Bringing substance to inclusion

Peter B. Gustavson School of Business

- Natalie Bruckner

Marsel. Photo by Kylie Noel

Tanaya Marsel makes a meaningful contribution to Deloitte’s reconciliation action plan

Despite best intentions, countless studies show that most diversity and inclusion initiatives fail within the first two years. Which begs the question: Why?

Tanaya Marsel, MBA ’23, Indigenous talent acquisition specialist at Deloitte, may have an answer. “It’s often well-meaning, but the trouble is, a lot of these initiatives lack tangible goals and so they fall flat.”

Mere lip service will ring hollow unless everyone in that company is willing to roll up their sleeves and take action to dismantle barriers, become educated on the subject and create a culture of true, embedded inclusion. Indigenous peoples, in particular, have long experienced empty promises and half-hearted efforts. They can see through just talk. It's not enough to state a commitment; it has to be demonstrated through concrete actions and meaningful progress.”

—MBA graduate Tanaya Marsel

Marsel's enthusiasm for the subject is contagious. In her role at Deloitte, she is leading the charge to transform how the company approaches inclusivity and social sustainability, through a variety of innovative initiatives.

Her efforts come at a crucial time: the Indigenous youth population in Canada is now the fastest-growing demographic, increasing by 9.4 per cent from 2016 to 2021 and surpassing the growth rate of the non-Indigenous population during the same period.

While Marsel has become a vocal advocate for Indigenous peoples’ rights in the workplace, this hasn’t always been the case. Growing up in the small town of Oliver, BC, she had little involvement with Indigenous communities, even though today she is proud of her heritage (Lower Similkameen Band on her father’s side, Métis on her mother’s side).

 “My family struggled with cultural suppression, as many Indigenous families have and still do,” she explains. “It was hard for me to embrace my cultural identity due to the stigma that Indigenous peoples face as a result of intergenerational and systematic trauma. Receiving my status in 2019 was a turning point for me to explore my identity further. I felt as though it was a wakeup call to do my part in driving reconciliation."

Embracing her newfound identity, she took a leap of faith. After eight years working in HR, she quit her job in Kelowna and moved to Victoria to pursue an MBA in Sustainable Innovation at Gustavson. “I just followed my heart,” she says. “I went into the program knowing I wanted to branch my career into enriching the lives of Indigenous peoples, but was a bit uncertain on how I would make it happen. It helped me dig deeper into the topic.”

While doing her MBA, she joined various Indigenous advisory boards including the Métis Youth Sub-Committee. It was through a connection on the committee that she found out about the role at Deloitte. “I thought, ‘let’s just have the conversation.’ I was blown away when I met with the manager and inspired by the work they were doing. One thing led to another, and I ended up with the job I have now. It’s funny how your passion sometimes finds you.”

Since joining Deloitte in June 2022, she has been instrumental in driving the firm’s  reconciliation action plan alongside her team. What she initially thought would be a role focused on recruitment has evolved into something more strategic, in which she ensures Deloitte’s commitment to reconciliation is upheld by being the boots on the ground to increase and foster meaningful employment opportunities for Indigenous peoples.

Her team has plenty of wins to show for it. Among many inclusivity initiatives, Deloitte has adjusted its bereavement policy from three to 10 days to account for Indigenous ceremonies, implemented mandatory cultural training for all staff, firm-wide, and now has an Indigenous supplier portal of more than 55 Indigenous organizations accessible to internal and external business needs.

“Empowering everyone to feel like they have the proper education and tools to support Indigenous peoples in the workplace and outside of it is important to me.”

Additionally, Marsel’s team has built strong mutual partnerships with many Indigenous-owned organizations and those who support Indigenous peoples in their career advancement—a skill she says she honed while doing her MBA.

By actively demonstrating an understanding and support for Indigenous peoples, Marsel says a company must create a positive and inclusive work environment that fosters all the four elements of mind, body, spirit and emotions of its Indigenous employees. “After all, retention is just as important as recruitment, and ensuring that Indigenous employees feel respected and valued is key to retaining them,” she explains.

While Marsel acknowledges that it can be frightening for many companies to really dive deep into what it takes to build a truly inclusive environment, “for fear of doing it the wrong way,” her advice to companies is this: “You have to start somewhere. There are a lot of people doing this work already who can guide your strategy. Everyone in your staff needs to be engaged in the work. Don’t just do it because it looks good for your company, do it because you believe in it. If that requires you to hire a whole new Indigenous department, then do that.”


In this story

Keywords: convocation, employment, Indigenous, diversity, business

People: Tanaya Marsel

Publication: The Ring

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