Friday, August 2, 2013

Building a Workplace Culture That Embraces Diversity

I’ve spoken and written about the benefits of diversity for years and on six continents. However, as the adage goes, “we teach what we need to learn” and I’m definitely still learning. This year I’ve had the privilege of co-leading a research team to learn from internationally-trained professionals themselves about the challenges in the foreign credential recognition process in Canada. Their stories, without exception, illustrated how very far we still need to go to create Canadian workplaces that embrace diversity. I’ve also been facilitating employer training as part of two initiatives – the MAPLE 2.0 program and Welcoming  Communities. In both cases, I’ve listened to internationally trained skilled workers and professionals describe how they can’t get relevant work in their fields until they have “Canadian experience” – clearly a circular problem as they can’t get that experience without work in their fields!

I’ve also witnessed examples of individuals, though, who do get hired into positions closely related to their pre-immigration careers only to find themselves isolated, unappreciated, and clearly unwelcome by their colleagues and immediate supervisors. To build a diverse workforce, it’s not enough to have buy-in from the executive team and HR professionals within the organization – the average employee also needs to understand the value that diversity can bring. Too often orientation is focussed exclusively on the newcomers; however, to create a welcoming workplace it may be necessary to orient and train incumbent employees, building their cultural competencies and highlighting the synergies that result with working with colleagues who bring diverse perspectives, talents, and prior experiences to the project.
The SEED toolkit that we created for S.U.C.C.E.S.S. a few years ago has recently been updated. If you’re trying to build a workplace that embraces diversity, it’s a good place to start with links to virtual resources for recruitment, orientation, and inclusion of diverse workers, as well as a diversity champion’s guide, a topical backgrounder, and a diversity yearbook filled with activities and resources to shift your workplace culture so that diverse workers know they’re valued and are inspired to fully contribute.

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