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Q&A with President Johnson about hiring SFU’s first Vice-President People, Equity and Inclusion

February 19, 2021
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Last year, SFU President Joy Johnson committed to adding a new executive position to SFU’s leadership group that is responsible for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at the university.  This new position has been approved by the Board of Governors and the search process for SFU’s first Vice President People, Equity and Inclusion (VPPEI) is now underway.

As this is a new position for the university and comes with some changes to SFU’s existing structures, SFU News sat down with President Johnson, chair of the search committee, to discuss the position details and learn how the community can get involved in the search process.

SFU News: Tell us about the role of the new VPPEI—what areas will they oversee?

Joy Johnson: The new VP will be responsible for developing and overseeing an equity, diversity and inclusion strategy for SFU. In this role they will look for ways to work with the SFU community to support anti-racism and anti-oppression initiatives.  A key responsibility for this role is to promote a teaching, learning and working environment that is safe, diverse, equitable and inclusive for all.

The VP will oversee a number of units, including Faculty Relations, Human Resources and an EDI support unit. The VP will be a key member of the Executive Team and provide strategic leadership and support for the achievement of SFU’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the university’s mandate. 

SN: What considerations were made when deciding on the reporting structure for this position?

JJ: I believe that creating sustainable change needs to start at the systems level. This means examining the policies, processes and practices we follow at the university, and asking ourselves whether they are driving change or maintaining the status quo.

We examined the Canadian post-secondary landscape and considered many different positions and structures that could help us not only drive the change we want to see, but also serve our university best. We decided on a structure that allows us invest in our people, and one that is similar to what is in place at the University of Toronto and at York. While there is no perfect structure, I believe there are many benefits to this approach.

SN: What are the benefits of including Human Resources and Faculty Relations in one portfolio?

JJ: Human Resources and Faculty Relations have a natural fit together because that is where many of our policies and processes live—most notably the structures that support the recruitment, training, retention and development of SFU’s employees.

Bringing together of all of these “people” functions into a single portfolio will allow SFU to create a strategic approach to developing our organization and employees. And it means that functions such as labour relations, hiring and recruitment, training and development, leadership identification and professional development will all be reexamined through an EDI lens.

SN: What will be the new relationship between Faculty Relations and the VPA?

JJ: We’re doing a lot of thinking about how this portfolio can thoughtfully bring together human resources, labour relations and faculty relations—and part of that process is acknowledging which areas are common to both faculty and staff, and what areas need to stay separate.

I know there are a number of areas, including those outlined in the SFUFA Collective Agreement, that require a formal accountability and a strong working relationship between the VPA and Faculty Relations. I want to assure the community that this will continue under the new arrangement.

SN: Will the VPPEI also oversee diversity, equity and inclusion among students?

We recognize that students have unique needs and concerns that must be addressed through student-specific policies, policies and programs. The overall leadership and accountability for establishing those supports will remain with the AVP Students and International. However, the VPPEI will work closely with the VPA and the AVP Students and International to create robust processes that ensure student-facing supports and services are equitable and inclusive.

SN: We know there have been previous community requests to create a VP-level position for EDI—why create this position instead of one solely for EDI?

JJ: It’s true that we have received feedback from the Diversity Meter, as well as our stakeholders and university leaders, which identifies the need for more senior leadership and accountability as we work towards creating a more welcoming and inclusive workplace culture. We’ve also heard that our community is looking for a position with the authority and resourcing to make real, systemic change.

At SFU, the VP role is a senior executive role that includes responsibility for a number of units and the resources to support those units. Because so many of the structural changes we’re aiming for will need to be driven by functions in HR and Faculty Relations, having an executive who is responsible for an integrated EDI and faculty/staff HR plan best positions us to create the kind of change we ultimately want to see. 

SN: Are there any plans to create an Associate Vice-President, EDI position alongside this position?  

JJ: We’re leaving things open for the new VP to determine how they want to organize their portfolio and what structures they need to support their work. This will include deciding which other senior roles are required in the portfolio.

SN: What will the search process be like for the new VPPEI?

JJ: As for any VP, the search process will follow GP 29 and include a search committee made up of internal university constituents representing faculty, staff and students. We’ve just launched the search process and anticipate having the new VP in place by this fall.

SN: Is there a way for the SFU community to participate in the search process?

JJ: Absolutely! We’re currently undergoing a community engagement process to create the candidate profile. And because no one knows SFU as well our faculty, staff and students, I encourage all members of the community to participate in this important process. You can learn more about how to participate on the search website.