September 2003 Edition
Managing a Diverse Workforce

by Susan Wesenhagen

Today's labour market is characterized by diversity. Over the last two decades the Canadian demographic has changed remarkably, and understanding and appreciating diversity is a necessity for the survival of businesses both large and small.

Diversity is quite simply the differences we see between ourselves and others, and a diverse workforce can be comprised of different races, religions, genders or ages. All these things combined create a diverse workforce.

Given that we recognize that diversity is here to stay, and that the ability to manage diversity is a factor in the success of running a business, most businesses will say that they are committed to managing diversity.

But how can businesses take their commitment to the next step? How can they make it a part of the everyday work environment?

To manage a diverse workforce, individual, interpersonal and organizational assumptions may have to be redefined. Begin by assessing your workforce and their needs. By doing so you will go beyond your own frame of reference which will better help you to understand your employees - their needs and expectations. Look at your own work values, and compare them to the values of people from other cultures - your attitudes are often shaped by your personal upbringing and so are theirs. Therefore you cannot assume that they will react in the same way that you do to workplace policies and attitudes.

What types of policies and procedures you implement to ensure that you manage your workplace diversity will likely be unique to your particular set of circumstances. And though it would be convenient to flick a switch and change employee prejudices, it will require Managers to set an example and it will ultimately be up to you to communicate that the commitment to diversity is one of your core values.

Managing diversity may include studying a second language, adapting workplace leave policies, and, when it comes to newer Canadians, ensuring that you communicate policies and procedures - never assume an employee will know how to behave, or what to wear - always communicate your policies and ensure that they understand them.

Encourage workers to let you know what their needs are - students need time off before exams, older workers may prefer a morning shift, or people may need flexible work schedules to accommodate religious observances.

Diversity becomes a problem only when workers do not accept, understand, appreciate, or tolerate the differences between each other. However, they will be more likely to tolerate differences if you do, and if you have communicated a commitment to diversity.

And, don’t forget diversity is good for business - it allows you to tap into the unique abilities of each of your workers, and it ensures a workforce that represents the population creating a strong link between you and your customers - who will see themselves reflected in your business. ยจ

Canadians Are Diverse

There is no 'typical' Canadian. With a population of over twenty nine million people, visible minorities account for almost four million people, and we welcome over 255,000 immigrants a year from all over the world. And, we don't all speak the same language. As you might expect English is the most popular language at work, followed by French, but Chinese, Cantonese, Punjabi, German, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Italian are also high on the list of favourites.

Frequency of Language Spoken at Work:

English 14,371,770

French 4,355,930

Chinese 108,260

Cantonese 74,720

Italian 64,590

Spanish 63,820

German 59,030

Punjabi 49,835

Portuguese 38,205

Mandarin 25,425

Vietnamese 17,905

Korean 15,470

Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Population 2001

What Shapes Diversity?

Diversity is shaped by many factors. When women entered the workforce in the 1960's and 1970's they profoundly changed the face of the workforce. During recent years immigration, an aging workforce, and worker attitudes have reshaped the workforce and given it it’s diversity.

Diversity: The ability to value and respect people for the unique individuals they are, and to appreciate their culture, faith, class, gender, sexual preference, age, appearance and abilities.

Culture: The different aspects of a group or individual that make up their identity, such as language, race, religion, ethnicity, behaviour, attitudes, and experiences.

Immigrant: (Newcomer) A person who is born in one country and moves to live in another. A landed immigrant is a person who has been granted the right to live in Canada permanently.

Ethnic Origin: People may identify themselves by the cultural group to which they belong as opposed to their country of birth. Ethnic Origin identifies the person's ancestral roots, which may be different from their place of birth.

Multiculturalism: Embraces the idea that racial, cultural, religious, and linguistic differences are a beneficial and necessary part of the Canadian society and identity. It has been an official policy operating in Canada since 1971.

An Inclusive Environment: Exists when all communities, including those communities that were traditionally excluded communities, feel respected and valued for their unique differences.

Source: Multicultural Council, Anti-discrimination Workshop Series