HR Toolkit


Diversity at Work

Supporting Employees from Different Cultural Backgrounds

It is important that the composition of our workplaces reflect the composition of Canadian society. Canadian demographics are changing. According to Statistics Canada, by 2017 the number of visible minorities in Canada is expected to double. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada reports that the Aboriginal labour force is young and is growing at twice the Canadian rate. In 1991, 43% of the Aboriginal population was of working age. This is expected to grow to 62% for the on-reserve population by 2015.

Changing demographics means that our potential labour force is also changing. The workforce that you need may not have Canadian experience, may not share traditional Western cultural values and may have very different notions of time, body language or how to demonstrate respect. Organizations need to consider how they attract and retain employees from diverse cultural backgrounds.

This section deals with cultural diversity and considers that, in Canada, creating a diverse workplace includes people of different cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds. While we have generalized and address the needs of New Canadians and First Nation people in this section, the common theme is the need to be open, respectful and responsive to people of different cultural backgrounds.

Related HR Management Standard:

Standard 4.4
The organization promotes an inclusive workplace.

Potential Barriers

 

As experienced by First Nations people

Potential barriers faced by First Nations people include (but are not limited to):

Difficulty finding jobs

    • Typically, networking and who you know provides job-seekers with job leads. First Nation people often lack formal network connections
    • Lack of job search skills
    • Job ads and job descriptions that don't focus specifically on skills and competencies can leave a First Nations person feeling unqualified
    • Difficulty accessing computer, fax, photocopier and other job search tools

 

Language barriers

    • Lower literacy rates or speaking English or French with an accent may be a barrier

     

Double discrimination

    • Women and youth who are also First Nation face double discrimination

 

Lack of education and/or appropriate training

 

Ignorance or fear of other cultures

    • Ethnic sounding names are sometimes used to screen out applicants before the person has a chance to demonstrate their capability
    • Misunderstandings due to different cultural interpretation (for example, not understanding the importance of oral tradition to First Nation people)
    • Interview questions may be culturally-biased and, therefore, difficult for the applicant to answer

     

Feelings of isolation

    • There may be few or no others who share their cultural understanding within the workplace
Excellent Website

Aboriginal Human Resource Council

Provides helpful resources including:

  • Differences between Aboriginal culture and mainstream Western culture
  • Why Aboriginal people leave their jobs
  • Numerous relevant reports in the "Articles and Reports" section
  • Job board for connecting with Aboriginal employees

 

As experienced by New Canadians

According to Statistics Canada, 70% of newcomers report they encountered problems or barriers in the job finding process. Specifically, the obstacles were lack of Canadian work experience, transferability of foreign credentials and lack of speaking one of Canada's two official languages.

Potential barriers faced by New Canadians include (but are not limited to):

Difficulty finding jobs

    • Typically, networking and who you know provides job-seekers with job leads. New Canadians often lack formal network connections
    • Lack of job search skills
    • Job ads and job descriptions that don't focus specifically on skills and competencies can leave a New Canadian feeling unqualified
    • Difficulty accessing computer, fax, photocopier and other job search tools

 

Language barriers

    • Even when language isn't specifically a barrier, speaking English or French with an accent may be a barrier

     

Double discrimination

    • Women and youth who are also from a visible minority face double discrimination

 

Lack of education and/or appropriate training

    • However, many New Canadians are very well qualified and the issue is the employer's lack of knowledge about assessing foreign credentials.

     

Ignorance or fear of other cultures

    • Ethnic sounding names are sometimes used to screen out applicants before the person has a chance to demonstrate their capability
    • Misunderstandings due to different cultural interpretation (for example, in some cultures not making eye contact is a sign of respect; however, in the Western culture we expect eye contact)
    • Interview questions may be culturally-biased and, therefore, difficult for the applicant to answer

     

Feelings of isolation

    • There may be few or no others who share their cultural understanding within the workplace
    • Isolation can be due to the fact that employers fail to accommodate different religious practices

 


Practical and supportive practices

Now, if we turn that list of barriers around, we start to get a sense of how to build a diverse and inclusive workplace.

In general, creating an inclusive and supportive workplace involves:

  • Leading by example with a clear commitment from the top down that diversity is important
  • Adopting policies and procedures to support diversity, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment
  • Promoting (both internally and externally) the organization's commitment to diversity
  • Holding all staff and volunteers accountable
  • Providing training and awareness in the workplace

 

Recruitment and selection process

To encourage New Canadians and First Nations people to apply - and to ensure a bias-free selection process - consider the following suggestions:

 

Broaden your recruitment reach

    • Brainstorm the recruitment sources you have through your connections with other cultural groups
    • Advertise placements through immigrant-serving and aboriginal organizations
    • Include a statement about your organization's commitment to diversity

 

Focus on skills and competencies

    • Review your job descriptions and job ads as well as interview questions to make sure you focus on skills and competencies rather than on academic qualifications and Canadian experience or credentials
    • Focus on the content rather than the style of the resume
    • When interviewing, focus "how" an applicant will apply his or her skills, "how" they would handle a situation, etc.

