Toronto is diverse but not as inclusive as it could be

Toronto exemplifies multiculturalism, but struggles with inclusion and equality of opportunity.

By Carol Goar, Toronto Star

“Having diversity is interesting,” said Zabeen Hirji, chief human resources officer for the Royal Bank non-commitally. “It’s when you do something with it that it becomes powerful.”

She had put her finger on one of the biggest challenges facing this city: moving from diversity to inclusion.

As a woman, an Ismaili Muslim and an immigrant from Tanzania, Hirji is acutely aware of the difference. Many Torontonians are not.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the United Way of Toronto, Hirji was careful not to offend the business leaders in the room. (Eighty per cent of the charity’s funds come from the corporate sector in direct donations and employee payroll contributions). But she made it clear that diversity — which Toronto has in abundance — is simply a description of the city’s talent pool. Inclusion is the act of tapping into the whole pool — not just the top layer — and mixing people from disparate cultures, backgrounds and generations together in a way that allows them to combine their strengths.

On that score, Toronto doesn’t do as well. Very few immigrants — who make up 46 per cent of the city’s population — hold senior positions in business, politics or civil society. Racialized Torontonians — as they call themselves — are disproportionately poor, underemployed and socially isolated.

Many influential Torontonians who could reach out — corporate CEOs, political leaders and heads of major public institutions — don’t; or don’t do it effectively. Many immigrants and their descendents in turn, live in ethnic enclaves, work for employers from their country of origin and socialize among themselves.

 Hirji wasn’t there to preach. Her primary message was that harnessing the talent and energy of young people, newcomers, members of First Nations, gays and lesbians and other minorities is good for business and good for the city. She offered three tips, drawn from her 13 years spearheading RBC’s drive to make its workforce a better reflection of the population: Start with a clear commitment from the top, develop an explicit plan and get buy-in from all employees.

Moving Beyond Headlines Towards a More Diverse Judiciary

Diversity at the top of the legal profession is a social imperative as lawyers and judges are in the forefront of advocacy and social change. 

By Ranjit Bhaskar, Maytree

The lack of diversity among superior court judges in Canada that made headlines recently has been flagged before by several studies. In reported comments, Peter MacKay, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, has been anecdotal on why there is a lack of women on federally appointed court benches while being silent on why the number of visible minority judges is so low.

Minister MacKay’s inability to offer insight into an opaque process that produces a demographically skewed judiciary may stem from lack of official data. While we know that female judges account for 382 out of 1,120 federal judges, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs does not track the numbers of visible minority appointees. The Canadian Bar Association, in an assessment of the procedures for the appointment of judges, has identified the lack of data about representation of visible minorities in the judiciary as a major barrier to progress.

According to a Globe and Mail and University of Ottawa analysis, in the past five and a half years Ottawa appointed just a handful of non-white judges out of the nearly 200 first-time justices it has named to the bench. Improving Representation in the Judiciary: A Diversity Strategy,  a study released by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute in 2012, revealed that while some progress has been made with female representation, it remains stalled in
the case of visible minorities. Just 2.3% of the federally appointed judges analyzed based on a sample of 221 were visible minorities.

There is a higher percentage of visible minority judges among Ontario’s appointees. In a sample of 138, 10.9% are visible minorities compared to 15% of practicing lawyers in the province. The better representation could be partly attributed to the differences in the appointment processes between the federal and provincial courts.

More open and transparent process

While not perfect, the Ontario Court of Justice requires a broadly constituted appointments committee that reflects the diverse population of the province, the Diversity Institute study said. The process is also made more open and transparent by announcing and advertising vacancies and reaching out to communities. In contrast, the study found the federal process appeared to be less transparent, with decision-making more concentrated in the hands of politicians.

The Diversity Institute research, part of a large multi-year study, builds on an earlier examination commissioned by the Maytree-Civic Action DiverseCity Counts project. That report, released in 2011, showed just 6.8% of leaders in the Greater Toronto Area legal sector were visible minorities, relative to 49.5% of the population studied. Judges, justices of the peace, governing bodies, law school leaders, partners in the top 20 law firms and crown attorneys in the area were included in the study. It reinforced an earlier report that showed only 14.4% of practicing lawyers in the area were visible minorities.

