Diversity and inclusion in Canadian workplaces

posted on September 1, 2021

By Johnny Zhang and Radhika Panjwani | Canadian Immigrant magazine | August 19, 2021

Conversations about the diversity and inclusion in the workplace have become more mainstream, given the shift in Canada’s demographics. With the number of immigrants steadily increasing every year, these conversations have become even more critical.

Diversity in the workplace refers to having and welcoming people from different cultures, genders, sexualities, disabilities and ethnicities and voices. In short, it means having a heterogenous workforce of distinctive perspectives and experiences that’s reflective of the society in which an organization operates in.

While often used in tandem with diversity, inclusion is a concept of its own. Inclusion in the workplace means making sure those people have equal access to opportunities and resources – the room to grow, get recognized and be promoted – and can contribute fully to the organization’s success. If diversity is about assembling a workforce from different backgrounds and experiences, inclusiveness is ensuring that the social norms and behaviours in place make employees feel they can fully participate.

Indo-Canadian Radhika Nath (name changed), who has worked with the nonprofit sector in Toronto for over a decade, can see this shift.

“I have seen the understanding of inclusion starting to emerge. A company I worked with three years ago had no immigrants on their board or in their senior management. While they were starting to pay attention to diversity, the handful of immigrants working there were admin staff and one accountant,” she says.

She says she feels hopeful about the current trend. “When I visit their website now, they have two immigrants in their senior management and are increasing diversity in their committees. Which only makes sense since half of Toronto are immigrants, don’t just recruit us – give us a voice!”

Are we doing enough?
A Gartner survey revealed that diversity and inclusion (D&I) measures are largely ineffective because the policies don’t trickle down to the employee level.

“While CEOs are prioritizing and committing to the values of D&I and want to see progress, ultimately, the current measures are not moving the needle enough,” says Lauren Romansky, managing vice president in the Gartner HR practice. “Based on our research, we know that many D&I strategies are ineffective because they rely on a point-in-time training, an individual champion, or a singular experiment. Further hindering results is that these approaches are often shared only at senior levels.”

Romansky says D&I initiatives can be successful provided that organizations make sure they are sustainable, which means the strategy is supported by the entire organization can be measured over time and is baked into all of the company’s existing processes.

In Canada, many workplaces and educational institutions now have dedicated units that oversee their diversity and inclusion practices. York University in Toronto is one of them.

Placed 33rd in the world in the Times Higher Education 2020 Impact Rankings, York was among one of the earliest institutions across Canada to establish a CHREI (Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion) with an idea to promote and build a respectful, equitable, diverse and inclusive community.

“Diversity and inclusion are foundational values of York, and we have long been a leader in practicing those progressive values,” notes Yanni Dagonas, advisor and deputy spokesperson, communications and public affairs at York University. “We have a commitment to continual improvement, and we look for opportunities that support our shared values.”

He explains that the university has several advisory bodies in place to help provide crucial feedback, lived experiences and an inclusion lens to advance equity and diversity principles.

Included in these advisory bodies are the President’s Advisory Committee on Human Rights, which has existed at York since the late 1990s; sub-committees SexGen, RISE and Enable York; and the university’s Indigenous Council, which was created in 2002.

Dagonas says the university is committed to employment equity and diversity and promoting a positive and supportive environment. He provides some statistics to support CHREI’s success. For instance, it recorded a 200 per cent year-over-year increase in attendance at Equity, Diversity & Inclusion workshops, including completions of training modules with Race, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) training series was expanded to include a specialized Anti-Racism REDI, a series of four sessions that was delivered three times to 584 staff participants and 199 faculty participants.

Looking ahead
Perminder Singh, who works with a medium-sized construction contracting company as an administrative assistant in their human resources (HR) department, believes that organizations that truly practice diversity and inclusion and make the effort to create a diverse workforce should be lauded publicly.

Singh has experienced the struggle of finding inclusive employers. In 2018, after he graduated from college, he worked several gigs including working at a food chain and warehouse before he landed the job at the construction firm.

Singh says that at some of the low-paying jobs he has worked, diversity and inclusion was not a priority for the companies. He is happy that in his current job the company is currently focused on making the workplace heterogenous by ensuring the hiring process reflects all cultures, ethnicities, races and genders, and provides opportunities to learn.

In July this year, diversity and inclusion content facilitator Maya Touissant was invited to speak about diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. Singh says that it was a very informative talk, initiating a lot of interaction and conversation amongst his co-workers. The presentation stressed that to make the workplace more diverse and inclusive, one must revisit their thoughts and discard any biases. People often form these biases unconsciously, and it impacts their performative abilities towards people who identify as a visible minority.

In fall 2021, the organization is set to make all employees complete the Unconscious Bias Training. Singh says that for an immigrant and a person of colour like himself, it is remarkable to see a company emphasize this type of training, enabling everyone to feel included, so they can carry out the same practice with others.

Although Singh is grateful to have found a foothold in the Canadian labour market, he has dreams of someday opening an independent HR firm, one that would integrate values of equity, diversity and inclusion in all its workings.

“Inclusion exists when traditionally marginalized individuals and groups feel a sense of belonging and are empowered to participate in majority culture as full and valued members of the community, shaping and redefining that culture in different ways,” Singh says.

“I wish we get to a time when talking about diversity and inclusivity are not restricted to a mere ‘menu month,’” he hopes. “I wish that companies begin to revisit and heterogenize their workforce composition thoroughly.”

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