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.

Diversify Your Team: Looking Beyond Recruitment

Law firm Stikeman Elliot recognizes the value of hiring a diverse staff but they also realize the need to also invest, mentor and engage these new staff members to develop a productive working atmosphere. This article was originally published by HRM Online oJune 13, 2013

Canada’s population is becoming increasingly diverse, so your customer base and talent pool are likely a mix that wouldn’t have been seen 20 years ago. There are plenty of soft reasons for increasing diversity, but if you still need to be convinced, how does an increase in sales and revenue sound?

Companies with teams are likely to have better results, according to a University of Illinois study, which found that for every percentage increase in the rate of racial or gender diversity up to the rate represented in the relevant population, there was an increase in sales revenues of approximately 9% and 3%, respectively.

It’s an area that law firm Stikeman Elliot has been focused on for 15 years, starting with an ad hoc, grass roots system and building to today’s organized process for hiring, developing and promoting staff.

A focus on diversity gives the company two advantages, according to Anne Ristic, the Assistant Managing Partner Toronto. One is in recruitment – a focus on diversity gives a broader pool of candidates and therefore a better opportunity to hire the best talent. Secondly, as the firm, like many companies, increases its global client base a diverse team is an advantage for building relationships and understanding other culture groups.

“Having diversity in our workforce helps us increase our cultural fluency and our ability to connect with clients from different cultures whether in Canada or internationally,” Ristic said. It’s also  a recruitment tool as diversity becomes increasingly important for attracting top candidates.

Over the past 15 years the company has seen a big increase in diversity at every level, learning that simply hiring a more diverse group is not enough.

“When we started our focus tended to be on recruitment. We thought we just need to recruit people from different communities and then the problem would take care of itself,” Ristic said. “We realized we needed to do more on both sides – community outreach to get people applying in the first place, and then on the other side, once people are working with you, investing in mentoring and engagement. It’s important to look at what you’re doing at every stage along the pipeline.”

So how did they do it? First was to analyze every step of their employee’s lifecycle, from hiring to partner, and developing clear, objective, written criteria for every stage so everyone from new candidates to the hiring team to the executive branch understood the criteria and expectations.

They also expanded the mentoring program so each junior staff member had more than one mentor, ensuring a more diverse mentor group which gave all the employees more opportunities to learn, grow and take on more advanced assignments.

But sometimes it’s the small thing that counts. If you have ever attended an event where there was nothing you could eat or had someone repeatedly butcher your name you know how demoralizing that can be. “We ask about dietary restrictions and religious observances. They sound like small things but I think taken together it has made our workforce feel that a broad range of communities recognized within the firm,” Ristic said. “We probably get more feedback on the small things than any of the big things.”

For example, Stikeman’s “Hear my name” initiative allows co-workers to listen to a recording of an individual saying their own name before calling them. This broke down barriers where team members might resist asking for help or collaboration out of fear of mispronouncing a name.

There’s also a reflection room available for religious observances, and the company’s Outlook Calendar includes multi-faith holidays to help accommodate any potential conflicts.

It’s made a difference to engagement at the company, with the last few years’ surveys showing Stikeman staff feel welcomed and supported by the company.

“You need to keep moving forward and keep engaging people. We’re not resting on our laurels and thinking we’ve got it all under control,” Ristic said

Tips for Onboarding Skilled Immigrants

Jill Chesley of the Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council talks about the steps you can take to ensure a new employee will succeed in your organization.  (This article was first published in the Commerce News; The Voice of Business in Edmonton, in December of 2012, Vol. 34 No.11 and republished in ERIEC’s blog- The Wave.)

By Jill Chesley, ERIEC

It is projected that by 2025, immigrants will constitute 100% of the growth in the Canadian labour market. Combine this potential business reality with the fact that recruitment and training of new employees is a significant expense, and you will understand why effective onboarding and retention of internationally educated employees is crucial.

There are steps that employers can take to ensure that the new employee will succeed and contribute to the organization’s goals. Orientation, training/development, setting expectations, and mentoring are important components of a new hire’s first few weeks or months on the job.

Many immigrants come from work environments where orientation is a 2-week long process. Imagine their surprise when they arrive at work in Edmonton and have a one-day orientation. Employers often encourage new hires to make themselves comfortable in their new workspace, and to ask questions when needed, but the immigrant may not know who to ask, or may be hesitant to approach colleagues who are very busy.

Orientation should include a number of topics in addition to the employee’s regular list of job duties and requirements. No orientation for newcomers is complete or effective without addressing workplace culture. What are the norms of behaviour, communication, dress, breaks, social conversation, or meeting etiquette? Cultures vary widely in their approaches to verbal and non-verbal communication, personal space, hierarchy, teamwork, initiative, formality, punctuality and privacy. Employers need to help a new employee understand how things work in their new work environment – help them integrate.