Previous research also suggests that barriers to entry persist in law firms. The Canadian Association of Black Lawyers has said legal professionals from the community do not have equal access to articling and post-call positions in corporate and commercial law firms. Immigrant lawyers, particularly visible minorities, also find it difficult to get their credentials recognized. They face barriers to advancement and are frequently offered non-permanent contract positions with fewer leadership opportunities.

As judicial appointments are inherently political processes relying heavily on informal networks for nominations, visible minorities are less likely to have access to them. This very lack of diversity throughout the path makes the likelihood of finding visible minorities in positions that lead to judicial appointments more difficult.

What this implies is that not only does the problem increase as we move up the value chain, but lower down, the reservoir of talent that supplies the federal courts doesn’t reflect Canada’s changing demographics, either.

Diversity at the top of the legal profession is a social imperative as lawyers and judges are in the forefront of advocacy and social change. The federal government should take the lead to ensure fair representation in a sector that is critical to our democratic society. It could start by establishing clear diversity goals, tracking the number of diverse appointees, and establishing a more open and transparent process.

Ten Ideas to Celebrate Diversity

Steps to create a more inclusive workplace.

By Hire Immigrants Ottawa

Here are 10 ideas that you can use to celebrate diversity in your workplace throughout the year and to create a more inclusive workplace. Honouring other faiths and beliefs can help to bridge the gap between us and those who are different from us. Trust is built when respect is felt.

  1. Hang a world map in your main office/hallway and have each staff member pinpoint their birthplace.
  2. Organize an intercultural potluck and invite everyone to write a short description of the food they contributed so that others can learn about the dish and the culture.
  3. Create a Learn at Lunch Day/Series where those who wish can share an aspect of their culture not usually known. Include Canadian-born staff as well!
  4. Honour religious differences by learning something about the faith practised by each member of your staff. Acknowledge major religious holidays and celebrations, perhaps combining with learn at lunch.
  5. Count the number of languages spoken in your office/department and post next to the world map.
  6. Invite your diverse staff to a focus group on how they have adapted to the work culture in your organization. Use their feedback to help new immigrant staff feel welcome and integrated.
  7. Organize a book group or movie day where either a book or film from another country is shown or discussed.
  8. When you interact with others, remember that immigrants and refugees carry an invisible backpack of history that we cannot see. Invite one of your diverse staff members to share their story in your company newsletter or bulletin.
  9. Ask if diverse staff members would like to organize a cooking demo at lunch and prepare a traditional or common food from their country of origin.
  10. Include intercultural elements into your coursework or other office initiative (for example, if you work in a counselling centre, organize a day where diverse staff members can share how counselling is practised in their home country) to increase understanding.

 

Moving Past Diversity: RBC’s Journey to Rid its Upper Ranks of ‘Unconscious Bias’

Zabeen Hirji talks about how RBC is teaching its leaders to overcome unconscious bias; how it’s fostering diversity through processes versus organic evolution and how it reconciles those processes with regulatory requirements.

By Dan Ovsey, Financial Post

Diversity is one of those buzz words often tossed around in the corporate world by organizations with an interest in presenting themselves as progressive. Yet, in many cases talk of diversity is just that — talk. RBC may be the exception to the rule.

Current CEO Gord Nixon — who will be retiring later this year — has made diversity of gender, culture, age and professional experience a priority for the bank, believing it to be good for business. If RBC’s track record is any indication, he’s right.

The bank has generated $58-billion in total profit during Mr. Nixon’s 12-year tenure and saw its share price soar 164%. For its efforts, RBC has been recognized by various advocacy groups as an organization that fosters a diverse work environment and one that breaks down some of the traditional barriers to advancement.

But now the organization is moving past diversity, toward what its chief human resources officer, Zabeen Hirji, describes as “inclusion” — putting diversity to work in the executive ranks by tackling challenges such as unconscious bias and by getting out into the open those tough-to-tackle issues that push the boundaries of politically correct discourse.

