Digging In With ONN

Pay Transparency, Decent Work and Centering BIPOC workers in the Sector

Episode Summary

It’s no secret that pay transparency is a vital aspect of Decent Work practices within the nonprofit sector. In this episode, we speak to Paul Taylor of FoodShare about the different ways nonprofits can ensure that pay equity, transparency and accountability are central to creating thriving work environments for Black, Indigenous and racialized workers. Bio: Paul Taylor is the Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto, and a lifelong anti-poverty activist. Growing up materially poor in Toronto, Paul has used his experience to fuel a career-focused not just on helping others, but dismantling the beliefs and systems that lead to poverty and food insecurity, including colonialism, capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchal structures. Each year, FoodShare provides a quarter-million people with fresh produce and fights for their right to have access to “good” food on their own terms, rather than charity on someone else’s. Paul’s experience includes Executive Director roles at Gordon Neighborhood House and the Downtown Eastside Neighborhood House.

Episode Notes

It’s no secret that pay transparency is a vital aspect of Decent Work practices within the nonprofit sector. In this episode, we speak to Paul Taylor of FoodShare about the different ways nonprofits can ensure that pay equity, transparency and accountability are central to creating thriving work environments for Black, Indigenous and racialized workers.  

Bio: Paul Taylor is the Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto, and a lifelong anti-poverty activist. Growing up materially poor in Toronto, Paul has used his experience to fuel a career-focused not just on helping others, but dismantling the beliefs and systems that lead to poverty and food insecurity, including colonialism, capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchal structures. Each year, FoodShare provides a quarter-million people with fresh produce and fights for their right to have access to “good” food on their own terms, rather than charity on someone else’s. Paul’s experience includes Executive Director roles at Gordon Neighborhood House and the Downtown Eastside Neighborhood House.  



FoodShare's Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation

Making pay transparency a reality | FoodShare


Episode Transcription

Digging In With ONN Episode 5 Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Yami: Before we begin, we want to acknowledge that ONN's head office is located on the unseeded territories of the Mississaugas of the credit, the Anishnabee, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. We know that Tkaranto is diverse to many First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities, documented and undocumented. And for all of the listeners, those of you who identify as settlers, there's a really great resource called nativeland.ca. That's n a t i v e dash land, l a n d . ca, where you can find out whose land you're on, and not only for the purposes of acknowledging but building relationships and practices of solidarity. So make sure to check that resource out.

Welcome to Digging In with ONN. We're your hosts, Kavita and Yami. Digging in with ONN is a podcast that focuses on public policy, as well as systems change that impact Ontario's nonprofit sector with a focus on Decent Work using an intersectional lens that centers learning around Racial Justice, equity practices, as well as Truth and Reconciliation. For today's episode, we will be speaking to Paul Taylor, the executive director at FoodShare, who will be joining us to talk about pay transparency, accountability, as well as change. Welcome to the podcast, Paul, we are so excited to have you. Can you take a moment to introduce yourself to our listeners?

Paul Taylor: Well, thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here. And I think this is an important conversation. So again, thank you for having me. I'm Paul Taylor. I'm the executive director of an organization called FoodShare, Toronto. Where I like to start, I think it's really important, when I talk about FoodShare’s work, everyone asks if we're a food bank, so I just like to clarify that we're not a food bank.  We begin our work by recognizing that everybody in this country has a right to food. One of the things I've begun to realize is that that right to food doesn't extend to everyone. You just go to a farmer's market and you can see to whom the right to food has been extended. It certainly isn't everyone. So that underpins much of our work in thinking about food insecurity, and how we ultimately work with community leaders and local organizations that are also as concerned as we are about access to affordable products in communities across the city. We work with those communities and those leaders to build community-led food infrastructure. So we're working with folks in the community to build produce markets. We call them good food markets. There are about 50 across the city of Toronto. Then doing things like converting school fields and hydro corridors into urban farms. Really building infrastructure, as I say, in communities that I think have had to face chronic underinvestment

Yami: Fair income, living wages, are key components of Decent Working conditions for employees within the nonprofit sector. What are the connections between pay equity, pay transparency? And can you bridge the connections to that around Racial Justice?

Paul Taylor: Okay, I'll try my best. The connections between pay equity and paid transparency, they really work together. Because pay equity, of course, the principle the idea that people should be paid equal pay for equal work. But if there isn't transparency around what folks are being paid, how can folks within those organizations really challenge their organizations to be better? That's such a big part of the problem is that companies and nonprofits as well will often encourage this kind of culture of privacy, real quietness, don't ask about how much someone gets paid. That is one of the things that get in the way of the benefits of pay equity and pay transparency working together. 

