Building a workforce that is representative of a newly diverse population through community outreach, partnerships and pre-employment coaching. (This story was originally published by The Cities of Migration.)
Once faced with a declining population, today Saskatoon is Canada’s fastest growing city. Thanks to a booming provincial economy and an influx of immigrants targeting the city through government of Saskatchewan-led immigration programs, the number of visible minorities has more than doubled in less than a decade, up to almost 8% from 3% in a population of 260,000. For the City of Saskatoon this presents not only economic opportunities but also a new civic responsibility to ensure its government reflects the population it serves.
Making equity the measure of success
The province of Saskatchewan has a proud history of progressive leadership on social policy, protecting farmers, promoting unions and spearheading a national campaign for universal healthcare. In that tradition of responsible government, in 2004 the City of Saskatoon instituted a Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Policy, establishing employment equity targets that matched the changing diversity of its population, and strategies to make the workplace more welcoming and inclusive. In 2012 the City of Saskatoon met the goal set out for visible minorities by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, the result of an intensive community outreach and concerted efforts to make the employment application process as transparent as possible.
Outreach and communication
For many new immigrants with foreign university degrees, obtaining highly coveted civil service jobs is a recipe for professional and social success. Getting there, however, can feel like a mystery to the uninitiated newcomer. To recruit skilled immigrants into public service, the City of Saskatoon recognized it had to overcome the barriers to employment as perceived by newcomers. The City devoted resources to developing partnerships within immigrant communities, conducting outreach and information sessions with organizations like the Saskatchewan Intercultural Association and the International Women’s Association. Along the way, both applicants and community workers become better educated about the hurdles that are part of the employment application process.
A trustworthy partner
One of the biggest obstacles to employment is obtaining recognition of foreign credentials, something that must be done before the job application process can even begin. The City of Saskatoon helps potential applicants through the pre-employment maze by providing information that ranges from how to get degrees assessed to what additional courses of study may be needed for certification. A diversity coordinator from the City’s Employment and Compensation branch provides additional coaching and ongoing support throughout the application process itself, from practical advice on how to write a resume that best represents the applicant’s experience to tips on what kind of questions will be asked at an interview.
The approach is clearly working. Mubarka Butt, City of Saskatoon’s Employment and Total Compensation (Human Resources) Branch Manager explains: “If you are putting the effort forward every single year and you have put a concerted effort forward in educating, bringing people along, building relationships, raising awareness, being transparent and building credibility for your organization as a diverse and inclusive employer, the numbers are inevitable.”
Changing the internal conversation
Developing a diverse workforce is about more than achieving employment equity targets. Essential steps to creating a welcoming work environment include promoting intercultural awareness, encouraging an attitude of mutual respect and advocating the use of inclusive language.
For example, the Human Resources Department provides as needed “positive interventions” to help managers cope with the issues that can arise around accommodating cultural differences. In one case, a city supervisor asked. “How am I supposed to accommodate five workers who want to go to Friday prayer at the mosque at the same time?” The answer started with a conversation and ended with a solution: There are two Friday prayers at the mosque that are one hour each. Send a few to the first prayer, the others to the second. The shift will remain covered and the employees will feel respected.
According to Butt, making sure everyone is comfortable is key: “We say, let’s take two steps back and let’s talk about understanding, let’s talk about awareness, let’s talk about respect.”
Compared to cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, Saskatoon’s new demographic profile puts it at the “infancy stage of diversity.” However, like many new gateway cities, the city is getting it right, from the start. In 2013, the City of Saskatoon was recognized as one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers for the second year in a row.
The City of Saskatoon has incorporated its goal to reflect the region’s new immigrant and ethno-cultural reality in its workforce in a new ten-year strategic plan, published in 2012. Workforce diversity is a measurable “success indicator” and key to its broader mission to build “a culture of continuous improvement.”
“For any organizations that are at the same stage as we are – don’t be afraid to tackle the issue head on. Because if you don’t do it now, it might be too late to do it ten years later when you realize you are fully diverse now from a population standpoint but are not inclusive,” says Butt. “We want to make sure that while we are diverse, we are inclusive at the same time.”
Tips for Employers:
- Build external partnerships at the community level through frequent, open and transparent communication to introduce diverse job-seekers to the ins and outs of the employment application process.
- Good policy alone won’t make your workforce diversity program a success. Results require accountability and the commitment of your organizations leadership and senior staff.
- Empower staff to ask questions and not be afraid of diversity. Be critical. Does your organization have the intercultural competencies it needs?
- Managers and senior staff set the tone and are the first in line when new or challenging questions arise. Provide support and a safe space for difficult discussions, and additional training if needed.