Digging In With ONN

Decent Work Movement Building

Episode Summary

The Decent Work movement building has been part of ONN’s fabric for the last several years. Join us as Pamela Uppal, Policy Advisor at ONN breaks down how nonprofits can lean into creating equitable conditions for workers in the nonprofit sector using Decent Work practices. Bio: Pamela (she/her) cares deeply about how women experience the world and so her work over the past 10 years has focused on creating gender equitable systems by bridging frontline work, research initiatives, and policy advocacy. Currently, she is a policy advisor at the Ontario Nonprofit Network leading its decent work, care economy, and future of work portfolios.

Episode Notes

The Decent Work movement building has been part of ONN’s fabric for the last several years. Join us as Pamela Uppal, Policy Advisor at ONN breaks down how nonprofits can lean into creating equitable conditions for workers in the nonprofit sector using Decent Work practices.  


Bio: Pamela (she/her) cares deeply about how women experience the world and so her work over the past 10 years has focused on creating gender equitable systems by bridging frontline work, research initiatives, and policy advocacy. Currently, she is a policy advisor at the Ontario Nonprofit Network leading its decent work, care economy, and future of work portfolios.

Episode Transcription

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Yami: Welcome to Digging In With ONN. A podcast that focuses on issues that matter to the nonprofit sector. I'm your host Yami, with my co-host, Kavita. As you heard last week on our first inaugural podcast, we'll be digging into issues that really matter to the sector. And for those who don't know, ONN stands for the Ontario Nonprofit Network. 

Our vision is to have a strong and resilient nonprofit sector, as well as thriving communities and a dynamic province. We see this podcast as a tool to advance these goals within the sector. And just so you know, for the next little while, we'll be focusing on all things related to decent work, racial justice and Truth and Reconciliation.

Kavita: For today's episode, we will be talking about decent work and are joined by our colleague sector leader on decent work and policy advisor, Pamela Uppal. 

Yami: Woo, Pam!

Kavita: Pam, can you give us a brief overview of your brilliance and work at ONN?

Pamela: Thank you for the warm welcome. I don't think I've ever heard myself as a sector leader, so thank you. Grateful for that. So as you guys shared, my name is Pamela Uppal, I'm a policy advisor at ONN, and I've actually been at ONN for a little bit over four years. I started my journey here leading the Decent Work for Women project and now lead policy files on decent work, the future of work and the care economy. Gender equity has been sort of the lens that I've done all my work through, intersectionality, and that's what I bring to my policy files as well as the decent work movement building we've been doing at ONN.

Kavita: We’re so lucky to have you present today. Let's dive into the first question. Pam, what is decent work? Why is it important to address within the nonprofit sector?

Yami: mmhmm.

Pamela: Great question. A lot of people will say well, shouldn't we have more than decent work? Decent work sort of just implies a minimum standards, but that's not true. So decent work is a term coined by the International Labour Organization, or ILO for short, to describe what good work looks like. Fair, stable and productive. 

The term inspires both movement building around good work and actions across various levels and at ONN that means actions at the organizational network and policy levels, all of which is to make decent work of reality. Decent work specifically ties together the goals of social protection, economic security, thriving businesses, and community wellbeing. So it's not just about meeting minimum requirements, but that good work is important for everyone in our communities to thrive. 

So although the ILO has many measurements for decent work, there's seven key ones that we at ONN have determined align well with the sector. And these are employment opportunities, fair wages, health and retirement benefits, stable employment, opportunity for development and advancement, equality rights at work, and culture and leadership. An intersectional lens on these indicators illuminates how decent work impacts diverse workers, which is particularly important in our sectors since 80% of the nonprofit sector’s workforce across Canada consists of women. And although we don't have a lot of data on worker demographics, anecdotally, we know that many of them are Black and immigrant women. 

Yami: Mmhmm.

Pamela: So the concept of decent work is really values based, which is why I think it resonates really well with nonprofits. So just as equity, inclusion, collective and well being values underpin our sector’s missions, I think they also underpin decent work so that the pursuit of work does not come at a social and economic cost for some, rather it's a source of dignity for everyone.

Decent work is a critical path, what we've sort of been working on, a critical pathway to gender equity, racial justice and reconciliation in the sector. Particularly when our sector’s women majority and racialized workforce can access decent work, it ensures that not only do the marginalized communities they serve get the best care, but historically discriminated against workers have economic security as well. In this way, then the sector can really move alongside gender equity, racial justice and reconciliation movements.

Yami: Whew! Do you see why we asked Pam to be part of our first episode on decent work? So much!

