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Diversity 2020: 12 upcoming equity, diversity and inclusion trends and issues (Part 1)

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Issues of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) continue to challenge leaders in the nonprofit and public sectors. As we approach the half-way mark of this decade, these issues are expected to grow in intensity and challenge organizations to develop a comprehensive plan to address these issues. As such, it is a good time for organizations to consider the EDI landscape and consider their path forward.

Today, we are finding that organizations have a renewed interest in workplace EDI as they face two major trends:

1. Much more diverse employee and client populations, driven by immigration. With an aging population and declining birth rates, Canada continues to rely on immigration for population and labour market growth. As a result, the population has and will continue to become more racially, ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse.

2. Social changes. The Canadian population has also been affected by societal changes, including the increased labour market participation of women, increased integration of persons with disabilities in society, and increased social acceptance of, and openness from, people who belong to the LGBTQ communities. We have also seen an increased understanding of and discussions about issues of social inequality, changes to the family structure, and intergenerational differences with five generations of Canadians now in the workforce.

While an increasingly diverse population is not news to most, many employers continue to face challenges related to understanding, responding to, and leveraging this diversity for organizational success.

In this article we discuss twelve of the trends created by a more diverse population and identify the implications for organizations as an employer. You may be aware of some of these trends and are effectively handling them. But each of these trends will create challenges that workplaces across Canada will be forced to meet head-on as we approach 2020. What further complicates matters is that these trends are not happening in a vacuum. These trends and issues must be considered and addressed in relation to other labour market and sector trends.

1. Grounding the workplace EDI program in a business case

While many organizations are undertaking workplace EDI initiatives, they don’t always clearly link these efforts to the business of the organization. Whether the organization provides community development, childcare, policing, healthcare, educational or municipal services, employees, managers and leaders in the organization don't always understand or connect a diverse workforce with the organization's business objectives. Some people may believe that the organization is undertaking workplace diversity efforts out of a misguided moral imperative or simply because of legal requirements. They don't always consider that a workforce that reflects the diversity of the client population enables the organization to better understand client needs and deliver services. They may also not appreciate the value that diversity (when properly managed) brings to the organization by making it more innovative and productive.

Without a clearly articulated business case for EDI, employees, managers and leaders may be resistant to the organization's efforts. In addition, in times of downsizing and budget cuts, EDI efforts that are not linked to business outcomes, firmly grounded in a business case and integrated into the work of the organization, are more likely to be cut.

Questions to consider:

  • Is the organization's workplace EDI program grounded in a business case?
  • Is this business case communicated to employees and managers at all levels?

2. Increased openness from LGBTQ employees

Most legal marriage benefits were extended to same-sex couples in 1999. In 2005, same-sex marriage was legalized. Some provinces and the federal government have added gender identity as a protected ground in human rights legislation. These changes to law have both reflected and resulted in greater societal acceptance of people from the LGBTQ communities.

LGBTQ employees now expect workplaces to be inclusive. They, like the rest of us, want to be able to bring their full-selves to work and not have to pretend to be something they're not.

Despite these societal changes, we continue to see workplaces that are hostile to LGBTQ employees. In some organizations, employees report that they cannot be "out" and, in some cases, need to tolerate the homophobic and transphobic attitudes of their mangers and co-workers. In addition, some organizations have not updated their benefits policies to reflect changes to law.

Questions to consider:

  • Do your maternity and parental leave policies allow for benefits to same-sex couples?
  • Have you posted Positive Space Posters in all workplaces to demonstrate an organizational commitment to creating inclusive and respectful workplaces for LGBTQ employees and their allies?
  • Do you provide training for employees, managers and leaders about how to create inclusive workplaces for LGBTQ employees and their allies?

3. A rise in competing rights

Competing rights involve situations where the legal rights of one individual interfere with the rights and freedoms of another person. In the past few years, we have seen some high profile cases of competing rights play out in the news media. Most of these cases have been with respect to the delivery of services, such as the case of a woman refused a haircut by a Muslim barber. However, with the increased diversity in the workplace, we can expect that competing rights claims among employees will increase. For example, the right of one employee to bring their guide dog to work may compete with the right of another employee, who is allergic to dogs, to an allergen-free workplace.

Questions to consider:

  • Are staff responsible for human rights in the organization familiar with the guidelines on competing rights from the provincial or federal Human Rights Commission?
  • Have you trained managers about human rights and their duty to accommodate based on any human rights protected ground? Do they know what to do when a situation of competing rights does occur?

