privilege. For those of us who have watched this organization attempt to transform itself, we realize that this transformation is difficult, that there is a resistance to positive change. And that if change is really to occur, then it has to be a common goal from top to bottom by leaders and by line staff alike.
This is my hope as I leave the organization. I hope that the change that was promised when I first entered will finally be realized, long before my granddaughter becomes an adult and contemplates entering public service.
So, thank you. It’s been my honour to serve. And I wish you the best and farewell.
For more info visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mel-white-1b14a4189/
Imagine a business culture in which all humanity is celebrated, none to the detriment of the other. Consider a leadership culture that encourages and supports everyone to bring and share their greatest gifts for the benefit of all. And consider a collaborative approach that enables meaningful cooperation and partnership in the achievement of a common goal. Envision also an open congenial atmosphere infused with vitality, creativity and joy enveloped in the company of a curious, caring and diverse community. On February 22, 2020, a group of us came close to achieving this revolutionary ideal. If only for a brief moment.
On that evening, I had the honour of being joined by sixty or more friends, associates and colleagues from outside and inside the civil service to mark my exit from the Ontario Public Service (OPS). Together they represented all levels of the organizational ladder. They came from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. In the room were people I had known since the onset of my public service career 28-years ago to individuals I came to know more recently. There were some present who were long retired from the OPS, while there were others who had only recently entered. All were known to me. However, they were not necessarily known to each other. Still, the camaraderie in the room was infectious, the energy electrifying.
It was an enchanting evening inspired by the images and words of iconic leaders, a celebratory evening of community building and art facilitated by Collaborative Artist Donna Johnson. Starting with an empty canvass, the goal was for everyone to “touch the canvass” and contribute as they see fit by whatever means or colours they choose within the prescribed parameters. The raw materials were available to everyone as they were encouraged to contribute to the best of their ability in keeping with their creative imagination and unique gifts. The mood was relaxed, open, dynamic and non-hierarchical as guests moved about the room, surmounting the silos that often separate strangers in public spaces. I am thankful to those who came. I learned a lot that night. Here are some of my takeaways:
Recently, I teamed up with Cynthia Vukets volunteering to jointly speak to audiences about an under-appreciated, and not often easily understood, approach to professional practice. So far, we have had conversations with Journalists at the Toronto Star and with students at the Ryerson School of Journalism. In each instance, there was an engaging response from students and practitioners alike as they began to realize the amazing opportunities available to them to enliven their careers.
Cynthia, who is a former Journalism student and practicing Journalist, brings her rich involvement and know-how in the field along with her strong enduring dedication to diversity and inclusion. While I share Cynthia’s passion for the wellbeing of others, I also bring years of experience in equity work, human rights, culture and organizational change. By combining our respective learning and experience we have been able to cross-pollinate an idea best described as Equitable Journalism. Through our combined perspectives we have been able to uncover the way power and privilege are acutely inscribed in practices, policies and structures and how they underwrite systemic barriers that in turn lead to significant and growing inequalities and harm. The degree of harm crystallizes even more when it is understood how volatile, unpredictable and perplexing the world around us has become and how large numbers of displaced communities have lost agency and control over their own day to day well-being. To be effective professionals in any field, we can no longer choose to be passive and or reactive or continue to subscribe to systems and organizational practices that are no longer viable or life affirming. More than ever what’s called for is a professional practice that is thoughtful, inclusive, forward thinking and transformative.
We usually begin our conversations by asking “The Big Why”– what is the deep driving motivation that drives individuals to enter their field of practice. Not surprisingly, more often than not, most people want to make a difference.
In closing we would follow up with the question, “What more are you willing to do today, right now to make a difference?” And remarkably, many have expressed great interest in the tips and suggestions we have to offer.
To cap and contextualize our conversation, we would end with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” In having these conversations with aspiring and practicing professionals, it has deepened our realization that by committing to become agents of positive change, you not only help to transform the lives of others and the environment, you also in turn transform and invigorate your own.
- Mello Ayo - GBM Consultancy