Ms. Hirji recently spoke with FP’s Dan Ovsey about how the bank is teaching its leaders to overcome unconscious bias; how it’s fostering diversity through processes versus organic evolution and how it reconciles those processes with regulatory requirements. Following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Read more here

For more read Outsmarting our Brains: A Report by RBC and Ernst and Young 

Cultural Competence & Diversity Management

In this article Adeeco talks to TRIEC’s Rose DeVerya  about steps Canadian employers can take to transform their organization’s culture and talent management practices in ways that work across cultural differences.

As touched on in our April 7, 2013 article, “The Power of Workplace Diversity“, despite being one of the most multicultural countries in the world, Canada still presents significant obstacles to those who are not of the longstanding western European, particularly British, heritage that characterized the country for much of its history.

Such cultural prejudices prevent organizations from having diversity in the workplace, which means they can’t take advantage of the benefits that come with it, such as appealing to more demographics in what is obviously an increasingly cosmopolitan marketplace. But what about when a new immigrant is hired, particularly one who’s from a very different culture? Are they over the largest hurdle? Or do they face even higher ones once they’ve entered the Canadian workforce?

According to Rose De Veyra, Manager of Learning Initiatives at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), a multi-stakeholder council that brings leaders together to create and champion solutions to better integrate skilled immigrants in the Toronto Region labour market, there are concrete steps Canadian employers can take to transform their organization’s culture and talent management practices in ways that work across cultural differences. Ultimately, this would enable them to make the most of what true diversity in the workplace has to offer.

Diversity management and management styles

Many people see jobs as stepping stones within a career. Each new position is an opportunity to gain experience, grow one’s skillset, and move on to a new role of higher authority. Unfortunately, for many new immigrants, the gap between that first and second stepping stone can be too wide to surmount, particularly because of differing, culturally driven ideas about what makes a good leader.

“What we in Canada perceive to be the behaviours of a leader might not be what a new immigrant’s behaviour demonstrates”, says De Veyra. Studies have shown that while some personality traits and management styles are perceived positively in one culture, they may be perceived negatively in another. “For instance, while we might appreciate humility in our leaders in Canada, in some cultures, humility might not be perceived as a desirable trait for a leader because the expectation is for the leader to be a stronger, more out there personality.”

Cultural competence starts with communication – about communication

There are many culture-based discrepancies in the Canadian workplace about what constitutes an effective leader: while those born and raised in Canada may view a supervisor who provides a lot of detail and direction in their instructions as intrusive and distrustful (a “micromanager”), people from other cultures may simply see that supervisor as being thorough; while some Canadians may view an overtly passionate leader as lacking a cool head, new immigrants may see that same leader as resolute and rousing.

Most troubling about these differing ideas of what makes an effective leader is how they can impede many immigrants’ potential to climb the corporate ladder. According to De Veyra, leadership styles are demonstrated through different communication styles, which are themselves heavily influenced by cultural norms. “Communication style is one very visible way that culture becomes evident in the workplace”, she says. “How you correct your peers; how you answer a peer’s question; who asks questions and who doesn’t ask questions: these are all elements of performance within a workplace that every employee is expected to understand. But they’re often not defined.” De Veyra points out that employees who intuitively understand those undefined expectations, by virtue of being more familiar with Canadian corporate culture, have an easier time being promoted. For example, those who question various practices and speak up are often seen as contributing to continuous improvement, thereby exhibiting leadership potential.

But there may be new immigrants on the same team who, as De Veyra notes, “are very knowledgeable, but would never speak up, would never challenge an instruction, would never ask a question because in their culture, that would be disrespectful. Because they’re not the boss, it’s not their place to question what they’re told to do.” This respect, however, is often mistakenly perceived by Canadian employers as a lack of understanding or concern. “If you look at a lot of the postings for more senior positions,” continues De Veyra, “communication skills are valued because your ability to build teams hinges on your ability to communicate; your ability to cultivate relationships also relies on being a powerful communicator. But communication styles and preferences are culturally driven – they’re shaped by culture. If the employee shares similar expectations and norms with their supervisor, then there’s no issue. But if the person evaluating the employee’s performance doesn’t see what fits with their cultural norms and expectations, the employee misses out on the opportunity to be identified as high-potential.”