Kavita: Absolutely! Just didn't even skip a beat.

Yami: *chuckles* Well, this is what you get, you know, working on this for four years. This is kind of where I would say our thinking has led us to in the four years of work that we've been doing. And I know you guys also asked me, why is it important? Why does Decent Work matter for our sector? And, you know, it might sound cliche, but it's true, I think it's true, we all benefit from nonprofits that invest in decent work. 

As employees, we excel when we experience fair working conditions that improve our quality of life. As employers, nonprofits can attract and retain high caliber staff, and save money by offering good jobs. As funders, their investments move the needle on complex social issues, and there's increased value for the funding dollar. And as a whole, as a sector, we're better able to achieve our missions and our communities, because decent work builds a stronger, more resilient sector. Really, you know, our sector’s biggest asset and vehicle for serving communities is our labor force. So if they're treated well, or communities will receive the best care,

Kavita: It's a win win all around. 

Pamela: There you go. *chuckles*

Yami: Right? Pam, so you like, there's so much knowledge here, so much knowledge, and one of the things that came up is you were talking about, you know, you've been doing this work for four years, and so you've been immersed in decent work movement building, and I love that you emphasize that it's not just about meeting the minimum requirements, but it's about going above and beyond and really finding ways to impact the sector to create decent working conditions. I know you've done some listening sessions across the province in regards to your work around decent work for women. So what are some of the things that you heard from the sector? You had mentioned the statistic around the nonprofit sector being a woman majority sector, and that we know, it's often Black and racialized, and Indigenous folks that have some of the most precarious positions. If you can go into a bit more detail about what you heard within these listening sessions, and also focus groups that you held around decent work.

Pamela: Yeah, for sure. So you know, the Decent Work For Women project started in 2017, because quite literally, ONN had an “aha” moment. We'd been building this decent work movement at that point for a number of years, and we just realized, like 80% of the sector are women. So how does that change? What do we do? How does that change our movement building? How does it change how we view decent work? And so in 2018, I had the privilege, I want to say, because it was amazing to hear from over 700 folks who identify as women, in addition to other identities, working in nonprofits across the province. High level, what I heard was an immense passion for working in service of communities, but particularly for Black, Indigenous newcomer women, women with disabilities, women from the LGBTQ2SI communities. It went beyond passion, it was about seeing pressing needs in their communities that were not being addressed by traditional institutions, and stepping up to fill those gaps. 

I also heard disappointment with the lack of value given to their work, frustration at persistently low compensation levels, anger at the way in which sexism, racism, ableism, and ageism, interconnected to deeply harm women workers in the sector. Going beyond that, to the individual outcomes, I think the other powerful piece from those learning circles was this sort of direct connection between the fact that there are so many women who work in our sector, and many of them BIPOC folks, and how the sector’s work is considered women's work, care work, and thus low valued and low waged work. And so this feminization of labor in our sector, that connection really came out through the learning circles. 

Sometimes it was implicit, you know, when we're talking about, let's say, low wages, lack of benefits, lack of decent work. And in other ways, it was very explicit. Women sharing with me moments where they've experienced sexism in board meetings or with clients or being told to do the administrative duties. Our Women's Voices report, which will be shared with this podcast, as well really highlights all of those pieces that came out. Essentially that they were women's voices talking to us about what they've experienced, and what way they want to see things go.

Kavita: Through the listening circles, I know that you spoke both to English speaking and serving nonprofits as well as Francophone. And I know based on the report and the findings, there's some similarities. But can you speak a little bit about what might be different for the Francophone community? What might have been different through those learning listening circles?

Pamela: So the learning circles that we did in 2018 are all in English and we had the opportunity to do some in French this year. So this was particularly targeted towards Francophone women working in Francophone nonprofits across the province, and we held two sest of consultations, one for frontline workers and one for executive directors or senior leaders. And to be honest, the themes were the same. 

Yami: Ok.

Pamela: Yeah, there is this extreme passion and sense of duty. And I would say there’s that same layer of, “we're Francophonie”, “we can speak the language”, “there's many Francophonie immigrants”, and so there is this sort of sense of duty for that community particularly, and it’s trumping decent work sadly. Which is what we heard in the previous learning circles, right? Passion and sense of duty for communities trumping decent work. 

So ya, women are experiencing a lack of decent work. But that passion and sense of duty for the community trumped, that was more important when we spoke to women. So actually very similar experiences work sort of highlighted in both. A little bit of differences in how they sort of manifested but quite similar, and even to paint a broader picture, all the economic barriers or employment barriers women face in all other sectors, just generally, the same stuff is happening in our sector. We have the gender wage gap, we actually have a racialized glass ceiling. We have all of that, just the difference is it shows up differently. We have a different sector, we have a women majority sector, we're supposed to be doing benevolent work. There's a charity model at play, there's a lack of resources narrative. And so that sort of influences how these barriers show up, and how women experienced them.

