Indira Naidoo-Harris, the University of Guelph’s AVP, diversity and human rights, has been named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women for 2022.
The Top 100 Awards were presented this week by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN), which promotes the advancement of professional women across Canada. Twelve categories of awards recognize outstanding women who create meaningful change by leading within their organizations and communities.
“Being recognized for my work in this way is an honour,” said Naidoo-Harris, who heads the Office of Diversity and Human Rights (DHR). “Throughout my life, whether as a journalist, a cabinet minister or at U of G, I’ve worked hard to be a strong voice for people facing challenges in their lives. This award recognizes that living your truth is the only way forward.”
Award winners span the private, public and not-for-profit sectors and are selected by WXN. Naidoo-Harris is one of 15 women being recognized in this year’s new category of Canadian Tire Community Impact.
Noting that recent years have posed particular challenges for women and equity-deserving groups, Naidoo-Harris said, “These awards give hope to those in our community who have been struggling. This award says that we are here for you, we understand and together we will work to lift women up across our nation.”
Creating a culture of transformation
Since arriving at U of G in 2019, Naidoo-Harris, a former broadcast journalist and Ontario cabinet minister, has worked to build what she calls a “transformative culture of equity and inclusion” through various initiatives.
She has helped to lead the development of an annual EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) enhancement fund to support numerous inclusion projects on campus. Those initiatives range from Black History Month events and an Indigenous lecture series to Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) mentorship programs and an anti-racism conference.
Naidoo-Harris has also made integral contributions to the University’s Anti-Racism Action Plan and to U of G’s multi-year accessibility plan.
“On behalf of all of us at U of G, I am delighted to congratulate Indira on being selected among the Top 100 Award Winners this year,” said president Dr. Charlotte Yates.
Referring to U of G’s Indigenous and EDI initiatives, Yates said, “Indira has dedicated her life to breaking down systemic barriers and creating inclusive communities, and the U of G community is grateful for her outstanding contributions to spearheading the University’s IEDI efforts.”
Earlier this month, U of G released its Anti-Racism Policy Statement, a first for Ontario universities. Stemming from the action plan and led by the President’s Advisory Committee on Anti-Racism, the statement is intended to promote shared understanding and expectations among community members for addressing racism and discrimination, said Naidoo-Harris.
“We all have a part to play in building a kind, accepting and fair University where everyone has a sense of belonging,” said Naidoo-Harris.
She added that a sense of belonging is her own informal benchmark for the impact of the DHR office’s work.
“When people step foot on our campuses and into our classrooms and labs and boardrooms, do they feel at home, valued and respected?” she said. “I want our students, faculty, staff and visitors to know that the University of Guelph is a special place and that everyone here has a voice.”
Office of Diversity and Human Rights spearheads numerous initiatives
Dr. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research), who wrote a nomination support letter for the award, said, “Indira Naidoo-Harris has left a positive, indelible mark on the University community. She has been a central figure in making the University of Guelph a safer, more equitable and more inclusive community, helping to improve life for us all.”
Other education, training and engagement initiatives led by or involving Naidoo-Harris’s team include the following:
- enhancement of equity, diversity and inclusion training and education, including the creation of four online training modules and hundreds of workshops
- creation of a Black Canadian studies minor launched this fall in the College of Arts
- development of a for-credit undergraduate course on anti-discrimination and anti-oppression
- launch in 2022 of a three-year, $3.6-million plan to hire Black and Indigenous faculty and staff members
- establishment of BIPOC student awards, building on existing awards such as U of G’s Indigenous graduate scholarship
- appointment of Dr. Jade Ferguson as inaugural associate dean of academic integrity and anti-racism
The DHR office has also recently published an EDI guidebook available to anyone in Canada.
Naidoo-Harris a voice for equity-deserving communities
Before joining U of G, Naidoo-Harris promoted equity and inclusion as a journalist and Ontario member of parliament. Elected in 2014 as an MPP, she held several cabinet posts, including serving as Ontario’s first minister of the status of women and as minister responsible for early years and childcare. Nadoo-Harris also served as Ontario’s minister of education and associate minister of finance.
She represented Ontario at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and as co-host of the meeting of the federal-provincial-territorial ministers responsible for the status of women and played a role in the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit.
Before entering politics, Naidoo-Harris was an award-winning journalist in Canada.
She said her convictions about equity and inclusiveness stem from childhood.
“I was born in South Africa under apartheid, so I experienced first-hand the harsh and painful realities of racism and discrimination,” said Naidoo-Harris.
“I know what it feels like to have no voice and to be treated without respect. Canada has given me a voice and given me respect.”