London’s Poor Diversity Score No Surprise


Written by: Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work

As featured in New Canadian Media
Thursday, 27 October 2016 

A recent study published by the Western University’s Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations found a severe lack of visible minorities in leadership roles in organizations in London, Ontario. 

While the study made headlines, the findings came as no surprise to me.  I have lived in London all my life, working as a diversity consultant for 10 years. I would like to offer an explanation as to why inroads have not been made in visible minority leadership in  London, Ontario.

Flashback to about 13 years ago, when I started to work on a business plan for Diversity at Work: I interviewed many leaders in London asking them whether my idea of having a business which promoted hiring and supporting diverse candidates would ever fly?

I will never forget the answer I received from a human resources consultant who had previously held many jobs in the recruitment and leadership fields.  She said:  “Evelina, as long as there are enough white people to fill the jobs, no one will ever consider anyone else, because they don’t have to.”

Essentially, she conveyed that there really was no need to change the recruitment process and that it was too much work to do so.

A late joiner

In comparison to other cities, London has lagged behind. Perhaps it is because the jobs could easily be filled as the human resources consultant suggested, or maybe we ignore the ever-growing presence of visible minorities which started in the mid-1980’s. 

Some of our largest employers and institutions have only recently developed diversity policies, later than their counterparts in other comparable cities which have a high number of visible minorities and immigrants. I often scan the diversity plans of the public service organizations in London and it would appear that the effort or the kind of approach being used – if at all – are not producing  much in terms of achieving a representative workforce, let alone diversity in leadership. 

My observations are consistent with the findings which indicate a very low level of visible minority participation, notably 5.3 per cent on agencies, boards, and commissions.  Their lack of participation at these levels can have ramifications for how services are delivered, in addition to resource allocation. 

Furthermore, there is a tendency, especially with boards, to recruit people they know, often friends and co-workers, to fill vacancies.  This can perpetuate the lack of representation and the effort to create more diversified boards and committees.

It is startling how many workplaces have not implemented the strategies and best practices that can help mitigate these gaps. How might we explain the disconnect? There is a multitude of reasons why this occurs and this is key to understanding the problem of under-representation in London’s publicly-funded organizations.

Consider these possibilities:

·         Foreign credentials and work experience are not recognized. Generally speaking, if an applicant has not graduated from a leadership program in North America or the U.K , there is a good chance their education in leadership may not be recognized.  Leadership experience from other  parts of the world may not be taken into consideration for a host of reasons, including cultural differences in how we do business and interact with employees.  

·         Effective leadership requires highly developed communication skills:  in person, in writing and over the phone.  An internationally-trained applicant is disadvantaged if they have a pronounced accent and have an indirect style of communication.  Interviewer bias can hamper heavily-accented applicants, who may be mistaken as unqualified because they speak differently.  Across cultures, there are variations in how we conduct meetings, presentations and write reports. The Canadian standards are often learned in school or through work experience.

At civic level: zero

The number of visible minorities and immigrant leaders in municipal organizations is at a glaring zero per cent! 

Given that government organizations are held to a higher standard than the private sector to have a reflective workforce, as well as to meet Employment Equity standards, this represents a failure of implementation and consequently lost opportunities for diversifying the workforce and gaining new skills and perspectives. 

With increasing job insecurity, good benefits and salaries, public service employees are not likely to leave their jobs.  Understandably, this represents fewer opportunities for external applicants to get hired. 

It would be interesting to know if the City of London has an internal mentoring program to assist aspiring leaders.  Research consistently indicates that visible minorities and immigrants find a lack of mentors in the workplace. 

Successful leaders often attest to the significance of mentors throughout their careers.  There have been some attempts over the last few years to develop internships for immigrant professionals at the City of London. However, it is hard to know if this experience translated into permanent employment with the City.

Finally, we cannot overlook bias and racism in the recruitment and selection process, although it does not probably explain the huge disconnect between the population and their representation in the workforce. In my experience, if the leadership in an organization is not familiar with the business benefits of a diverse workforce, they are very unlikely to support and initiate programs which can facilitate the entry and promotion of visible minorities within their organizations.

Evelina Silveira is the President of Diversity at Work in London, a three-time award -winning firm which specializes in creating inclusive workplaces and diverse customer bases.  She has co-authored two globally acclaimed books and is the publisher of the Inclusion Quarterly.

The “Over-Qualified Bias”: What does this mean to employers and candidates?


MP900443225[1]Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London,co-author  The No-Nonsense Guide to Workplace Inclusion

The topic of implicit bias has become increasingly popular in diversity and inclusion discussion circles.  Racial, gender, ability, age, cultural and other biases often play a part in deciding whether a  candidate is interviewed, offered, retained and promoted in a job.  Have you ever taken into account that an “over-qualified” label can also have serious ramifications for both your organization and the candidate?