Diversity management strategies to promote cultural competence

Unless diversity in the workplace also includes diversity in the upper echelons, the benefits that cultural diversity can bring to an organization are much harder to realize. So the question is: How can Canadian employers overcome their own cultural biases and provide new immigrants better opportunities for promotion – especially when they’re often not even aware that they’re being biased? De Veyra suggests two types of strategies: process or policy strategies and interpersonal strategies.

  • Process/policy strategies
    According to De Veyra, the most powerful factor in affecting the development of cultural competence in the workplace is education, particularly when it comes to surfacing some of the unspoken expectations around performance and making them transparent. For instance, when communications skills are cited on a performance appraisal, they should include examples so that employees can better understand what kind of behaviour is expected of them. De Veyra says that such learning needs to be part of the employee’s development plan and should be part of a robust orientation/onboarding program. “The more an individual understands not just what needs to be done, but also how it’s expected to be done”, says De Veyra, “the more equitable opportunities there will be for people to move up into leadership roles.”
  • Interpersonal strategies
    Diversity management should not be purely institutional; supervisors also need to take an active, firsthand approach to teaching new immigrant employees about Canadian corporate cultural norms. De Veyra recalls how a supervisor she once worked for on a very multicultural team took notice of how some new immigrant employees didn’t make morning small talk because they came from cultures where it was normal to work straight through the day without any sort of socializing. Such reticence, of course, would impede those employees’ ability to get promoted. So, to help acclimatize them to the Canadian workforce, De Veyra’s former supervisor set aside time during regular team meetings for everyone to share what terms like “hardworking” and “respect” meant to them. They would also talk about one interesting thing with the rest of the group. “You could talk about your family, your work, something you wanted to learn about, or something you experienced,” says De Veyra. “By promoting that openness and providing opportunities for that kind of communication to happen, he provided an example in action of how the employees in question can interact with their peers and supervisors.”

As effective as these strategies are, De Veyra stresses that they take time to affect change. “It’s unrealistic to expect that just because you said something, a change will happen,” she says. “I think that through different strategies, like assigning an onboarding buddy, providing feedback and coaching as part of performance evaluations, the change will happen eventually. Change in any way, but particularly with cultural norms, takes a long time. Cultures are often compared to icebergs: they move extremely slowly, but when two of them collide, they start to shape each other.” That mutual change is one of the reasons De Veyra suggests organizations educate not only new immigrant employees about the corporate culture they’re coming into, but also longstanding employees about the social norms of the country their new teammates are coming from.

However, De Veyra warns against placing too much emphasis on country culture when trying to teach people about newly-hired new immigrants. “To say all people of a certain culture are like this or like that is risky because it leads to stereotypes,” she says, and that point only underlines people’s unfortunate tendency to judge. “Human nature is to jump to judgment when you’re faced with an unexpected situation, such as those that arise with culture shock. It’s human nature. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just a response. But the key is to condition your response. Identify what’s problematic for you about what you’re seeing. That will open up the kinds of conversations employers need to have, particularly with regard to things that might fall within the realm of human rights, such as an individual’s need for accommodations.”

To access free learning and development tools to help you build cultural competency in your organization, visit the TRIEC Campus.

Accommodating Different Faiths Begins from Within

In this article, Nancy Mark, stresses the importance of accommodating people’s faiths in the workplace and using employees as a way to educate other employees about their behaviours, traditions and practices.

By Nancy Mark, Ottawa Business Journal

Years ago, my Somali colleague Abdi Yunis and I were deciding how to help the managers at an Ottawa corporation learn how to accommodate its Muslim staff.  Abdi’s idea was to include a prayer demonstration during our training.  I will never forget how the management crowded around as Abdi talked about the ablutions, laid down his prayer rug and prayed — all the while explaining what he was saying and doing and why.

