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Enduring employment equity legacy

In honour of Queen’s 175th anniversary, the Equity Office and the Human Rights Office are bestowing their Human Rights Initiative, Employment Equity, and Steve Cutway Accessibility awards on alumni and past members of the university community in 2017. The Gazette’s series highlighting the award winners continues with a profile of Sheila Devine, the recipient of the 2016 Employment Equity Award. 

For Sheila Devine, employment equity is the thread that ties together her career in post-secondary education – a career that has taken her across Canada and around the world.

“After law school, I was interested in human rights. From there, I naturally gravitated to employment equity issues,” says Ms. Devine, who worked at Queen’s from 1996-2003 and recently retired from Memorial University in St. John’s. “In everything I have done in this area, my goal was always to have respectful, positive relations with people in order to advance initiatives on employment equity and to address systemic discrimination.”

[Sheila Devine]
Sheila Devine, forrmer associate vice-principal (faculty relations), returned to Queen's on Feb. 27 to accept the 2016 Employment Equity Award. During her time at Queen's, Ms. Devine demonstrated a commitment to integrating employment equity into the university's practices. 

Ms. Devine’s collaborative approach to advancing a diverse workforce and fair employment systems at Queen’s makes her a worthy recipient of the Employment Equity Award, according to Irène Bujara, University Adviser on Equity and Human Rights. 

“Successfully integrating employment equity into a university’s practices takes a great deal of relationship-building and trust,” says Ms. Bujara, who worked closely Ms. Devine over the years. “With a great deal of skill and humility, Sheila was able to build the bridges that allowed Queen’s community to work toward a common goal.”

Ms. Devine came to Queen’s from the University of Victoria, where she was the director of equity issues. As the associate vice-principal (faculty relations), she played a key as the university and the Queen’s University Faculty Association negotiated their first collective agreement.

Ms. Devine recalls with pride that both sides agreed to an employment equity article, and the collective agreement addressed other issues such as discrimination. 

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“The feeling around the table was mutual. Everyone wanted a good article on employment equity,” she says.

Putting in place policies and procedures is important, according to Ms. Devine, but she has always aimed to go beyond that in her work at Queen’s and other post-secondary institutions.

“Education is critical for helping people understand the importance of employment equity,” says Ms. Devine, a teaching member at the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development and a frequent presenter on human rights and equity practices both nationally and internationally. “The key is to inform people what the challenges are, while at the same time addressing the big myths that still surround employment, namely that equity and excellence are mutually exclusive, and that employment equity is reverse discrimination.”

Ms. Devine says she’s pleased to see the Queen’s community still working to advance employment equity. She highlighted a few initiatives – Queen’s Senior Search Policy, a certificate program to foster an inclusive work environment, and a tool for assessing and planning for equity and diversity – as positive developments.

Ms. Devine returned to Queen’s on Feb. 27 to accept the award, where she talked about employment equity in the post-secondary education context.

“I am very honoured, humbled, and surprised,” says Ms. Devine when asked about receiving the award. “I look at Canadian universities and there are so many people involved in employment equity. Outstanding leaders like Irène Bujara and others are so deserving of an award like this one. That’s why it feels like I am accepting this award on behalf of them.”

Visit the Equity Office website to learn more about the award and past winners.