It's really important to acknowledge that one of the things that we do at FoodShare, that we found really helpful in terms of prioritizing Racial Equity and Gender Equity is actually we don't negotiate. That's one of the ways we kind of right off the bat, embed equal pay for equal work, and that's sometimes hard for folks to wrap their minds around. But we've committed to saying we're not going to pay somebody more money because society has taught them how to negotiate and that they shouldn't negotiate and they have a history of being rewarded handsomely for those negotiations. Because we see, the data speaks to this, it's often racialized folks, it's often women and non-binary folks who don't benefit in those situations.

Yami: What conversations actions do you feel are central to pay equity? So what I mean by that is we know that pay equity is, the framework of it is about equal pay for equal work and equal value around compensation, and we know that elements of transparency are not often addressed within the nonprofit sector. We're seeing a move to call for pay transparency, as part of not only Decent Work and equitable pay structures and factors, but I think, more importantly, the ways in which it can create avenues for BIPOC folks to ensure that they're getting compensated. So can you speak a little bit to that?

Paul Taylor: For sure, I would say we engaged in typical, I don't know if it's typical, but a strategic planning process. And a number of different engagement-type activities that we realized were actually causing us to relook at our values, relook at our mission vision, and those pieces. That was really important to us. One of the things that I feel happens from time to time with charities or nonprofits is that there are values, but they kind of sit on a wall or in grant applications, and opportunities aren't seized to live organizational values. So for us, much of our decision-making comes back to those things, those key principles. Also, our colleagues bring up when they identify that there's a space for us to do better at living our values. And that's been really, really helpful. That for us is the first place for us to start. 

We've spent also, a lot of time we recognize as we work around this issue of food insecurity, that folks typically don't understand what it means, unfortunately. It's allowed for a bunch of food-based interventions to an issue that's ultimately one of poverty and income. We became a living wage employer because we recognize that as a food justice organization, we didn't want to have colleagues that weren't able to afford to access food, or that were food insecure. Initially, we introduced a living wage in the city of Toronto. The living wage in the city of Toronto is $22.08. So we actually provide a minimum wage, it's $24, so regardless of what anybody does, we started $24. And again, going back to the piece around living our values, in the context of the pandemic, we have some colleagues that are out working doing food distribution, the Good Food Box and other things. So we said, we're not going to increase our impact on the backs of workers that are taking more risk. So we introduced a top-up. Right now it's a $2 top-up on top of what someone's base hourly rate might be. 

Then we started realizing that there were some discrepancies in pay and that it wasn't as transparent as it could be. So we did two things. We looked at the pay grid, we're committed to making it transparent, but also we looked at those numbers in the pay grid, and we made an intentional decision to increase the wages of the folks who are paid the least, by 25%, at that point, no increases for any of the members of the senior leadership team. 

These are some of the ways that pretty early on in our journey, our colleagues, our funders, our supporters really recognize the intentionality, and we were very honest. We talked about how in not just the food system, not just in nonprofits, but as a result of white supremacy, and the patriarchy and all of these wicked organizing principles, that it's often Black and Brown folks who occupy the positions in the lowest bands in organizations and businesses. These types of interventions for us were also Racial Justice interventions and economic justice interventions because the two are tied hand in hand. I talked a little bit about how we don't negotiate salaries, because like I said, we don't believe that someone should be compensated more just because society has been designed for them and they've been taught that they should negotiate and all of that business. 

A couple of other things we've done is a little bit more actually about the context of the pandemic, and thinking about how there's all of this language out there about how we're all in this together. That couldn't be further from the truth. We all know that and it required us to make sure that we're supporting folks based on the kind of challenges that they are interacting with. For every year that the pandemic has been happening, we have provided childcare days, most recently, 15 Child Care days, paid days for folks, anyone within the organization, that needs to provide care because their child can’t get to school. Things like that have been really, really important for us. Just today, our board voted to increase the number of personal days available to all of myself and my colleagues from 3 to 10. 

Those sorts of things have been really important for us, and maybe just a couple more because they're just popping to me now. I work really closely and have such huge appreciation and gratitude for the folks that we work alongside who are part of the Indigenous advisory service, who have helped us along our journey in so many ways. One of which was identifying the opportunity to introduce traditional Indigenous practices leave for folks who were participating in ceremonies and the travel time associated with that. So folks have access to five days. One thing that just jumped to me also, that's really key, is that we start benefits on day one. Who can afford to need critical medication, and pay for them? I'm an asthmatic and one of the medications that I take is upwards of $200 a month.

Kavita: Puffers! They're so expensive.

