Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia, in partnership with Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, RBC Royal Bank, and SFU Public Square, has recently brought together representatives from businesses, government, academia, and front-line settlement to present key findings and policy recommendations from the “The Diversity Dividend: Canada’s Global Advantage” report. Authored by Dr. Bessma Momani and Jillian Stirk, the report paints a positive correlation between diversity and economic prosperity, and identifies opportunities for Canadian employers and policymakers. You can view a quick video introduction or read the full report here.
The presentation was followed by an eye-opening panel conversation between IEC-BC’s Board Member Fiona Macfarlane (EY), Marija Radulovic-Nastic (Electronic Arts), and Kamal Al-Solaylee (Ryerson University), as well as the report’s authors. BC Tech had the privilege of participating in the conversation, and here are key topics discussed, and some food for thought for all of us:
CANADA’S DIVERSITY LANDSCAPE
- There are over 200 countries represented in Canada
- 20.6% of Canadians are foreign-born
- 25% of Canadians speak a Language other than French or English
- 41% of BC residents are foreign-born
Overall, a 1% increase in ethnocultural diversity is associated with a 2.4% increase in revenue and 0.5% increase in workplace productivity. Diversity is profitable!
Why? Because diversity provides access to a wider talent pool, increased innovation and creativity, allows companies to better tailor their services to diverse customers, and improves understanding of international opportunities and markets abroad.
A successful organization needs healthy friction and discussion, not cohesion and conformity, and diversity brings new ideas to the table. Leaders must steer away from the unfortunate reality of their comfort level and from “hiring in their own image”, which leads to monocultures with no new ideas. Thinking outside the box and being disruptive requires diversity.
GENDER DIVERSITY IN TECH
Within the technology sector, there is a huge gap in gender diversity. As one of the panelists put it, the tech industry is a river full of salmon, and to be a female leader in tech is to become a “salmon in stilettos”. But the reality is that we shouldn’t expect everyone to become a salmon; instead, we need to “desalmonize” the water, and make room for all kinds of fish. According to a report released by the Minerva Foundation, Canada has finally reached gender parity in education in 2013. However, when it comes gender parity in the workforce, we are still #35 in the world. We absolutely need to push corporate cultures and leadership to do better.
At an organization level, change starts with its leaders; if they aren’t fully invested it just won’t happen. Change has to start from the top and has to be consistent, palpable, and measurable. Take a look at your competencies, governance, compliance and values: how do you define and measure diversity and inclusion? What are your policies? How are you enforcing them? Are your diversity and inclusion notions actually embedded within your values, your culture, your workplace?
There’s often significant unconscious bias at play when it comes to workforce decisions, but leaders – like all of us – are often not aware of their biases. Hiring processes, corporate culture, even team building events in tech are often catered to a specific type of population. If each organization takes a hard look at their culture, processes, and workplaces to identify and remove biases whenever possible, we will take a great first step towards more inclusive workplaces.
Last but not least, in order for inclusiveness to truly thrive, it’s not only crucial that an organization and its employees embrace inclusiveness, but also that the organization’s clients do the same. Business leaders have the responsibility of evangelizing inclusiveness to their workforce, customers, vendors, and all other business stakeholders in order to drive a real impact.
DIVERSITY VS. INCLUSIVENESS FOR NEWCOMERS
Canadian society is already diverse, but how inclusive are we really?
An increase in population in Canada will not come from birth rate, so we rely on immigration to maintain a healthy economy. Canada might be an attractive destination for immigrants, but retaining them within our communities is a different story, as Canadians still hold many virtual walls. Many smaller communities still need to greatly improve their brands to be seen as welcoming places for families (“Move up Prince George” is a great example of a smaller community taking the right steps). We need to build better networks to integrate immigrants and help them make the right connections. We need to invest in social infrastructure, culture, transportation, healthcare, and education, so that their families can truly settle and make a home. By making cities more welcoming to immigrant families, we can improve not only their retention, but also their contributions within our society.
In regards to careers, immigration has unfortunately become a convenient tool for the new working class of Canada, providing labour force for jobs that Canadians don’t want to do. In many instances, qualified immigrants just aren’t able to practice their profession in Canada, as they need to work to support their families, and are not able to spend multiple years studying to transfer over their accreditations. As a result, many immigrants are forced to give up on their careers in the hope that their children will have better lives and the chances that they didn’t have. Professional accreditation is, simply put, a huge stumbling block, and providing more viable solutions for immigrants to transfer accreditations and practice their professions within Canada would be a huge step in increasing inclusion within the professional market.
When it comes to workforce demand, the human capital we need is already here. 143,000 new immigrants came to BC last year alone, but a staggering half a million immigrants are underemployed or unemployed across the country. This is due to, amongst other reasons, traditional hiring practices that don’t benefit new immigrants.
What businesses fail to realize is that our goal shouldn’t be to assimilate immigrants into the workplace, to help them become “Canadianized”; instead, we should strive to integrate them as they are into our organizations and society. Tools like BCJobConnect are being created to break down traditional expectations and hiring models, but it’s up to business leaders to understand and embrace new ways of promoting, selecting, hiring and retaining their people.
TRUE INCLUSION GOES WAY BEYOND THESE EXAMPLES
But diversity and inclusion aren’t limited to women and new immigrants. Let’s not forget that a large component of the diversity challenge pertains to indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, LGBTQA, and any persons with preferences or lifestyles different from ours. At a smaller scale, we need better support, education, and connection opportunities so that everyone can find a place where they feel a sense of belonging.
Many of the bigger, more impactful solutions for inclusiveness require collaboration between business, organizations, and local governments. But huge change can start with each one of us taking a hard look in the mirror and considering, “What am I doing to be generous and inclusive? Am I opening my doors and network to others? Am I driving and being the change I would like to see in my community?”
Canada has the most unrealized potential in the world when it comes to diversity and inclusion. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we also have a lot to celebrate. You can often come across a multitude of encouraging stories, and overall there is a true willingness to be better. If we continue to do our part, whether big or small, and strive to be better at an individual, a business, and a government level, we can truly make Canada the biggest, most positive role model of what it means to be a truly inclusive society.