Yami: Thank you. 

Kavita: I know that's, that's a lot. 

Yami: That piece around  the charity model and the benevolence and how that ties into the feminization of labour, just spot on. It makes me think also about when you talk about decent work for women, the context and how it's a women led majority sector, but then we also know based on some of the research and future podcasts that we'll be doing that it's also a predominantly white lead sector, right?

Pamela: So actually, we don't even say women lead-so quick story-

Yami: Storytime!

Pamela: We say women majority, very specifically because we were sitting in advisory council meeting early on in this work, and we had an advisory council member, and she's like, we're not gonna say women lead because it's not women led. It's white male led, there's a lot of women in the sector, and we can address that, and we can name that, but let's not say it's women led. And actually one of our findings, Yami,  speaking to what you were saying was, it looks like we have a lot of women leaders, but that's because we have a lot of small organizations in our sector, predominantly make up the sector. And all of those small organizations, women usually lead them, and usually white women lead them. And then when you go get into organizations that are bigger, have bigger budgets, etc. they're usually led by men, white men, if they're not, like ethno specific cultural organizations. 

Very rarely do you see women leaders in those big spaces, let alone racialized women leaders. You'll see women leaders, concentrated in women's organizations, or you'll see racialized women concentrated in ethno specific or women's organizations, also immigrant refugees serving organizations in those types of spaces. So we're very deliberate with using women majority, because we don't want to feed into that perspective that it's a women led sector by any means.

Yami: Thanks for that clarification, that's, that's really helpful. And also the power of language and framing the conditions, the working conditions, and that's a primary thing that we're trying to do is not only use language, but frameworks to identify what decent work is.

Kavita: So Pam, what does approaching decent work from a policy lens entail? How does it support  decent work?

Pamela: I would say employment standards, so labour policy in any way, really is the backbone of decent work, right? In order for organizations to be incentivized, to say it in one way, or have that infrastructure to be able to offer decent work, we need good labour policy, we need strong employment standards that are backing that up, right? And that particularly means making sure that the labour standards raise the floor for everybody. Decent work, if it's offered by an organization, it sort of only speaks to their organization and those that are working for them, but employment standards apply to anybody who's in the labour position in Ontario. And if we can really target those employment standards and labour policy to really look at who's at the margins of the labour market, that's when we can truly make a difference. 

And so one of the things that we've been doing with decent work from the get go is alongside doing movement building within the sector, and at a network level with individual organizations, is also doing decent work policy advocacy. So whether that’s employment standard like I was saying, and that includes like permanent paid sick days, a minimum wage which reflects living wages, equal pay for equal work across employment statuses, but it also means, you know, sort of shining-I like to think of decent work as a prism in another metaphor-

Yami: Love it.

Pamela: -you sort of love all these different lenses. Like we have our gender lens, we have our intersectional, racial justice, reconciliation, you use that to shine it into the prism, and then what comes out are these different lights, but actually different analyses and different actions we can take. So even when it comes to policy, it's about looking at pay transparency. Yes, that's targeted towards women workers, but it's equally as important. Pay equity legislation and ending misclassification of workers. So all these employment centres and labour policies really have that, they're sort of the foundation for decent work, right? This is what organizations build their decent work practices on and they're just more incentivized to do so if it's legislated.

Yami: Did that also include gender-diverse folks?

Pamela: We did have an effort to include gender-diverse folk. Was the representation representative of those that work in the sector? I don't know, slash, I don't think so. I say I don't know because we don't have official LMI. So there's, there's no sort of benchmark to be like, well, 10% of the people who work in our sector are gender diverse folks, so we're gonna have 10% representation in our learning circles and survey. We couldn't benchmark it to that. We had some representation but not enough to draw conclusions. So that was sort of my benchmarking or my point of analysis, we definitely had representation from racialized women workers in the sector, comparable to what I think would be the benchmark, and enough to draw conclusions. Same with immigrant women.

We did a specific focus group with women with disabilities, so we were able to draw conclusions from there. And we had good representation around age and sub sector etc. We did not have enough representation from Francophonie women, Indigenous women, and gender diverse folks to draw conclusions. 

Yami: Okay, that's really helpful to know.

Pamela: Which is why I'm always really conscious, like sometimes, you know, in say, making generalizations about what we found, I try to sort of name “well based on these groups of folks, we can draw conclusions”.