The silence in the room was palpable — and the onlookers were forever changed. The veil of mystery had been lifted … somewhat.  Abdi’s decision to “instruct” through interactive demonstration was bang on. His use of a managerial context to support his demonstration added meaning: staff’s need to pray at specific times was akin to that of the CEO calling a meeting at a certain time (one could not say ‘no’ to the CEO) and Abdi pointed upward to demonstrate his adherence to his spiritual CEO.

As we become more and more diverse as a city, and the customs, traditions and values of our mosaic of cultures make their way into our workplaces, it is important to accommodate people’s faiths. Employees have both a human and legal right to this accommodation, even though for us at the other end, we may not know how best to make that happen.

In trying to accommodate, we usually miss a step — the education piece. If people understand the backbone of a faith (albeit the 101 version), they will understand the behaviours, traditions and practices of their fellow employees.

And, it’s not too much to learn about ALL of the faiths in your workplace. Organizations only have to begin within … to look to their own staff members, who are often the best teachers. New Canadians want their faiths to be understood; they do not want to live and practise quietly on the outskirts of our society.

A first step is inviting a member of a faith you are accommodating to speak to you in HR or at lunch-and-learn sessions. Structure what you want to know and allow those you are accommodating to be your teachers. If a particular issue comes up repeatedly, ask the employee who acts as your cultural interpreter (CI) to provide his or her perception. Share views and integrate workable suggestions (slowly) into existing practices. A CI can also help to stay abreast of information the organization should be aware of (for example, Ramadan starts on July 9th  2013, so staff will be fasting and fatigued until they adjust to the fast).

Other ideas:

1) Use lunch-and-learn times to coincide with the faith-based holidays and traditions of your staff. Encourage staff to share food and some typical practices during that holiday.

2)  Obtain an interfaith calendar to know in advance when the holidays that your staff members practise take place.

3) Inclusiveness means to acknowledge the faiths within your group, not to take away from those that are there (for example, instead of dropping the Christmas tree, make sure to add some recognition of other staff holidays). Most people feel comfortable honouring other faiths if their own is acknowledged.

The added bonus to these strategies is the sense of inclusiveness created by allowing learning to arise from within … doing so is a benchmark quality of excellent diverse workplaces.

While we accept multiple faiths in principle, we are still new at moving beyond acceptance to understanding and respect. In the workplace, this will be achieved effectively through interactive understanding. Remember Abdi’s prayer demonstration and how knowledge inspired respect.

Among the many rewards of faith-based accommodation are staff inclusion, retention and productivity.

Nancy is the lead facilitator of Hire Immigrants Ottawa’s cross-cultural competency training for employers.   Hire Immigrants Ottawa works with local employers to help them effectively hire and integrate skilled immigrants into their workplaces.  

What’s in a Name? Possibly Your Future Prosperity

Can having a difficult name to pronounce impact your hiring and promotion prospects? (This article was originally posted on the Maytree blog.)

“Given our diverse and global world, no one should have to change the way they pronounce their name, and Mivoko offers an easy and practical solution to address this issue. We want to change the way people make first impressions and build connections.” Ritu Bhasin, Co-founder, Mivoko –

A recent study discovered that the “more pronounceable a person’s name is, the more likely people are to favour them.” Research also shows that you’re “more likely to land a job interview if your name is John Martin or Emily Brown rather than Lei Li or Tara Singh – even if you have the same Canadian education and work experience.”

The barriers facing newcomers seeking employment have always been difficult. Some are intangible, like the vaguely defined “Canadian experience.” Names and difficulty pronouncing them are barriers that have come to our attention more recently, but they have existed for quite some time. Some employment counselors advise their clients to change their names, or come up with a “Canadian” nickname to make it easier on them (or, really, on others).

Even Maytree’s President, Ratna Omidvar, was given this advice after she had arrived in Canada, as she recalls in A Canadian in the Making: Letters to Canada: “I have received some interesting advice as well and I am pondering over it. It relates to my name, which is apparently very difficult for Canadians to get their tongues around. So I have been advised by a well meaning friend to change it … I have even come down to the final short list of names under consideration: Rita and Rosa. But in the end, I know I will not be able to this. My name is so much part of my identity, handed down to me by my grandmother, it is as indelible as the colour of my skin. And I guess, we will just have to manage.” 