Paul Taylor: Those puffers! I can't imagine what it would be like to be without my puffer that I need to stay alive. I think that's the reality for far too many people when we start work. It's become a norm that someone has to wait three months before they have access to something that keeps them alive. That is ludicrous. So all in all it's really started for us around carefully defining our values, doing everything we can, seizing opportunities to live our values, and pushing the sector and beyond to be doing similar type of thinking about the possibility of doing things.

Kavita: Oh, my goodness. Yami, can I go off script A little bit?

Yami: You most certainly can.

Kavita: Paul, it sounds like based on the COVID context you've been able to add additional supports, and it seems like it's a more fluid practice for you to look at how to make your organization and how to make your structure more equitable for your staff and to really live your values. In organizations that, just from what I've witnessed in the sector, it doesn't seem so fluid, it doesn't seem like oh, we can just add days or add supports, so for the folks who are listening, who maybe don't feel like they have that fluidity in their organization, could you talk a little bit about how to make that possible? If it's convincing your board or, what the process was for you to be able to add as you go and change as you go.

Yami: And if I could just add to that, Kavita, also around funders, because out often the piece that comes back internally is we want to do this, but our funders don't let us or it's not within the scope of our funding. So we'd love to hear that. Yeah. Great question.

Paul Taylor: For sure. The funder piece just energizes me and I maybe can start there if that's okay. And if I miss anything, which I'm sure I will please have me come back. I think it involves rethinking our relationship with funders, how funders far too often dictate our work. They are just one of the many inputs that should be valued, including our colleagues. There are times when we actually have to say to funders that your funding is inadequate, and perhaps do some coalition building around that. I think we have this idea that funders won't listen, I’ve found that not to be the case actually. But I think if you're worried that funders won't listen, it's building some coalitions and collectively articulating to those funders that your funding process is a problem. 

I get this kind of question a lot too, where do you begin? People hear about some of the things we've done, and they say, where do you begin? What do you start with? And maybe, I think the most important one key piece has been, and I'm going to come back to others, hopefully, I'm not jumping around, but it's around our board. Again, we've got to change the way organizations think about boards. We are not so interested in having, Bay Street types on our board that are interested in padding their resumes, or networking. This work is far too important, people don't have access to the food that they need. So it's really important that that work is directed by folks closest to those issues. One of the most important things we're less interested in, to be honest, if you can read a financial statement, when you're expressing interest in joining the board, we will teach you and we'll support you, we will use our resources to build your capacity in that area, but what we're recognizing is what those board members are bringing is a commitment and commitment to food justice, a commitment to equity and often lived experience of poverty, food insecurity, or racism. So these questions when they come up of increasing personal days, increasing salaries, these sorts of things, it's a no brainer. Organizations can hire lawyers, or pro bono lawyers, you can get all the support that you need. But I do think we have to challenge this idea a little bit that we need a bunch of people with certain connections to other rich folks to be on our boards, to validate our work or invalidate our work. That's the thing that's been most important for us. Making sure that our recruitment of board members has been, again, centred on our values. 

And I get this kind of question a lot. What do you do next? You just start. There's no fancy recipe, there's no playbook to be quite frank. If you're making an organizational commitment to live your values, and your values are centred on things like equity and Racial Justice and economic justice, well, then you just get started. And it means that maybe you won't become a living wage employer, tomorrow or even next year. But you're transparent about what those values are. You're transparent around a commitment to work towards becoming a living wage employer, and you lay out that timeline so folks can see. And you start having those conversations with funders and saying, we are committing to doing this, and if you're with us, this is the increase we're going to need. Funders, I find, in my experience, they often respect that, and they respect being told about some of the problems that are problematic elements of their funding calls and the like. So that's where I think is the most important place to start. And to just go start.

Yami: Yeah, take a step. Exactly.

Paul Taylor: And you'll make mistakes along the way. The important thing is, as you're making those mistakes along the way, own them, acknowledge them, apologize and really prioritize making sure that the mistakes that you're making, or your organizational learning, is not coming at the expense of folks who are already disadvantaged by our systems. When you're thinking about a move, having conversations with folks that are not white men, about what the impact potential of this type of intervention might be.

Yami: So incredibly important. Just to build upon that question around accountability and just starting right, inviting people to just start, is organizational practices and cultures often require a level of accountability. How do you hold yourself accountable as an organization? And you as a leader, what are the mechanisms of accountability that exist in this work for you? I know you've definitely given some great suggestions in terms of leaders in the sector as to how they can hold themselves accountable to this work, but just wanted to emphasize that. 

