Nav Bhandal – BASF Canada Inc.
The pendulum swings both ways, and Nav Bhandal senses it’s moving from social justice. He’s been hearing much about DEI fatigue, but that just strengthens his resolve to solidify diversity, equity and inclusion as BASF bedrocks, albeit with adjustments.
“What we want to do is not take our foot off the pedal but push DEI in a way mindful of the current legal climate,” he tells Vanguard in September from Mississauga, Ontario.
As an assistant general counsel of the global company’s Canadian operations, Bhandal has been doing so since January 2021. The period has coincided with what he perceives as anti-DEI trends in the United States that Bhandal hopes don’t spread north of the 44th parallel.
He’s taken note of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down affirmative action for the admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina and is aware that many companies have cooled their progressive initiatives with more than three years passed since George Floyd’s brutal death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
BASF Canada won’t follow that pack, Bhandal emphasizing how this is a matrix organization aligned with its U.S. counterpart. With him and his legal department colleagues as catalysts, the company expands DEI beyond gender and racial metrics.
“Naturally those get the bulk of attention,” he says. “They’re the most prevalent and the easiest to target. But there are others less definable, and I’ve made it my priority project to say, ‘We welcome applications from people in all walks of life.’”
Among those most set back by the uneven playing field, Bhandal says, are people with physical (visible) disabilities and mental (invisible) illnesses. Through no fault of their own, they may perceive themselves to be at a disadvantage when applying for a coveted position, but the BASF Canada legal department has taken the initiative in expanding opportunities for them.
The past two summers, BASF Canada’s legal department has hired 16- to 20-year-old interns through its partnership with a local hospital providing rehabilitation services to kids with disabilities. All those young people are challenged by some disability, but having been exposed to corporate life and mentoring, they’ve been able to build on what skills they have. At the end of the internships, each has been asked to do a slide presentation for BASF Canada stakeholders highlighting their experience, and Bhandal says their development has been apparent.
In the long term, BASF Canada is trying to ensure that the company is positioned to support and accommodate persons with medical complexities for permanent roles. Beyond accommodating their disabilities to enable them to perform their basic duties and responsibilities, BASF Canada hopes to create meaningful career paths. Bhandal’s colleague Judy Finlayson has spearheaded the launch of an employee group in Canada that is a vehicle for raising awareness of visible and invisible disabilities and creating an environment of trust, openness and support for such people that might go a long way toward their mainstreaming. The BASF Canada legal department would like for BASF to set an industry standard.
“It’s not a quick race,” Bhandal says. “It’s a marathon.”
It’s also part of further diversifying the corporate ranks and setting aspirational goals for new hires. This year, the North American legal department set up a page where legal colleagues are encouraged to weigh in on DEI by sharing stories or promoting seminars and other events. The North American Internal Training and Awareness Team, which Bhandal leads, focuses on providing internal education and resources on DEI topics, including arranging a late-fall seminar that will be highlighted by an external speaker to discuss the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmative action admissions ruling and any potential “watch areas” for employers’ DEI efforts.
BASF Canada also continually looks for ways to simplify the job application process for inclusion. This fall, the company launched a new tracking applicant system that complies with the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) to improve the accessibility of the career page for people with a wide range of disabilities. Additionally, all job postings provide an opportunity to contact a recruiter in the company if they need any accommodation during the job application process. BASF Canada jobs are not only being posted on the company website but also on two diversity-focused job boards, including Community Outreach Canada and Discover Ability Network.
The company hosts events to commemorate Canada’s National Truth and Reconciliation Day, which acknowledges Canada’s historic mistreatment of Indigenous people.
DEI is not just an extra-curricular initiative for the BASF Canada legal department. It represents a core value in the day-to-day responsibilities. The department’s meetings begin with a “DEI Moment,”, which can involve sharing a personal experience or an interesting article or video, intending to spur a discussion to raise awareness and increase DEI-related engagement. When BASF Canada needs to retain external law firms they work with and with the support of an analytics firm, a scorecard is created that is used for regular conversations with the firms about DEI and how to create more opportunities for their diverse legal talent on BASF projects.
BASF being a German-headquartered multinational and the world’s largest chemical producer, Bhandal says the company can play a significant role in promoting DEI globally by continuing to push DEI-related initiatives.
“Systemic discrimination remains,” he says. “The playing field has got to be level for everyone, including those not easily identifiable.”
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