Yami: Thank you, Pam, for identifying some of those realities that showed up when talking about decent work for women and also like the realities of some of the gaps. We know that that's something that you're going to continue to engage with. And I know through our decent wor work that we're going to be continuing, that we are hoping to hear from more iIndigenous voices and gender diverse voices. This work is ongoing and I think that's one of the key takeaways for me today. 

But before we go there, I just wanted to thank you for all of your insights. It was super valuable. I've learned so much. It's funny, we work together, and I'm like, wow, I feel like I got this awesome primer on decent work yet again, and just loving it up and loving up on you for showing up and sharing all of your wisdom with us. 

Some things I'm walking away with are really the emphasis on the feminization of labour and how decent work is really about creating the conditions. So it's not a this is a basic, this is decent, this is good enough, it's how can we step up our game to ensure that employment spaces and the nonprofit sector is responding to the needs of workers, especially those that are the most marginalized within the sector. And so big up to you and all of the amazing work that you've been doing. And yeah, I just wanted to emphasize those takeaways. Kavita, what about you? What are your takeaways?

Kavita: So for me, same thing as Yami. Pam and I officially work together, but we don't get to work together necessarily very often. So I'm really happy that in this way, I get to hear from you in more detail about the work that you're passionate about and something that you have been working on for many years. You can tell because you just so naturally can speak about it in a really meaningful and insightful way. 

I think the takeaways for me, the term intersectional always pops up for me, and I am really happy that more and more policy work is taking an intersectional lens, because I think that's so important to-as I said, in our inaugural podcast, all of us or none of us. That's something I really take to heart. I want everyone to sort of take that approach to all the work that we do, especially when it's social justice-related. So I think I'm really happy that ONN pivoted along the way and adapted its approach to decent work and is cognizant of the fact that there were some voices missing, and how are we going to improve upon that in the future? 

The other thing, it's sort of funny as you work in the nonprofit sector, I've always figured, well, I'm one person, and then this is my one experience, and it's maybe not indicative of a pattern in the sector, but as you say, the sector is white male led and it's like, yeah, that's sort of has been my experience. Either white woman or white man led. It's funny to talk about the smaller organizations and the bigger organizations and I think sometimes folks think, oh, well, based on the mission of nonprofits, it must just be better in this sector-

Pamela: Oh, hundred percent.

Kavita: -and it's like, no, we have all the same issues that every other sector does, and we have the same historical problematic foundations that other sectors do, and that we have to do the work to dismantle that. So yeah, lots to think about. We're sort of recording this podcast early in October and what is approaching is Decent Work Day, and so that day may have passed by the time you're listening to this podcast. But just to let you know that October 7th is Decent Work Day. And it is an opportunity for you to talk about decent work, to raise awareness about this work that is being done, and really support the work of Pam, but also everyone else that is advocating for the advancement of decent work, not just for women, but decent work in the nonprofit sector.

Pamela: Thanks guys, you should invite me more often, there’s so many nice things that you guys were able to say so yeah, it was awesome.. Being here and sharing some of the insights we've had, I am so looking forward to the work Yami you'll be doing and Kavita on building the decent work movement from where it is today and sort of where it goes. 

And I'll sort of end by saying, you know, it's just beginning. There's so much opportunity in our sector to grow and grow organically, to be the sector of choice to work, to really do good in community and continue doing good and community. We've seen that through the pandemic, how important we are, how needed we are. And I think we just need to sort of get better at focusing on the future and thinking about all those opportunities and how to seize those opportunities. Really thinking about the future of work thinking about care work and care economy thinking about, you know, how do you continuously keep advocating for employment standards to make these and work a reality. To keep doing that work and building cross-sectoral partnerships so it's just normal. It's normal to have livable wages, and it's normal to have a benefits plan or a top pension plan. So, yeah, the work continues. I don't think it'll ever finish. It, just you know, the conditions in which we do this work will continuously change. But thank you for having me. Thank you.

Yami: Thank you, Pam. Thank you, and thanks, everyone, for tuning in to the podcast. We're your hosts, Yami and Kavita, and we hope that you'll join us for future episodes as we dig into issues that matter to the nonprofit sector. Make sure to rate, subscribe, share, so you'll be the first to know when episodes are live. Deepest appreciation for Pam, and as Pam referenced, there will be resources at the end of the web page that you can access as well as more information about decent work for women. Those resources will be linked below. We also wanted to let you know that we have an upcoming conference on October 27th and 28th 2021. You can find out more info at the ONN.ca. That's ONN.ca.