Paul Taylor: That is a great question. One thing, this is a bit, maybe more rudimentary than the other things that I'll speak about, but one thing that's been really important is there is income inequality that occurs in charities. It's often unspoken about, at least not in boardrooms, maybe in the lunchroom, but there is great income inequality within nonprofit organizations, and CEOs, EDs, whatever we're called, we go and we'll meet with a board and the board will say you're doing such great work, we think you should give you a raise. But that happens in a vacuum. So we see these getting these sorts of raises, but we don't see any other layers of the organization getting commensurate raises. So one of the accountability measures that we've built into policy that's really important, is that we have a ratio that connects what the lowest paid person makes the what the highest-paid person makes. It's 1 to 3. Those conversations cannot happen in a vacuum. I think that's been really important. 

There are a couple of other things too that I think need to be teased out. I remember being an, I don't know what it was a presentation, something on Zoom, like we've all been on and someone asked the question about engaging community, and how do we get community buy-in for our work or something like that, and I just thought, this is ridiculous. Why is there such a distinction between staff and community? Why aren't the staff that occupy positions within these organizations a true reflection of the community that they serve? There shouldn't really be that kind of distinction. I think that distinction occurs when we have well-intentioned, middle-class white folks recognizing that they are not the racialized people that are accessing their programs and services and get into a tizzy. Well, actually, one of the best things you can do is break down that distinction, challenge white supremacy within the organization, and ensure that its folks who are from communities that are being served by the organization or supported or collaborating with the organization are actually accessing paid positions within the organization. I think that's one. 

Another that I would say is when you do these things, and we wrestled with this at first, because we weren't sure whether or not we should do this but we've decided that it's really important to be public, don't do this stuff in secret. This is all a part of accountability because one of the things that happens when you're doing this publicly and making these commitments publicly, is we have to withstand the sniff test from our colleagues. I'll give you an example without naming any organizations. The number of black squares that popped up the summer before last on organizational Instagrams was, wow, it was pretty unbelievable. And the number of people connected to those organizations or businesses that said, Wait a minute, what are you doing? This is a place where I've experienced pretty horrific anti-Black racism, take that black square down. So I think from an accountability perspective, it's really important to be public. And when people criticize the work that you're doing, that's an opportunity to learn, that's an opportunity to be better. So I think it's so important that this doesn't happen in secret. 

Also, the trajectory of how things work in organizations, I think, can sometimes be problematic. Boards go off and do these strategic planning processes or a board will make some key decisions, but often I find that it's disconnected from the people working in the organization, the people most affected by these policies. For us, something only comes to the board after we've had conversation and made updates, based on the feedback we've received from our staff, from stakeholders from the Indigenous advisory circle, sometimes the Black Caucus, all of these kinds of magazines, it takes a little bit longer sometimes. But by the time it's coming to the board, it's really hard for the board to say also that they can't support it because we've engaged so many experts along the way. That’s sometimes unlike the flow of information and policy approval process that typically happens.

Kavita: I just want to reiterate for our listeners, what you just said there is that it can take a little bit longer. I think we need to accept that if we're going to do things right and in an equitable, inclusive way, they might take longer. And that's okay. That it's important for us to take the time and space to do these things as they align best with our values, as opposed to always trying to meet a deadline or getting more things done, which seems to be a very typical attitude in the sector.

Paul Taylor: Absolutely, that is so important. I'm so glad you raised it. Because when it's not slow, it's more likely to be performative and it's more likely to cause harm. When organizations make these knee-jerk reactions, they say, Oh, we don't have enough Black or Indigenous people, we need to-

Kavita: Diversify our staff.

Paul Taylor: Or our board, or whatever it is, let's make sure we're hiring exclusively Black or Indigenous folks. When you're doing that, making those kinds of knee-jerk decisions, and not thinking about the culture and the systems that uphold white supremacy, you're actually inviting folks into what can potentially be a violent and harmful situation. It's really important to slow down and to engage experts. When I say experts, I mean people with lived experience of things like poverty, food insecurity, racism and anti-indigeneity.

Yami: Absolutely. And if you don't have those experts, take time to build relationships, take time to invite folks into your space, take time to get to know what matters to them. I want to anchor those pieces around taking time because the urgency that you talked about with the black squares, Paul, is a byproduct of white supremacy. It's a byproduct of white urgency. And so how do we, and I'm not talking only about white people here, I'm talking about systems, how do we move away from that and engage and build relationships that are not transactional? I love that you touched on that. I know that we could keep going and going-

Paul Taylor: Can I just add one more little piece? 

Kavita: Yes, he had one more point before I cut him off.

