On Diversity in the Workplace
A 2005 Royal Bank of Canada report asserted that “society has undergone a profound change since the 1960s in how it views the roles of women, celebrates cultural diversity, and the contribution of visible minorities, and recognises the strong contribution of Aboriginal Peoples in shaping Canada’s culture.”
However, the same report notes that though Canada has attracted a myriad of talented immigrants, it has since slipped in its ability to successfully integrate them:
“On average, immigrants arrive in this country better educated, in better health, and at similar stages of their careers as those born in the country, but the evidence suggests that during the past two decades, they have been much less successful in achieving success than earlier waves of immigration.”
Workplace diversity, much like gender diversity, is crucial to companies that want to attract and retain talented employees. A diverse workforce allows for greater levels of innovation in order to obtain that crucial competitive edge in what is, a more and more, globalised world. A 2011 Forbes Insights study entitled ‘Global Diversity and Inclusion: Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce’ noted that of the 321 companies with more than $500 million in revenue surveyed, 85% agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is the key to driving innovation. And failing to recognise the potential contributions of immigrants to the workplace is severe – untapped economic resources that will quickly tally to gigantic losses in wages, productivity, and output; also, it is a reflection of prejudices we know should no longer exist (or should have ever existed, for that matter).
Is Workplace Diversity Really An Issue?
In my interview with Retired Senator, The Honourable Dr. Donald H. Oliver, Q.C., he stated that the integration of talented visible minorities into the senior ranks of both the Canadian public and private sectors has been an abject failure. Senator Oliver has spent much of his career fighting to eliminate racism and advance opportunities for visible minorities. To that effect, in 2004, he raised $500,000 to lead a Conference Board of Canada study that identified barriers preventing visible minorities from advancing in the workforce. The study is now used as a tool by employers to help create more diverse workforces.
After recounting a harrowing tale of his youth, and his experiences in a time where racism was much more overt, Senator Oliver continued in reference to the contemporary workforce.
“The racism that exists today is far more insidious and therefore, all that harder to combat. For some visible minorities, it’s a glass ceiling. For others, the ceiling is cement. But, for all visible minorities, it’s a barrier that must come down.”
The notion of a glass ceiling certainly isn’t a new one. While speaking with immigrants living throughout the Greater Toronto Area, one term constantly re-emerged, ‘Canadian Experience‘ – a generic response that many seemed to have received as reasoning for a lack of opportunities. Senator Oliver was familiar with the term, referring to it as the latest incarnation of terms used to grant excuse to a lack of opportunity for visible minorities. At the start of the Senator’s career, a lack of “Managerial Experience” was cited as the main reason that minorities could not be afforded career opportunities.
A much-cited study published over ten years ago by professors at Chicago Booth and MIT determined that CVs belonging to White-sounding applicant names received 50% more callbacks than CVs with Black-sounding names. More recently, a 2014 study by the University of British Columbia found that resumes with names like Jill Watson or John Martin received interview callbacks 40% more often than identical resumes with names like Sana Khan or Lei Li.
Does It Really Matter?
It is inherent to Canada’s morality structure that every individual regardless of age, sex, race, or background to be afforded the opportunity to achieve their full potential, whatever their chosen field may be. University of Toronto’s Professor Philip Oreopoulos (at the time, an Associate Professor at University of British Columbia) was quoted by CBC News as saying that name-based discrimination may contravene human rights laws.
Aside from that, there are economic benefits that effect Canada as on a macro level.
“If foreign-born workers were as successful in the Canadian workforce as those born in the country, personal incomes would be about $13 billion higher each year than at present.” (‘The Diversity Advantage: A Case for Canada’s 21st Century Economy’, RBC 2005)
In fact, successfully integrating immigrants into the Canadian economy and society could have even greater gains. Many immigrants arrive with a high level of skills that, with the removal of credential, and other workplace barriers, could potentially lead to them obtaining above-average incomes. Higher incomes for such a large group of people would likely result in multiplier effects to the economy via the housing market and increased consumer spending, as well as through higher levels of savings and investments. As such, there’s a good chance that all Canadians would benefit from immigrants and visible minorities being able to work and earn to their full potential.
Moving Forward Faster
At a talk he gave to students at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management in March 2015, Senator Oliver provided some guidelines on what is required to better the situation, to ‘move forward, faster’ – a clear strategic plan that ensures accountability; zero tolerance for racism; training and education; and finally, establishing a solid support structure for visible minorities.
Earlier this year, the Van Horne Institute under the Workplace Opportunities: Removing Barriers to Equity (WORBE) program received $125,000 from the Canadian government to help them identify the barriers, solutions, and best practices of inclusive workplaces — an excellent step in the right direction.
When asked if there was anything visible minorities or immigrants could do to create change from within, Senator Oliver responded poignantly.
“Regretfully, the visible minority community does not speak with one voice.”
Quoting his brother, the late Rev. Dr. Oliver:
“We are like crabs in a barrel…We don’t want our own to be successful…We pull each other down. Instead of pushing each other up and saying, ‘Let me give you all the support you need.’”