HR Toolkit

Diversity at Work

Elements of a diverse workforce

In Canada, diversity extends beyond race or ethnicity, religion, culture or newcomer status to include factors such as geography, language, politics, gender, beliefs, sexual orientation, economic status, abilities, skills and interests.

A diverse workplace reflects our communities. Small organizations may have to think about diversity more broadly and consider their volunteer base, board of directors and community partners.

When addressing workplace diversity, emphasis is often placed on groups of people who, for historical, cultural and systemic reasons, have been excluded from the workforce or face barriers or discrimination that limit their full participation in the labour market. Diversity initiatives commonly refer to the policies, programs and strategies designed to promote representative diversity within organizations.

The broad categories of people that are generally used when addressing diversity in Canadian workplaces are outlined below. While these groups may face similar barriers, they are each distinct and extremely diverse within themselves

Unless otherwise noted, the following labour force data is from recent Statistics Canada information at

New Canadians (also referred to as immigrants or internationally trained workers)
Canadians born outside of Canada (excluding temporary foreign workers and work- or student-visa holders) represent almost one-fifth of the Canadian population. In the very near future, immigration is projected to account for almost all of Canada's net population growth. The vast majority of recent immigrants to Canada are from Asia (including the Middle-East) followed by Europe, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Racialized communities (also referred to as visible minority or ethno-cultural communities)
According to Statistics Canada figures from 2006, roughly one in six Canadians are members of a visible minority group. These numbers will continue to rise, as more new Canadians arrive from Asia, Africa, Central and South America. More than half the population of Toronto, and close to half the population of Vancouver, are racialized Canadians.

According to the HR Council’s 2008 Labour Force Study, the nonprofit sector isn't as racially diverse as other economic sectors. While some areas of the sector are more representative of the wider population (for example, organizations that offer immigration and settlement services tend to be more diverse), overall, the paid workforce in the nonprofit sector is not.

Ancestral diversity
Aboriginal Peoples is a collective term that includes three separate peoples with unique heritages, languages, cultural practices and beliefs: First Nations, Métis and Inuit. The Aboriginal Peoples population in Canada is young and growing. Statistics Canada estimates that there will be a 41.9 % increase of young Aboriginal adults in the Canadian labour market between 2001 and 2017.

Ontario and the four western provinces have the largest Aboriginal Peoples populations. In 2006, the highest proportions of Aboriginal populations were found in Nunavut (85.0%), the Northwest Territories (50.3%), Yukon (25.1%), Manitoba (15.5%) and Saskatchewan (14.9%). Aboriginal Peoples in Canada are increasingly settling in urban areas. 

Many nonprofits that work specifically with Aboriginal Peoples communities have a much larger representation of Aboriginal employees than the rest of the sector. While many current labour force initiatives are focused on the integration of Aboriginal Peoples into the workforce, the majority of these are found in construction, forestry, trade and business sectors.

Links and Resources

The Aboriginal Human Resource Council creates and markets a wide range of products, services and networks to help organizations develop inclusive workplaces. In addition, the BC Association of Friendship Centers in British Columbia convenes a network of Aboriginal nonprofits to address common HR issues. Advancing the Aboriginal Non-Profit Workforce is their first report.


Gender in the workplace
The nonprofit sector’s labour force is predominantly female: a full three-quarters (75%) of those working in the sector are women. In most areas of the sector, however, men occupy a disproportionate number of senior management positions, while women are overrepresented in administrative and support-staff areas. One notable exception to this is the Health and Social Services sector, where women are better represented in senior positions. While increasing the number of women working in the sector is not a priority, the gender gap in leadership is an issue of concern.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, two-spirited and queer (GLBTTQ) community
GLBTTQ employees are a part of all Canadian communities and are increasingly “out”, open and thriving in the workplace. While Canadian society’s attitudes towards GLBTTQ people is shifting towards  increased awareness and acceptance, there is still work to be done to assure that all job seekers and employees are treated with equal respect and dignity, and are protected from discrimination and harassment.

People who identify themselves as GLBTTQ may be hesitant to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity due to consequences that could occur in the workplace. Colleagues may change the way they behave or career opportunities could become stifled. Individuals themselves may become the focus of discrimination or harassment in many forms, ranging from subtle comments or inappropriate jokes, to more blatant and hostile homophobic conduct and bullying. For some GLBTTQ employees, fear about being one’s true self at work is an ongoing source of stress. This stress limits the quality of workplace relationships and can have a negative impact on productivity and health.

Links and Resources

CharityVillage’s Non-Profit Neighbourhood directory provides a listing (under LGBT) that makes it easy to find GLBTTQ organizations in any community, For further online information, webinars and training courses, please visit Out and Equal Workplace Advocates.


Employees with disabilities
Millions of Canadians have one or more disabilities. The term disability can be interpreted broadly to include:

  • A physical impairment, mental illness, developmental or learning disability
  • Permanent disabilities, such as a hearing or mobility impairment
  • Temporary disabilities such as an illness or impairment resulting from an accident
  • Visible disabilities, such as person who uses a mobility aid or wheelchair
  • Invisible disabilities, such as an intellectual impairment or mental health illness. These disabilities are sometimes referred to as hidden because they often are undisclosed due to societal stigma and fear of negative impact on employment

While it is true that some people with disabilities are unable to participate in the paid workforce, many can work, and would like to work, but are prevented from doing so because of discrimination and barriers.

For more nonprofit sector labour force information, please visit the Labour Force Matters section of the HR Council’s website.

Next section: Why a diverse workplace matters

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