How Christopher Townsend is helping to foster equity, diversity and inclusion at Sunnybrook

Written by Lindsay Smith

Christopher Townsend is an intentional leader and educator. As the Director of Social Accountability and Organizational Development & Leadership (OD&L) at Sunnybrook, he provides leadership to the team that designs and facilitates workshops, programs and courses for staff, physicians and emerging leaders.

Most recently, his team has been spearheading work in the field of equity, diversity and inclusion — an important pillar at Sunnybrook and for the OD&L team.

It has been a focus of the department since 2018, when OD&L released its first EDI eLearning module in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI). Christopher says it’s been an opportunity to examine, through observation and conversation, what diversity and inclusion looks like at Sunnybrook—particularly inclusion.

“For me, there was a sense of spotlighting the word ‘inclusion.’ I realized diversity is not something we create; it’s a gift we’re given. It’s about the individual and the unique qualities we possess,” he says. “Inclusion is about the collective and creating a culture that values differences. We need to think about how we become an inclusive organization at all levels.”

Christopher coaches leaders around that concept: creating and fostering inclusive environments for teams, departments, units, programs, etc., and ensuring there are accountability structures in place.

Christopher says he’s experienced a great response to this focus. He’s seen how the conversations of diversity, inclusion and anti-racism have grown in the last few years, including the establishment of the President’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (PART) at Sunnybrook. The taskforce, of which Christopher is a co-chair, was formed following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

He says his role in PART is an intentional opportunity to start the conversation in a “different way.”

“It seems easier to talk about diversity and inclusion, but it’s a harder conversation to talk about racism.”

It’s necessary, though, and Christopher says everyone at Sunnybrook has a role in creating a more equitable system, even when it may feel uncomfortable.

“I think it’s important for everyone ,or most [people], to become comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he says. “Then we can get to the place where we’re all learning and unlearning in an environment that is safe and comfortable.”

Increased diversity, equity, greater inclusion, anti-racism: none of this is accomplished overnight by one individual, it will take the entire team at Sunnybrook. But Christopher says it’s not about doing it quickly; it’s about doing the work for now and the future.

“It’s about how do we change the world for ourselves and our children,” he says.

About the author

Lindsay Smith