Creating a culture of diversity and inclusion

Posted: 4 October 2021 | | No comments yet

RJ Steenstra, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fort McMurray Airport Authority (FMAA) shines a spotlight on the importance, and value, of equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) at the airport, to the benefit of both its staff and passengers.

Fort McMurray

Team YMM. Credit: YMM

The Fort McMurray Airport Authority (FMAA) has long encouraged a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) for our passengers, airline partners and employees, as we want everyone to feel a sense of belonging when they are here at the airport.

I am a strong believer there is always room for improvement, and while the FMAA embraces ED&I, we’ve never had a formal, corporate approach. As we develop our 2022 business plan this autumn, we will be incorporating an ED&I policy, with supporting framework outlining training and goals for the team and organisation. Through this, we hope to achieve a more diverse and inclusive culture, further securing the sustainability of our operation.

Alignment with corporate core values

As the policy is developed, the alignment of ED&I with our corporate core values: Safety, People, Leadership, Creativity and Sustainability, is evident.

Our people are our greatest asset at Fort McMurray International Airport (YMM). We are lucky to have a diverse workforce, which we highlight in the Employee Spotlight included in our bi-weekly internal newsletter. Our team consists of various cultural backgrounds, including: Asian, Caucasian, Indigenous, Middle Eastern, and Indian, with an age range of 21-70 years old. Our management team is well represented, with 55 per cent of members female, and 45 per cent male.  

ED&I ensures fairness, representation, and opportunity.”

Our residents and visitors to the region have many cultures and faiths. We understand that travelling can be stressful and does not always allow for space to de-stress and reflect. For this reason, we provide Quiet Rooms – both pre- and post-security. Prior to the pandemic, prayer mats and religious books were made available to guests. Quiet Room spaces are offered as a partnership between YMM and the Collaboration for Religious Inclusion (CRI).

Time to paws and reflect

Travelling with animals has become increasingly common over the years, whether it be a pet or service animal supporting someone with a disability. At YMM, we want passengers and their animal to feel at ease, which is why we provide animal running areas and relief rooms for owners to take their pets. We also have a partnership with PAWS for People – a programme through the Wood Buffalo Canadian Mental Health Association – which brings pets and people together for comfort and to create relaxing atmospheres. The programme is well received by travellers who struggle with anxiety before a flight. We look forward to bringing the programme back to YMM when it’s safe to encourage interactions again.

The PAWS programme is highly accredited by passengers who suffer from anxiety. Credit: Fort McMurray Airport Authority (FMAA)

Not all disabilities are visible

The safety of our passengers, partners and workforce is YMM’s top priority. YMM ensures safe access for all users, including those with disabilities. YMM has infrastructure in place to ensure barrier-free access points and devices, including automatic doors, ramps and lifts. In addition, all washroom facilities have barrier-free stalls and basins. We encourage passengers requiring special assistance while travelling to advise us of their needs in advance, so we can ensure a smooth experience.

Accessible seating. Credit: Fort McMurray Airport Authority (FMAA)

Each employee at YMM undergoes Disability Awareness Training to ensure they’re equipped with the skills to assist passengers with physical and/or cognitive disabilities. From office staff to the taxicab drivers who transport passengers – the training serves as a great tool to create an inclusive environment.

Investing in our workforce

Investing in resources to develop and implement ED&I within our workforce supplies our workforce with leadership skills. As we all know, leading by example is an effective way to influence others.

At YMM, we recognise the only way we can be part of the healing and reconciliation of the Indigenous Peoples in our region, is to first understand their history. The full day training course consisted of a comprehensive overview of the Indigenous populations in our region. Topics included culture, spirituality, customs and traditions. 

Members of our team recently participated in an Indigenous Awareness Training programme… It was an eye-opening experience that I can’t recommend enough. Understanding our neighbours and community partners enables us to better establish and strengthen relationships.”

We also encourage employees to take the ‘Indigenous – Canada’ course offered through the University of Alberta, which explores Indigenous history and contemporary issues in Canada. We work with employees to find downtime during their work schedule should they wish to complete the programme.

It is through the continued creativity to find new ways to celebrate D&I at YMM we will continue to create an environment where everyone can achieve success and feel a sense of belonging – resulting in the sustainability of our overall operation.

I encourage everyone to explore the opportunities available to create a culture of diversity and inclusion.


RJ Steenstra is President and Chief Executive Officer of Fort McMurray Airport Authority and is passionate about airports and what they bring to the communities they serve. The FMAA operates the Fort McMurray International Airport (YMM), located in Northern Alberta, Canada. YMM plays a key role in facilitating economic activity for the region, which is home to the nation’s largest crude-oil reserve and is a major contributor to Canada’s greater energy portfolio. RJ joined the FMAA in 2016 and has since chartered a new course for the airport authority focused on revenue diversification, fiscal responsibility, and employee engagement. RJ is currently also serving as the vice chair of Canadian Airports Council (CAC) – a division of Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA), representing airports throughout the USA and Canada.

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