Linda Kongnetiman Pansa, manager of the City of Calgary’s anti-racism program, said for a long time she was just referred to as Linda K.
“Until one day, I asked respectfully for people not to mention me by a letter anymore because I had a full name – Linda Kongnetiman Pansa,” she said.
It’s situations like those – name changes or mispronunciations that happen for tens of thousands of Calgarians daily – that led to the creation of a new City of Calgary internal app called Name Drop.
The app, available to City of Calgary employees, provides a way for them to record the proper pronunciation of their name. You can also do a sign language version of it and add preferred pronouns. The City of Calgary employs nearly 15,000 people.
“The biggest benefit is that individuals can feel empowerment to use their given name and not to feel like they need to change their names to fit in,” Kongnetiman Pansa said.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek recalled how her own parents – Surjit and Jasdev – became Susan and Jeff to others. The mayor said she asked her parents why people were calling them that.
“My dad said sometimes you’ve just got to go along with things because it makes life easier,” she recalled during Wednesday launch event for Name Drop.
“All these years later, I’m glad we’re not trying to make life easier for people that don’t wish to change,” Mayor Gondek said.
“It’s high time we stop being polite about things that are actually systemic racism.”
Say my name
Kongnetiman Pansa said that this is another step in breaking down racism and building up a culture of inclusion at the City of Calgary.
“Names are not just a combination of letters. They are a part of one’s identity and sense of belonging,” she said.
“When someone’s name is consistently misspelled, or mispronounced, it can make them feel excluded, undervalued and sometimes feeling invisible.”
They’ve been testing the app over the past week or so and Wednesday was the official launch. The City has been running internal, game-show-style videos that show employees trying to pronounce the names of colleagues within the corporation.
It’s taken a big effort, with support from city leadership Kongnetiman Pansa said, especially given change can take time in larger corporations. Still, she hopes other Calgary companies will adopt similar practices to ensure that they’re not leaving other employees behind.
“This is an opportunity for them to take it a step further and put it into action by incorporating this as a part of their own strategies in their organization,” she said.
The City will be able to measure the employee uptake in the whole process.
The app launch comes as the City’s Executive Committee approved anti-racism training as a part of the Councillor Code of Conduct on Wednesday.