 

Good Practice

Find out about credential assessment services. According to the Conference Board of Canada, much of the new talents brought by visible minorities are under-utilized because we do not adequately recognize academic or professional credentials obtained abroad. The cost of this failure amounts to between $2 billion and $3 billion annually. (Conference Board of Canada, Making a Visible Difference: The Contribution of Visible Minorities to Canada's Economic Growth , 2004.)


Develop a clear and consistent set of guidelines

    • Use a consistent and formal application process to avoid bias
    • Make sure all questions directly relate to the job description
    • Provide consistent and clear information to all applicants about the selection process

 

Make the interview process less intimidating

    • Make the selection team as diverse as practically possible
    • Avoid using metaphors, jargon or slang
    • Be open-minded and sensitive to cultural differences
    • Check into any diversity training and other supports available through your local immigrant-serving or aboriginal organizations
    • For interviews involving Aboriginal people, arrange the chairs in a circle

 

Become informed

    • Learn as much as you can about different cultures
    • Find out the holy days of different religions to avoid scheduling interviews at these times
    • Network with other employers who have diverse workforces to find out their best practices
    • Set-up a diversity committee to assist with recruitment and community relations
    • If your workplace is unionized, check to see what diversity resources are available through the union

 

Good Practice

Hiring Practices for Equity in Employment: Interview Guide (PDF 323 KB)
This guide written by the Nova Scotia Barrister's Society guide provides helpful information about designing an unbiased recruitment and selection process, including a very helpful section on how to understand different culture's response styles, language styles and non-verbal differences during an interview.


Beyond the Boomers: A Guidebook for Building an Immigrant Workforce in the Nonprofit Sector (PDF 2.41 MB)
Created by the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, the goal of this guidebook is to help nonprofit employers develop an inclusion strategy that will enable them to attract, recruit and retain the best qualified candidates. This guidebook is a practical tool that is employer-focused. It acknowledges the unique challenges and strengths of the nonprofit sector and is part of a long-term change initiative which focuses on developing awareness, attitudes and practices for creating culturally competent, inclusive and respectful nonprofit organizations.

 

For general information about the hiring process, visit the Getting the Right People section of the HR Toolkit.

 

Retention and promotion

Once a New Canadian or First Nations person is hired, the focus shifts to employee retention. Here are some suggestions for creating an inclusive workplace:

  • Include staff from different backgrounds in decision-making and social activities
  • Provide time off for culturally significant events and holy days
  • Provide quiet space for prayer
  • If applicable, involve unions in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace
  • Set up mentors so that Aboriginal peoples and New Canadians who have succeeded in the workforce can support others trying to break the same barriers
  • Routinely promote your organization's commitment to diversity and provide education to staff so that everyone understands what constitutes racism and racial harassment as well as the expectations for all staff
  • Cultivate a culture of trust amongst staff
  • Confidentially discuss the reasons for certain workplace expectations when there is a difference in cultural interpretation
  • Encourage people to discuss personal or cultural preferences and understand the preferences of others
  • Learn as much as you can about each other's cultural backgrounds
  • Include opportunities for staff to interact in settings outside of work so that employees feel more comfortable
  • Create professional development plans so that New Canadians and Aboriginal employees have promotion goals
  • Conduct exit interviews to find out why a staff person left
  • Support senior staff so that they, in turn, support a diverse and inclusive workplace by recruiting, retaining and promoting people from different cultural backgrounds

 

Links and Resources

Business Critical: Maximizing the Talents of Visible Minorities - Employer's Guide

A Conference Board of Canada guide designed to help Canadian organizations maximize the talents of visible minority employees. It provides concrete strategies and tools that can be used by leaders, human resource managers and line managers to create inclusive workplaces that respect, value and promote visible minority talent.

Employer's Guide to Integrating Immigrants into the Workplace

Created by Hire Immigrants Ottawa, this guide is designed specifically for small and medium-sized organizations that typically have limited in-house human resources capacity. The guide addresses common issues such as assessing languages skills, foreign credentials and work experience; working with cultural differences; and preparing your workplace.

 

Next Section: Supporting Employees from the GLBTQ Community