Diversity in the Workplace

By Victoria Pazukha

Diversity in the workplace is natural to Canada with its multicultural population and more than 250,000 newcomers entering the country every year. One of the distinguished features of Canada’s current workforce is its growing diversity.

As a concept, diversity refers to a broader set of qualities than race and gender. Its dimensions include, but are not limited to, age, ethnicity, educational background, geographic location, income, marital and parental status, religious and moral beliefs, physical abilities, working experiences, and job classifications.

For example, for the first time in history, today’s workplace accommodates four different generations — the Matures, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials. Each age group brings different perspectives on life and work; all of them relate differently to the same working environment; all of them bring new ideas that benefit the workplace on different levels.

It is a great challenge for both employers and employees to learn to value and to embrace differences and not get caught up in stereotyping those who look, think and act differently. It is a great need to start learning about diversity by talking to people, asking questions and listening. The more we know about differences, the more we understand them and the more we can appreciate and value their contributions to the workplace.

Employers need to learn how to integrate and manage their diverse workforce; employees need to recognize the challenges diversity brings and to be more flexible and adaptable. It is a process of cooperative efforts where everyone wins while acquiring new knowledge leading to new opportunities. As it is not possible to add fractions without finding a lowest common denominator, it is not possible to find effective workplace solutions without recognizing differences and finding similarities at the same time.

Diversity in the work place is recognised and taken into consideration by many of Vancouver’s employers. For example, BC Hydro has a special diversity program aiming to include various populations and to provide opportunities for professional and personal growth. (editor’s note: see Q&A – Cameron Brine, Manager of Diversity with BC Hydro article also in this issue of the HRVoice.) AMEC embraces diversity naturally by actively hiring foreign workers who have skill sets matching position requirements. CIBC, in partnership with WES-World Education Services, helps to eliminate barriers to employment for newcomers and internationally-trained professionals by providing credential recognition services. At RBC Royal Bank diversity is a shared value that builds company success; through culturally diversified workforce RBC is able to address the needs of their culturally diverse clientele, consequently, to make business more effective. There are many more examples that can be given here. The point is that diversity in the working place is a necessary strategy for business as well as a one of the important competencies for existing and perspective employees.

There are different ways to embrace workforce diversity in the workplace and to meet today’s business needs related to human resources management. For example, flexible schedules for women with children, consulting positions for retirees, training opportunities for youth, internships for internationally-trained professionals, assessment and recognition of foreign education and experience, culturally sensitive interviews, prior learning and transferrable skills assessments, bottom-top management, performance incentives, workplace accommodations, job sharing and many others.

“The cost of doing nothing on workforce diversity amounts to billions of dollars in lost income. It will be increasingly important for employers to recognize the benefits of diversity through race, gender and age, and then build a skilled workforce with a variety of backgrounds,” said Derek Holt, assistant chief economist, RBC in a special report “Capitalizing on Canada’s diversity is key to nation’s future prosperity (www.rbc.com/newsroom/20051020diversity.html) in October 2005.

Gordon Nixon, president and CEO, RBC Financial Group, in his speech at The Vancouver Board of Trade on May10, 2006 said: “If we succeed at leveraging the diversity of our current and future workforce, we will have unrivalled advantage. But if we fail, we will pay a heavy opportunity cost for our citizens, and will face an uphill battle to maintain, let alone enhance, our quality of life. And make no mistake: there is a global war for talent and we must make sure we position ourselves to win it. Diversity can and should be Canada’s competitive advantage.” (www.rbc.com/newsroom/20060510nixon.html)

Small businesses also see challenges and benefits of workforce diversity. Tina Strehlke, director of communications from Training Innovations, a small project-based business, said in her interview for HRVoice: “Diversity means recognizing the value of individual differences, and learning how to manage them in the workplace. For employers, it can be a benefit to hire individuals with a variety of skills, knowledge and experience. This can lead to creativity and innovation at work–especially if individual employees build on each other’s strengths. They key to success is promoting diversity without compromising core company values. Employees that share common beliefs and practices can work effectively together.”

This is a time for a mind change, for considering the employee-employer unit as a whole, for not labelling “us” and “them” and for looking at workforce diversity as a business necessity leading to innovations, prosperity and enrichment of both individual and society.

This is a time for setting a goal for the country’s workforce to reflect the country’s population in all its dimensions.

This is a time for dialogue, cooperation and action.

Victoria Pazukha, MSc, is an employment consultant and facilitator at CRAFTCentre. She is also a certified workplace trainer, a member of BC HRMA’s Coastal Vancouver Advisory council, and a member of BC CMA and CSIOP.

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