Clearly, our names mean a great deal to us. And it matters that they are pronounced accurately.

So, what to do?

mivokologo

Frustrated with having her name constantly mispronounced, diversity consultant and entrepreneur Ritu Bhasin worked with a Toronto tech team to create a product and service that could help. Like most useful solutions, Mivoko takes a simple approach:

  1. Record your voice in the way you want it pronounced.
  2. Share it. Everywhere.

How Mivoko works

mivoko-widgetMivoko is very easy-to-use and you can sign up for free on the Mivoko site. Once you’ve recorded your name using either Mivoko’s phone recorder or audio recorder, you’ll get personalized HTML code that creates a Mivoko icon button that says your name when you click on it.

You’ll also get a unique link to your Mivoko profile (such as Ratna’s) that you can put anywhere online (email signatures, social sites, blogs etc.) or off-line (resumes, business cards, marketing materials etc.).

You can share your profile, but it’s also available to anyone who visits Mivoko. According to a Toronto Star article: “Once you sign up, the names are then added to the company’s namebank, a database that currently has more than [15,000 names], from Archuleta to Zoubi. It’s a free service for individuals, and low-cost for businesses that want to buy the service for their employees to use. The goal is to gather millions of names from people around the world.”

mivoko-enterpriseIt’s a great service for individuals. But Ritu knows that the “killer app” for Mivoko is getting into companies where name mispronunciation has promotion and business implications.

From the Star: “From Bhasin’s perspective, the widget is good business, but also something that just makes sense in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. By 2031, 63 per cent of Toronto’s population will be a visible minority, up from the 43 per cent counted in the 2006 census, according to StatsCan projections. There’s also the very real possibility that having a hard-to-pronounce name can impact a person’s career, said Bhasin, who witnessed many examples working as a lawyer and diversity consultant to companies in Toronto.”

We think it’s a good idea and we’re on board. Find some of our staff here.

Related:

Dreaming of Diversity

 

New Canadians have a lot to offer a workplace; now it’s just a case of making them feel welcome with these tips you can implement in your company. This article was orginally published in the May/June 2013 edition of HR Professional

By Suzanne Bowness, HR Professional

The scene begins in an anonymous boardroom, as five co-workers gather for their first team meeting on a new project.  Three have clearly been with the company for a while and ad they enter the room where the other two are waiting, they make small talk about their weekends. As the scene progresses, their admirable ease turns somewhat exclusionary as they fail to include their co-workers already sitting across the table. Unsure about whether to break in, these new Canadians begin to talk amongst themselves about the same topics as the small talkers, making the divide even sharper.  When they finally get down to business one of the small-talkers offers his spare baseball tickets to his coworker, aiming the suggestion at his fellow small talkers and working to conceal his surprise when the woman in the hijab across the table speaks up to accept them.  After an awkward pause, the team finally settles down to work.

Although variations may play out regularly in offices across Canada, this particular scene plays out more literally on the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) e-learning platform, as a part of their Understanding Cultural Competence module.  Unlike in real life, after watching the group, the viewer is privy to individual reactions by team members, who convey them in full confession-cam manner: the team leader worries over the group’s dynamics, the new Chinese hire expresses concerns about the delay in starting the meeting, and the guy with the baseball tickets expresses surprise when they are snapped up by the woman in the hi ab.

By the end of the video, another bubbl appeared: mine. Like most Canadians I was skeptical that I’d witnessed any workplace friction, and yet a scenario liket his prompts me to realize it’s more than the often the uncomfortable silence than the overt commentary that reveals a need for cultural acculturation.  In spite of our self-perception as welcoming multicultural Canadians, ingrained assumptions and cultural friction present a challenge for employees and HR manager alike, to try to over differences.  The good news is that with all that new Canadian workers have to offer in terms of experience and expertise, it seems that embracing diversity  is definitely worth the effort.

