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Taking Pride at Work: Connecting with Chris Forward

This past weekend, the Calgary Pride festival wrapped up – the last major Pride event in Canada for the summer. While the LGBTQ2S+ community is top of mind, we wanted to connect with one of our Associates and talk about his contribution to the community. Chris Forward is the General Manager of Harvey's Oil Ltd., a Petro-Canada distributer that sells and distributes petroleum products throughout Newfoundland.

Chris is also the co-chair of Pride at Work Canada, an organization that empowers Canadian employers to build workplaces that celebrate all employees regardless of gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation. We spoke with Chris about his participation with Pride at Work Canada.

Chris Forward, General Manager of Harvey's Oil Ltd

PumpTalk: Hi, Chris! Thanks for chatting with us. Can you tell us a bit about how you got involved with Pride at Work Canada?

Pride at Work Canada was founded in 2008. Its primary focus was on networking opportunities within member partners, located mainly in the Bay Street corridor of the GTA.

As Pride at Work Canada continued to grow its national reach and programming, one of its key initiatives, the Ambassador program, started in 2014. Ambassador groups are set up in underserved markets like St. John’s… markets that have unique challenges facing LGBTQ2S+ folks. Being LGBTQ2S+ on an offshore oilrig is a very different situation than at a corporate headquarters.

I joined Pride at Work Canada in 2016 and then was named co-chair in 2019. We wanted to have a co-chair position, located outside the GTA, that would focus on growing programming, including the Ambassador groups and “ProPride” events – events hosted by Pride at Work Canada (both in-person and virtual) that feature local guest presenters.

PumpTalk: Hmm... I’ve never really thought about the LGBTQ2S+ experience in workplaces like an oilrig.

It can be a safety issue. Especially for folks who are drivers, like for our heating oil trucks. One of the leading causes of vehicle accidents is absentmindedness. If you’re constantly worried about your personal life and concerned about disclosing too much and how it will be received, it can impact safety on the job. Or even just being able to enjoy company events… it affects you if you feel you can’t bring or are uncomfortable bringing your same sex partner to the company Christmas party.

People that want to champion workplace inclusion and promote safe workspaces for LGBTQ2S+ employees - workplaces where employees can be their true authentic selves - attend the Ambassador program. Employers aren’t going to get the best from employees if they always have to keep their guard up. This is one of the reasons it’s important for Pride at Work Canada to get into the skilled trades. As we say around here, “the boat’s on the shore” if you’re gay at work in downtown Toronto. Not so for skilled trades like the offshore. There’s work to be done to make it a safe space.

PumpTalk: So how does Pride at Work Canada support member organizations?

Depends on where a member partner is in their evolution. Some members have whole departments dedicated to inclusion and diversity. Others are just starting to write gender-neutral job descriptions or work instructions. Welders, for example – their work instructions are all “he”, but there are female welders. Pride at Work Canada can support a partner at any stage. They provide consulting services, help with setting up resource centres, support for transitioning employees.

Pride at Work Canada also puts on free webinars for the public, or for HR folks who might be looking for support. They are very active on LinkedIn.

Harvey's Home Heating Truck at Pride

PumpTalk: What has been your experience at Harvey’s Oil? Has your work with Pride at Work Canada made an impact?

I’ve been out and open at Harvey’s Oil, including bringing my partner to company events, no problem. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case for other LGBTQ2S+ folks, particularly in the oil and gas industry – an industry that has been, in the past, largely comprised of white, straight cisgender men. But the industry has improved a lot in recent years. At Harvey’s, we are making a deliberate effort to promote that we are a safe space for all and are fully committed to a diverse and inclusive workspace. Last year, we asked one of our distributors if we could wrap one of their trucks for the Pride parade in St. John’s. They agreed in a heartbeat. They even commented that it’s great the work we’re doing to give folks a safe space to be themselves.

That’s awesome! Thanks so much, Chris, for chatting with us about Pride at Work Canada. For more about Suncor’s efforts in creating an inclusive and diverse workplace, please see our careers section and our Report on Sustainability.

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