Diversity 2020: 12 upcoming equity, diversity and inclusion trends and issues (Part 2)

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Part 1 of this series identified six equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) trends and issues that will create challenges that workplaces across Canada will be forced to meet head-on as we approach the year 2020. The trends and issues identified in Part 1 include: the need to ground your workplace EDI program in a business case; increased openness from LGBTQ employees; a rise in competing rights; the need to manage intergenerational difference; accommodating persons with disabilities; and addressing mental health in the workplace.

In this article, we look at another six trends and issues that will confront and challenge organizations over the coming years.

1. Integrating immigrants into the workplace

With an aging population and declining birth rates, Canada is increasingly relying on immigration for population and labour market growth. By 2030, deaths are expected to start outnumbering births. At that point, Canada will be completely reliant on immigration for population growth.

To meet this need for immigrants, Canada has kept its target at about 250,000 new immigrants each year since the 1990s. However, while immigrants are recruited for their qualifications, high levels of education, and work experience, they continue to experience difficulties getting jobs that reflect their education and experience and difficulty integrating into the Canadian workplace. There are many factors that contribute to the difficulties they experience. These include lack of recognition of foreign credentials, lack of understanding of the language of the Canadian workplace, lack of "Canadian experience," and discrimination.

The result is that, as a whole, even though immigrants are better educated than the Canadian-born population, they are trapped in low skilled occupations, such as truck drivers, clerks, and taxi drivers. This also means that organizations and the Canadian economy are losing out on the skills and abilities that new Canadians bring with them to this country.

Questions to consider:

  • When screening resumes and job applications, do applicants with "foreign-sounding names" get screened out regardless of their qualifications, skills, and abilities?
  • When interviewing, are you able to listen past the candidate's accent?
  • Does your hiring process allow you to assess skills and abilities, regardless of where the applicant gained them?
  • Do you support newcomers to develop the social and language skills of the workplace so that they can fully integrate into your organization?

2. Ensuring religious accommodation

The introduction of Quebec's Charter on Secularism has put the national spotlight on religious accommodation. Across the country, federal and provincial human rights legislation require that employers accommodate employees based on any human rights protected ground, including religion. Typically, this requires accommodation with respect to dress code, time off for religious observances, scheduling of breaks and shifts, provision of prayer space, and scheduling of interviews.

However, while the duty to accommodate based on religion has existed for decades, we continue to see that employees, managers, and organizations do not always fully understand this obligation and its limits. In recent years we have seen news reports dealing with:

  • A Muslim high school co-op student who was told at an interview that the organization's policy is that every man must be clean shaven.
  • Muslim women who lost their jobs because they refused to hike their skirts above the knee over their long pants.
  • Sikh employees who refuse to wear a hard-hat because it meant they can't wear their turbans which are required by their religion.
  • A Jewish employee who requested scheduling changes so that he wasn't required to work on the Sabbath.

With the rising number of non-Christians throughout Canada, the duty to provide religious accommodation will continue to challenge organizations.

Questions to consider:

  • Does your organization have a Religious Accommodation Policy? Have you specified the duty to accommodate in other related policies, such as dress code, guidelines for scheduling interviews and shifts?
  • Have you provided training or information sessions for managers about their duty to accommodate based on religion?
  • Have you educated all employees about religious accommodation so that they don't see accommodation as "special treatment"?
  • Have you provided prayer or quiet rooms for employees?

3. Hiring and integrating Aboriginal peoples in the workplace

With Canada's reliance on immigrants for population and labour market growth, the issues Aboriginal peoples face in the workplace are overlooked by many organizations.

In reality, Aboriginal youth represent Canada’s youngest and fastest-growing population. Currently, 652,000 Aboriginal people in Canada are of working age. By 2020, 400,000 more young Aboriginal people will enter the workforce - in both large urban centres and smaller communities. However, while Aboriginal peoples provide an enormous pool of talent that employers can draw upon, the Aboriginal population continues to experience unemployment rates more than twice as high as non-Aboriginal people. They also experience higher rates of unemployment and under-employment regardless of their levels of education.

In our consulting work, we often hear from Aboriginal employees that their colleagues hold negative attitudes toward Aboriginal peoples, creating a hostile work environment for them. Negative attitudes about Aboriginal peoples can also create a barrier to the hiring and advancement of Aboriginal peoples.