4. Managing intergenerational difference

In 2010, the first wave of baby boomers turned 65. By 2020, all baby boomers - 38% of the workforce - will be aged 55 and over. While more and more workers will reach retirement age during this period, many will continue to work past retirement age for the financial and social benefits work offers.

Today, there are five generations of workers in the workplace. Each of these five generations expect different things from work and have different approaches to how they work. This means that organizations need to be flexible to meet the needs of all workers - one approach no longer fits all. It also means that managers will need to be prepared to handle the conflicts that intergenerational differences may create.

It is also important to note that the majority of older people who will be reaching retirement age are White, while there is much more racial diversity among those entering the workforce. This creates a divide that is both racial and generational.

Questions to consider:

  • Does the organization have policies that support flexibility in how and when work is done?
  • Are policies in place to support employees in balancing work and family commitments, particularly the care of elderly parents?
  • Do managers have the support needed to manage multi-generational work teams?
  • Does the organization create opportunities for employees to bridge the gap by getting to know each other in a social way?

5. Accommodating persons with disabilities

The implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) supports the integration of persons with disabilities in Ontario society as well as the labour market. While organizations are currently challenged with meeting the requirements of the Act, they will continue to be challenged to ensure inclusion and accommodation of persons with disabilities for a number of reasons.

The AODA and other efforts across Canada will create greater access to education for persons with disabilities. The aging of the baby boom population and increased life expectancy, coupled with the fact that for most of us there is no longer a mandatory retirement age, means that we will see more employees with age-related disabilities in the workforce. In addition, more and more employers are beginning to see the value in hiring persons with disabilities to meet labour shortages.

The result is that more of us will be managing and working alongside persons with disabilities. Organizations will need to ensure that persons with disabilities are fully included in the workplace and are appropriately accommodated. Unfortunately, we continue to see managers and employees who view accommodation as "special treatment" and don't understand the duty to accommodate persons with disabilities. We also see managers who are uncomfortable with persons with disabilities and don't appropriately manage and support them to contribute their best to the organization.

Questions to consider:

  • Does your organization comply with the Human Rights Code and provide accessible workplaces?
  • Have managers been trained to understand their duty to accommodate persons with disabilities?
  • Do all employees understand the legal requirement to accommodate, so that it is not seen as "special treatment"?

6. Mental health

Mental health is the number one cause of short and long-term disability in Canada. Each day, more than 500,000 Canadians miss work each day because of a mental health issues or illness. These statistics show that mental health issues take a staggering economic toll on organizations across Canada.

However, these statistics and the impact of the work environment on the mental health of employees are largely ignored by employers. In our work, we don't see that organizations are paying serious attention to the health and wellness of their employees. When they do, the focus is on employees' physical health, with little attention paid to mental health.

We also find that both managers and employees are more accepting of colleagues who take time off for issues pertaining to their physical health. When it comes to issues of mental health, employees are often seen as faking the illness because they want rather than need time off. Other employees face the stigma that is associated with a mental health issue.

In addition, the workload and work environment in some organizations have served to exacerbate the mental health issues and illnesses of some employees. The constant downsizing has left organizations doing more work with fewer staff, resulting in employees facing increased levels of chronic stress.

Public education campaigns, such as Bell's Let's Talk have helped reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues and illnesses. However, organizations need to pay more attention to mental health, which is not only an issue of workplace equity, diversity, and inclusion, but has become a significant business issue as well.

Questions to consider:

  • Have you created a psychologically safe and healthy workplace for all employees?
  • Have you surveyed employees to find out what they need and what can be done better?
  • Do your employees have reasonable workloads, work in welcoming and supportive work environments, and have access to time off for issues of physical as well as mental health?
  • Do your managers understand their duty to accommodate based on disability, which includes both physical and mental disability?
  • Have all managers and employees received training in mental health?
  • Do you have a health and wellness program that addresses and increases awareness and understanding of issues of physical and mental health?

In Part 2 of this article we'll look at six more diversity-related trends that non-profit and public sector agencies will be facing over the next six years. It will be published on March 26, 2014.

Tana Turner is Principal of Turner Consulting Group Inc., an equity, diversity and inclusion consultancy firm in Toronto. She will be launching the full report - Diversity 2020 - in April. Learn more at www.turnerconsultinggroup.ca.

Photos (from top) via iStock.com. All photos used with permission.

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