Read the full article

Tips from our Experts on Making New Canadians Feel Welcome at Every Stage

At the job posting stage

  • Widen your talent pool by advertising where new Canadians will see your postings: possibilities include community newspapers, ethnic media, professional associations, job fairs, email lists, word of mouth.
  • Ask yourself whether “Canadian experience” is really required for the job or if you can simply outline relevant qualifications.
  • Include a diversity statement directly on job postings to spell out your policy

At the resume stage

  • Different cultures have different norms for resumes: in some countries marital status, photos, and religious affiliations might be standard so don’t let your discomfort with these inclusions deter your focus form the candidates’ actual qualifications
  • Decide on the competencies you are looking for and search through the resume for those directly.
  • Don’t discount volunteer work; often new Canadians seek this out as real experience

At the interview stage

  • If you’ve asked for particular competencies, determine objective tests to assess them.
  • Get interactive with candidates: try encouraging case studies to investigate their mindset/analytical skills rather than just relying on questions.
  • Remember certain cultures do not self-promote, so reword questions to prompt a more thorough discussion of interviewee achievements.
  • Beware of other differing cultural norms; for instance, in certain cultures a handshake or too much eye contact is not appropriate, also in some cultures silence is intended as a sign of thoughtful preparation , not disinterest.

At the onboarding stage

  • Put together a company factsheet for newcomers with frequently asked questions about the company, industry and region.
  • Consider setting up a new hire with a mentor or buddy to help them acclimatize to the workplace.
  • Provide regular feedback and communication often, not just after the three month probation.

Cultural Fit, Professional Newcomers, & Constructive Dismissal

In workplaces emphasizing “cultural fit” over skills, a newcomer might feel edged out or subtly ignored, and feel tempted to quit. Orange LLP provides insight into constructive dismissal, a thinly veiled form of workplace harassment. (This blog posting was originally published on the Orange LLP blog.)

By Victoria Hetherington, Orange LLP

Since the Orange team has welcomed the wonderful Vicky Wong, who specializes in labour law, our firm has expanded its focus to employment and human rights issues. This expansion is quite intuitive as, from a legal standpoint, there are many intersections between employment and immigration. While the enormous, disastrous temporary foreign worker situation in Canada is (rightfully) commanding national attention, professional newcomers entering the Canadian workforce also face challenges, and many center around minute cultural difference. A recent article in BusinessWeek suggests that employers “don’t necessarily hire the most skilled candidates,” and are instead beginning to emphasize “cultural fit.” As a result, hiring practices are beginning to feel like “first dates”: a new survey from Glassdoor reveals, for example, that some of the most-asked job interview questions include “What’s your favorite movie?;” and, even more inanely, “If you could pick one person to play you in a movie, who would it be?”

“I hired someone as a manager, and it created a lot of tension because he didn’t fit in. People tried to alienate him because they weren’t interested in him as a friend,” one employer reveals. Wait, what? While we understand that happy employees are less likely to quit, saving rehiring and retraining money, a growing emphasis on social dynamics opens avenues for workplace bullying through exclusionary tactics and clique-like behavior – and, since “cultural fit” is located within a very specific set of cultural references, newcomers are left vulnerable. Furthermore, an increased emphasis on “cultural fit” in job interviews might beget racial or cultural discrimination. One workplace guide outlines common cultural stereotypes: people from China are often stereotyped as “hardworking, diligent;” people from Italy are “passionate, explosive,” and so on. Keeping personal space or avoiding eye contact is read as distant and cold in some countries, but as appropriately respectful in others; shaking one’s head means something different in India than it does in Canada. Non-verbal communication and culture – or gestures, movements, tone of voice, eye contact and facial expressions vary in meaning across cultures; a working awareness of cultural difference is crucial both during job interviews and within the workplace. A multicultural workplace is one that not only recognizes but actively encourages people from a variety of backgrounds to retain their language and culture. How does ‘cultural fit,’ with its emphasis on very specific set of Western cultural references, work towards this goal? Wouldn’t it encourage all kinds of problematic homogeneity in the workplace?

