Building a Future Where Everyone Belongs

BOWEN Group, a division of Agilus
Written by Allison Dempsey

Success in the highly competitive staffing and recruiting industry requires more than matching jobs with candidates or managing contract workers. This is where BOWEN Group’s team of dedicated employees differentiate themselves—they strive to support and grow diversity and belonging in every facet of business.

Founded in 1974 by Laverne Bowen, BOWEN Group quickly established an admired reputation as a boutique recruitment firm, which the team attributes to their commitment to making people the heart and core of their business. In 1985, Laverne’s daughter, Shannon Bowen-Smed, took over the firm with a bold focus on diversity, transparency and collaboration. Now, over 47 years later, BOWEN Group has flourished as a staffing industry leader, receiving recognition as a Best Managed Firm by Deloitte in 2020 and 2021 and recently named one of Canada’s Most Admired Cultures by Waterstone Human Capital for 2021. BOWEN Group now takes its next bold step forward with its recent acquisition by Agilus Work Solutions – a national recruitment and staffing firm focused on the future of recruitment in Canada.

From the beginning of Bowen-Smed’s career, she bravely carved out BOWEN Group’s mandate of making a lasting and positive impact in the community. “Our mission is to make people matter,” she says. “Whether it’s the clients we represent, the talent we cultivate, or the BOWEN team we’ve built—we believe bringing the right people together and celebrating diverse perspectives is the foundation of our culture.”

Bowen-Smed’s commitment to creating diverse and healthy workplaces is at the forefront of her leadership prowess, and was generated authentically from her personal story of strength and perseverance.

When her child, Scott, was stillborn at seven months, she and her husband realized although they were devastated, they still had a lot to be thankful for.

“When we left the hospital without Scott, they gave us a teddy bear and it was the last teddy bear in the hospital,” she says. “It might sound trite, but the idea that we still had something to hold and remember our son by was actually quite monumental. The idea that another family might not was heartbreaking.”

The company then partnered with the Alberta Health Services Bereavement Program, to run a fundraising golf tournament in Scott’s name with a specific incentive in mind.

The plan was to run the tournament and raise $5,000 to buy bears. Instead, they sold out the event, raised $45,000, and not only bought bears, but built a delivery room in Scott’s honour at Rockyview General Hospital, and went on to run the tournament for another 14 years, raising $1.2 million.

Still focused on building a family, Bowen-Smed and her husband looked to adoption. “We proceeded through the adoption service—our first child, who joined us at age two-and-a-half, came to us as our daughter,” says Bowen-Smed. “Our child at 17 proclaimed that he was a man in a girl’s body, and so I journeyed with him through the whole transgender process. We worked with a private surgeon, and he went in as our daughter, came out as our son.”

When the couple adopted their second daughter as a newborn, they realized their family was complete, and with both children being of mixed-race heritage, the couple also embraced the blessing of diversity.

This resolve to take personal experiences and create a company that celebrates the excellence of all Canadians has become Bowen-Smed’s hallmark.

“I think we’ve done an incredible job of doing exactly that. About 91 percent of our organization identifies as diverse, whether that’s sex, gender, or ethnically. It’s the most amazing melting pot of the world,” Bowen-Smed adds.

Throughout Bowen-Smed’s tenure BOWEN Group has worked diligently to distinguish itself in a crowded and intensely competitive industry to become a diversity and inclusion leader in Canada.

“We’ve been a leader in our industry around safety management, with a commitment that’s also responsible for mental and emotional safety,” she says. “One of the questions we ask employees is do they feel comfortable coming to us with any kind of work or emotional-related challenges, and do they think we have the resources to support them,” she says.

For the recent mental health awareness month, the company brought in a guest speaker to address various issues, and reviewed the mental safety resources the organization provides.

“We’re very invested in what I hope will ultimately lead to the holistic happiness of the people we work with and the people we represent. We really try to walk the talk, living our mission, which is all about making people matter,” she says.

“I would argue that we were probably ahead of our time and critically ahead of the market preparedness to even understand what that meant. The more direct path for us was to really drill down and say, what matters to the world today?”