Questions to consider:

  • Does your recruitment strategy include outreach to Aboriginal communities and agencies?
  • Do your interview questions require candidates to sell themselves, which creates a cultural barrier for Aboriginal peoples in the hiring process?
  • Do you offer a welcoming and inclusive work environment for employees of all backgrounds? Have all employees received training on their responsibilities to create an inclusive work environment?
  • Does your organization encourage greater understanding and respect for Aboriginal history and better relationships with Aboriginal communities?

4. Supporting the advancement of women into leadership positions

A recent study of Fortune 500 companies found that those with the highest representation of female managers had higher market shares and profits. Other studies continue to show that despite the contributions that women can make to organizations and the gains they have made in the labour market, they continue to face barriers to advancement into middle and senior management positions.

Organizations will continue to be challenged to recognize the different leadership style of women and their leadership ability in order to support the advancement of women and men equally.

Questions to consider:

  • Have you examined your human resource data by gender to identify if barriers to advancement exist for women?
  • When recruiting for senior level positions, do you ensure that female candidates are included on your short list?
  • Do you have mentoring and coaching programs in place to support the advancement of women into management positions?

5. Identifying and addressing racism in the workplace

Even with current human rights protections and a more racially diverse society, issues of race, racial discrimination, and racism continue to challenge Canadians and Canadian employers. A quarter of all complaints to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal are based on race. In addition, the data continues to show that racialized people / racial minorities continue to experience higher rates of unemployment and under-employment than their White counterparts, even when they have the same level of education and work experience.

As we work with organizations to review their employment policies and practices, we often hear from employees about how much more subtle racism is in the workplace today. They share their experiences of micro-aggression in the workplace, exclusion from social networks and informal mentoring, and being set up for failure as they progress up the management ranks.

From our experience, organizations continue to be challenged with systemic, conscious and unconscious racism / racial discrimination. Some organizations take a "willfully blind" approach to racism in the workplace. They don't examine the issue, view those who raise the issue as having a "chip on their shoulder," and can therefore comfortably ignore the issue. But this approach only perpetuates racism and racial inequality in the workplace.

Questions to consider:

  • Have you developed a comprehensive anti-racism vision statement and policy?
  • Does the organization collect race-based data to identify issues and monitor change? For example, do you know the composition of those who apply to the organization, who gets hired, and who advances within the organization? Do you analyze human rights complaints to identify and understand race-based issues? Do you collect data on informal complaints as racially-based complaints are oftentimes informal? Do you survey employees to identify issues of racism in the workplace?
  • Have leaders in the organization received anti-racism training?
  • When require, do you hire investigators that have a firm understanding of how to investigate race-based human rights complaints?

6. Unmasking unconscious bias

In the 1990s, the focus of workplace equity programs was on identifying and addressing systemic and individual discrimination. However, even as organizations were implementing EDI programs, many still struggle to close the gaps in representation that certain groups experience. When researchers tried to explain these persistent inequalities they turned their attention to what was happening on an unconscious level.

What they found is a powerful unconscious that is influenced by our natural instincts, filters, culture, upbringing, as well as our background and identity. These unconscious biases shape the conscious decisions that we make by affecting how we interpret information and how we evaluate and interact with people. For some of us, this means that our behaviours can be out of sync with our intentions.

Given the mounting research, organizations are beginning to understand the need to gain a better understanding of how unconscious bias works and the impact it has on hiring decisions and how people are treated in the workplace. As we approach 2020, it will be important for all organizations to incorporate training and education about unconscious bias into their EDI programs.

Questions to consider:

  • Have all those involved in the hiring process received training to help them understand and minimize the impact of their unconscious biases on hiring decisions?
  • Are managers encouraged and supported to reflect on their own biases?
  • Have all staff received training and education about unconscious bias and the impact it has on how people are treated in the workplace?

On their own, each of these 12 trends and issues can prove to be daunting for an organization. Taken together, they can seem insurmountable. But as we approach the year 2020, organizations will no longer be able to ignore the challenges that an increasingly diverse labour market creates for them. If they don't proactively assess and address these issues, the demographics will force a response.

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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