In workplaces emphasizing “cultural fit” or culturally congruent sociability over skills, a newcomer might feel edged out or subtly ignored, and feel tempted to quit. Today Vicky provides her insight into constructive dismissal, a thinly veiled form of workplace harassment that, she reveals, occur all too often. For clarity, Vicky provides some examples (names have been changed):

When you feel discriminated against and/or feel forced into quitting, it’s possible you have a case for constructive dismissal. Here are her examples:

  1. Brian is a high-performing employee, but he does not get along with his manager. His manager often tells him to quit if he doesn’t like him and Brian finally does after his manager’s constant coaxing.
  2. Nick’s manager constantly yells at him and tells him that he’s stupid. He also makes jokes about him and laughs about it with other employees while Nick is present. After months of his manager’s bullying, he decides to quit.
  3. Angela is one of four computer programmers in her department. All the programmers were hired at the same time, with the same seniority. Angela’s performance record has always been great. She gets paid $10,000 less than the other programmers. After speaking to her manager about the pay equity issues in the department, the manager refuses to do anything about it and tells her, “tough luck.” Angela decides to quit after several attempts to fix the compensation inequity between her and the programmers.
  4. Max’s manager is temperamental and has no patience for employees that work under him. Max approached his manager with a question and in frustration, his manager pushes him and tells him he is incompetent. This treatment occurs every time Max approaches his manager. Max finally decides to quit.
  5. Carmen’s manager decided to start giving her the worse assignments and any projects that other employees in the department dreaded to do, in hopes that she would quit. Her manager began taking away all her meaningful tasks and assigned them to his daughter, whom he hired upon he graduation. After a few months, Carmen became visibly upset and quit.

If one of these examples resonates with your own situation, talk to a lawyer: constructive dismissal is often difficult to define, but it’s possible you have a case. And if you feel you’re being guided towards constructive dismissal, talk to HR immediately – it’s their job to maintain a healthy, positive work environment.

Understand Your Accommodation Obligations and Opportunities

As an employer, you have a legal obligation to ensure your organization provides reasonable accommodation to people in equality-seeking groups, such as those based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, marital status, family status or disability.

However, accommodation isn’t only a legal requirement. It’s a good human resource practice that can enhance employee satisfaction, success on the job and, ultimately, success for the organizational as a whole.

Many organizations have formal accommodation policies to address the needs of their diverse workforce. However, even small organizations can take steps to meet the specific needs of your employees.

Accommodation Tips

Dietary: Provide alternatives for individuals whose religion or other imperative restricts them from eating meat.

Religious: Designate a private space within the workplace for personal activities, such as prayer. It’s a simple but important way of cultivating a culture of inclusion.

Training: Build cross-cultural competencies among management and staff. Mentoring is a good way to build these skills.

Demographics: Do you know the ethno-cultural makeup of your organization? Take steps to understand your employees. Then, consider how this knowledge is reflected in your policies, practices, customers, and environment.

Networking: Host a diversity networking event to provide participants and invited speakers with an opportunity to share personal experiences, career development advice, challenges and successes.

Environment: Create a welcoming environment by connecting skilled immigrant employees with people and programs providing settlement help. This can strengthen their likelihood of staying. This is particularly important in smaller communities with fewer immigrants and support networks.

Dialogue: To understand what is reasonable in terms of religious and cultural accommodation, establish relationships with your local religious and cultural centres for an open dialogue on customs and their importance.

Additional Resources

  • Religious Accommodation Webinar: Religious accommodation is an important topic for anyone with HR responsibilities. Learn what you need to know about reasonable accommodation and listen as lawyer Sandeep Tatla explains how you can use a Religious Accommodation Checklist.
  • Duty to Accommodate: The Canadian Human Rights Commission has a variety of resources on the duty to accommodate, including guides, fact sheets and frequently asked questions.
  • Creating an Inclusive Workplace: This guide from the Canadian Human Rights Commission will help you understand your legal obligations and create workplace accommodation policies and procedures.
  • Sample Accommodation Policy: Tyco’s accommodation policy can be adapted to suit your organization’s needs.