Included in this narrative was Bowen-Smed’s passion to take a meaningful look at First Nations communities. If her company could start by championing its position in the Indigenous base, maybe it could help people understand and create something bigger, brighter, and more meaningful. This thinking was realised through partnering with Stream Source, an Indigenous-owned provider of Indigenous recruitment aiming to secure long-term sustainable employment and partnerships for Indigenous people and businesses.

It’s been quite a journey, and Bowen-Smed remains passionate about the work done to date. “They say a good leader needs to know when to get out of the way. It’s time for me to get out of the way,” she says. “I’ve been with the organization for 37 years. I started when I was 19, and no one knew that 37 years later I’d still be here. My hope for the company is they get to have another 37 incredible years in what I believe is one of the best industries in the world.”

In October it was announced that Agilus acquired BOWEN Group, effectively combining more than 91 years of recruitment experience, award-winning talent and long-term client relationships. Bowen-Smed has great hopes that Agilus’ 44-year history will bring a depth of service, and its offices in 14 locations throughout Canada will speed growth and strengthen their combined competitive positions across the country.

“To be a great company, our organization needed to be lifted up by a great company to help us be bigger, bolder, and better,” Bowen-Smed says. “The acquisition allows us to leverage the incredible work we’ve done, and it brings our team huge development and potential that a company our size couldn’t otherwise get.”

Agilus’ CEO, Craig Brown, echoes Bowen-Smed’s vision for the future. “BOWEN’s reputation as a trusted advisor in Canada is evidenced by the strength of their client relationships, many of which have spanned decades.”

Brown says he’s not only optimistic, but confident in the combined future of BOWEN Group and Agilus. “Recruitment firms play a critical role for the future,” he says. “Talent is the number one driver of organizational success, and in a future where workforce flexibility will increase, we’ll play an impactful role in supporting the connection of talent and employers.”

Both Bowen-Smed and Brown say that with the vaccine mandate finally pushing back on the pandemic businesses in Canada are getting back to work, and that means the demand for qualified candidates has never been higher. BOWEN Group complements Agilus’ focus of creating a better candidate experience and attracting more diverse candidates through community involvement and better tools such as genderless job postings and unbiased or “blind recruiting.” “Convenience, ease of use, and a quality experience are something today’s candidates demand when looking for work,” Brown says.

“Agilus is also looking at digitization to streamline the candidate lifecycle and spend more time on the candidate experience—building relationships and understanding the candidate’s skillset and motivation,” he explains. “This means the candidate can give attention to their job search when it’s convenient for them and then spend time with a recruiter when the pre-screening tasks are complete.”

This shift to a candidate-driven market is a direct result of the current tight labour market. Employers are not only looking for qualified candidates, but filling position gaps and skill shortages by assessing and redefining what skills their business needs to generate the outcomes they’re looking for. “They’re looking at talent in a new way,” Brown says. “Asking, ‘where do I find or engage those skills to maximize efforts of the business?’”

This thinking is fostering greater diversity, Brown says, which has been proven to create a more collaborative and productive workplace. Businesses in Canada are targeting candidate pools that have been historically often overlooked due to unconscious biases or underestimated skills set. “We are seeing more Indigenous Peoples, BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, transgender and neurodiverse candidates getting interviews,” Brown explains. “This aligns with our clients who are committed to diversity and actively seeking to increase the diversity of their candidate pools.”

“Approaching a diverse candidate pool means understanding what tools we utilize to ensure an unbiased approach,” he says. “Clients are now more open to non-traditional candidates—not a direct match to previous roles and titles, but looking at skill sets, resiliency and a growth mindset. This is good news for Canada, and everyone.”

Agilus also offers BOWEN’s clients access to a diverse and engaged community of over 700,000 candidates who work in Engineering, IT, Office/Professional and Light Industrial/Manufacturing. Over 100 recruiters in 14 branches across Canada bring specialized knowledge and experience to every client meeting and candidate conversation.

“Take the Lead, Human Touch and Better Outcomes—these pillars drive our behaviour and strategy. They influence every interaction and conversation from my role, to our operations team, to our recruiters,” Brown says. “Agilus attracts the top talent from across Canada and our people matter – they are our key differentiator from our competitors, and the BOWEN team completes us.”

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