Perhaps most importantly, orientation should involve introductions to colleagues. Many immigrants come from countries where relationships must be developed before work can get done. By facilitating introductions with peers, and it will help them start on the right foot.

Exploration of such cultural issues is often best done through training with an experienced intercultural facilitator over the first few weeks of the immigrant’s employment. It is also effective to have Canadian staff in the sessions; they, too, need to understand cultural differences and how to best work in multicultural teams. Other training topics such English in the workplace and communication can also be useful for the new employee.

Employers need to set expectations with the new employee and provide feedback on their performance. It is important to explain key requirements of the job, key performance issues, and goals of the work team and/or organization. Expectations need to be clear, concrete and timely. Employers need to create opportunities to provide frank and constructive feedback in the first weeks and months. Canadians are often too polite, and couch criticism in a “feedback sandwich”. A newcomer might not hear criticism that is subtly expressed. The skilled immigrant wants to perform well, get along with colleagues and contribute to the team, but needs the information to do so.

Mentorship or a buddy system can be an effective way to address many of the issues described above.  Many organizations have internal mentorship programs that are excellent ways to help a new hire integrate, and to allow the mentor to grow professionally as well. A mentor or a buddy is a colleague who shows the new employee around, makes introductions, answers questions – especially ones that the new employee might be embarrassed to ask anyone else – and provides feedback. This responsibility should be part of the buddy’s job description, and not a task that is piled on top of an already full workload.

One issue not yet mentioned is culture shock. Culture shock can happen at any time, and not just to immigrants who are brand new. Learn the symptoms and signs of culture shock, and prepare organizational strategies to support the employees through it.

Setting Expectations Goes a Long Way

A new country, a new organization, a new work environment — it’s a lot for any new employee, regardless of where that person is from.

Setting expectations, from job responsibilities, duties and office culture to performance monitoring and talent development, is your best first way to begin your new employee relationship on the right foot.

When setting expectations for employees, use a mix of communication styles and methods. Describe the organization’s vision for success and how your new skilled immigrant employee fits into that picture.

Coaching them to grow in their new position to reach their goals will benefit the new employees as well as your organization.

It’s also important to remember new employees’ personal needs can be just as important as their professional needs.

Additional Resources

Make Mentoring Part of New Employee Orientation

Consider developing an internal mentoring program to support new employees, including skilled immigrants, in their adjustment to the workplace.

Some of your mentors may also want to develop their coaching, communication, and leadership skills though an external mentoring program, such as The Mentoring Partnership in Toronto or other mentoring programs offered through your local immigrant employment council.

Mentoring programs bring together established professionals (mentors) from all types of corporations and skilled immigrants (mentees) in occupation-specific mentoring relationships.

Additional Resources

  • Apotex: Read about how the pharmaceutical company helps skilled immigrants improve their communication skills.
  • ATI: Read about how the technology company creates a welcoming and inclusive environment for its diverse employees.
  • Gennum: Read about the technology firm’s programs for new employees, including language, communication and social styles classes.
  • Guide to Mentoring: This guide will help you create a structure for mentoring employees, including developing the mentoring relationship, managing the mentoring relationship and evaluating the mentoring relationship.
  • Webinar: Listen to Deloitte and Toronto Community Housing Corporation describe how mentoring skilled immigrants has increased employee retention and boosted morale.
  • Mentoring Stories: Read about mentoring programs at the City of Toronto and St. Michael’s Hospital.

Orientation Helps New Employees Succeed Faster

Skilled immigrants are not only new to Canada — they’re new to your organization and its unique culture.

When bringing skilled immigrants into your organization, you have a unique opportunity not only to help a new hire feel welcome, but also to introduce professional development opportunities that can strengthen your organization.

Outlining expectations for all employees is a logical place to start and offer specific information and training that addresses cross-cultural differences in business norms. For example, forms of address, meeting customs and adherence to punctuality. Provide examples of situations to ensure that you and the new immigrant employee understand the organization’s culture and expectations among staff — for example, the various ways of addressing an authority figure and the salutations always used in some cultures.

Cross-cultural training will be beneficial to new hires and your existing employees. Sharing information can avoid misunderstandings later. This can include a social styles workshop that will help employees understand cross-cultural differences in communication styles, or a dialogue about Canadian cultural customs and cues (from coffee breaks or group lunches with co-workers to giving and receiving constructive performance feedback).

Internal mentoring, perhaps with a member of the new employee’s culture, can accelerate the new hire’s adaptation with an ally who understands their situation. Mentoring is also a good way for existing staff to gain cross-cultural competencies.

You can also consider offering occupation-specific language training to help skilled immigrants gain aspects of Canadian norms for the industry or profession.

Additional Resources