Paul Taylor: What is foundational to challenging white supremacy and the way capitalism impacts our systems, it's that my compensation is not tied to the size of our budget. Our budget could be $2 million, it could be $200,000, it could be $200 million, my compensation doesn't change. And I think that's really important because I think too many organizations, and certainly their leaders and boards, group-view success as growing. The organizational budgets are becoming larger. But if you're causing harm, and you're growing your budget and becoming larger, that's problematic. It's important for folks to recognize that that isn't the work. The work for me is about justice. It's not about getting a larger budget or becoming a larger organization. Those things change all the time based on a whole host of external factors.

Yami: Oh, boy, I'm like, I'm so hype, we could keep going. But Kavita I'll let you ask the last question before we wrap it up. And thank you so much, Paul, for all that you shared thus far.

Kavita: Yeah, I feel like as a listener, I'd be taking notes and I wish that I could be taking notes right now, but at least I'll have the recording to listen to after. So Paul, it really sounds like at FoodShare a lot of what you've described is part of the values and so there didn't necessarily need to be a big cultural shift towards justice-centred practices at FoodShare. As you've grown in that journey, as an organization and as you've advanced racial and gender justice within your organization, can you name for us your three top learning moments?

Paul Taylor: Oh just three, this is dangerous.

Kavita: *chuckles* And it has to be three main points, not bullet points under each.

Paul Taylor: I feel like you should be at conferences telling people that before they give their responses, or just following me around and telling me to do that. I guess the first one, for me personally has been leaning into the lessons that I picked up along my journey from Black women. Black women who practice mutual aid, who really taught me about my commitment to community and what that means. So for me, it's been around honouring that. You say you wish you were taking notes, and the first thing that comes to mind is the opportunities that I've had to take notes in my learning and listening and observing and reflecting on the ways in which many of the Black women who have been in my life or I've worked alongside have approached leadership. I would say that is number one, for me. I would say also, number two-

Kavita: That's a really tough number one to follow.

Paul Taylor: This kind of changes often. When we talk about what it takes to get there, it's often the leaders that are in the way. People are already there, they just need the organization to be. People at FoodShare, were already there, they just needed the leadership to be. That culture is present. It was about clearing a path to allow these things to happen, to throw our organizational resources behind them, and embedding them into our things like mission, vision and values. Now one more…

Yami: Yes, one more top learning moment. And make it a juicy one for us, because I think often folks look up to you and think that oh my gosh, Paul has it all together, and Paul hasn't made mistakes along the way. Or if he has, he has really thick skin, he's able to move through this. So I think there's also a humanizing when it comes to this work that is so necessary, so that's my own selfish ask.

Paul Taylor: That sounds like inspiration for point four. I think we’ve now negotiated it.

Kavita: Nice try!

Paul Taylor: Otherwise, I'll just retweet or cosign what you just said and highlight the community of support and the leaders around me at every level of the organization that support this work. But maybe one thing, maybe there's a little bit more incendiary, especially in this sector. We can't be afraid to fire volunteers. Sometimes there is volunteer misalignment, volunteers or funders. I feel like we sometimes don't move forward because we worry about the volunteer that's been coming in for 30 years to sort tins of whatever it is at a local food bank. 

You have to honour that person's commitment to the organization, but if they're the person that's holding you back from, for us for embracing justice, without naming names, we've had people on our board who have actually had to say I've been volunteering at this organization, I've committed my energies, but I'm recognizing that there's a misalignment here, I'm not ready for this, I don't buy into right. I think you have to help those folks, with respect,  help those folks find other opportunities that more match where they're at if they're not able to, or willing to be where the energy in the organization exists. We learned that we can't be afraid to say to volunteers, even senior-level volunteers that, I'm not sure if this is the right fit for you,

Kavita: To really honour that alignment to your values, it just goes back to our mission and values are such and where there's misalignment to not clean house, but to clear the path for you to achieve and advance your mission and values just makes the organization stronger. 

Paul Taylor: You know, it really does.

Yami: Absolutely. What that makes me think about in many ways is ancestor Bell Hooks, who reminds us that love is a radical act, and sometimes to love is to leave. Sometimes to love is to find new pathways. 

Thank you so, so much for connecting with us on such important issues. I hope that our listeners are able to garner something and take that first step or take that first movement forward or potentially backward within your organization. As we know, this journey is nonlinear. Thank you, everyone, for listening. Again, this is Digging In and with ONN. Thanks for tuning in to this episode. We really appreciate you taking the time to listen. We're your co-hosts Kavita and Yami. We hope that you'll join us for future episodes as we continue to dig into issues that matter to the nonprofit sector. Make sure you share and subscribe so that you're first to know when new episodes are live. Thank you again, Paul, for joining us, and we hope that you all have a good rest of your day.