With global unemployment as an epidemic, it naturally makes sense that many applicants may apply for work they have done before, with ease and for an extended period of time.  When these individuals then go to apply for a job which  is similar to what they have done before they are considered “over-qualified” and thus overlooked.  When employers go the “over-qualified” route, they believe that this is a nice way to let applicants down; telling them in a nutshell – “you are too good for this job”.

Next time you consider dismissing an applicant because they are “over-qualified’ it is worth reflecting on the following points:

  1.  The candidate applied for the job and this means they are interested just as any other.
  2.   You may think they are overqualified but they might feel otherwise.
  3.   They may be fine with lateral moves – not everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder.
  4.   They are looking for a less stressful job that they can balance more easily.
  5.   They have outside interests which they may want to devote more energy; and that is why they have chosen to apply for a job which they can perform easily.
  6.   An overqualified candidate can be your best asset. They can bring industry experience which can help your organization soar.
  7.   Do you want to eliminate a candidate from the pool because you fear they will take your job?
  8.   Different people approach work differently. This means that the candidate may find a new way of doing the work that will make it more stimulating and thus more inclined to stay.
  9.   You may be getting more value for their work.
  10.   Over-qualified is a label associated with mature workers. Could you be prejudicing the employment of mature workers?
  11.   Not all over-qualified people demand high salaries which is an assumption that is made all to often.

Before you think a candidate will be “bored in a second and gone in a minute” try some probing questions in the interview to determine whether the risk is high.

  1.   Where do you hope to be in 2 years?
  2.   What are you hoping to learn in this job?
  3.   What motivates you at work?
  4.   What is the ideal job for you?
  5.   What are you looking for in a job?

You may find the job is a perfect match for the candidate you have slotted as “over-qualified”.  There is no guarantee anymore that an employee is going to stay with a company for 10 years.  But realistically, job seekers are not doing a lot of job hopping when there are few options to go to.  If you are concerned their skills are not adequately being used asked them for suggestions.  With work experience under their belt they may make a fantastic mentor which is an exceptionally good way to recognize their value.

 

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The Guide to Workplace Inclusion


Preview and Purchase at www.yourdiversityatwork.com/ebook/

Read  below what others have said about our book:

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ENDORSEMENTS:

This is an important and timely book for those who want more inclusive workplaces. It moves seamlessly from concepts and terminology and translates them into practical and actionable ideas. All readers, no matter where they are on their diversity and inclusive journey, will find something valuable in this book. Evelina Silveira and Jill Walters have created an impressive resource that includes examples of promising practices from across the globe. This should be every HR professional’s companion!

~Ratna Omidvar, executive director, Global Diversity Exchange, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University

The No-Nonsense Guide to Workplace Inclusion provides a thorough and engaging roadmap of the journey toward organizational inclusion. The authors write from a position of rich, credible experience, with the result that this Guide can help companies capitalize on opportunities and skirt problems on the road to fuller inclusion of an increasingly diverse workplace. Filled with examples and evidence-based solutions, this Guide is a valuable tool for any organization working on building and strengthening its culture of inclusiveness.

~Alison Konrad, PhD, professor of organizational behaviour, Ivey Business School, London, Canada

Managing diversity and creating inclusive workplaces can seem like a daunting challenge for many organisations, but Evelina and Jill have produced a really accessible, highly practical guide to help organisations get going. What we particularly liked was that it was packed full of real examples and illustrations and lots of useful links and tools.

~Tracy Powley, director, Focal Point Training and Consultancy Ltd, United Kingdom

Because inclusion is one of the core values of the USTA, it is important for me to lead, motivate and work well with individuals of diverse backgrounds, capabilities and interests in order to achieve the outcomes we’ve set for ourselves. This book is a great resource for any organization looking to create a successful culture of inclusion.

~D.A. Abrams, chief diversity & inclusion officer, United States Tennis Association/ author, Diversity & Inclusion: The Big Six Formula for Success

This book goes a long way in addressing the systemic discrimination faced by the LGBTQ2 community in the workplace. It tells you what you need to do and gives you the resources to do it. It makes it easy for any workplace to become more inclusive in their hiring, recruitment and retention practices. I highly recommend it for every workplace.

~ Deb Al-Hamza, past president, Pride London Festival/ diversity social worker, Children’s Aid Society of London & Middlesex

I think this book is very comprehensive! There is very valuable information from ‘Foundations for creating an Inclusive Business Environment’ to ‘Best Practices in Diversity.’ I see the value for small to medium businesses that lack a dedicated human resources professional or lack the experience with implementing policies and procedures to promote an inclusive environment; however, larger businesses can also benefit greatly from the examples, detail and strategy offered. I will continue to visit many of the resources offered in the future and have made note of some of the examples.

~Lesley Oliver, diversity & accessibility coordinator, Equity & Human Rights Services, University of Western Ontario

The book is strategic, concrete and to the point. The various examples make it relevant to readers and practical. I also like the fact it is rooted in personal experiences and takes a holistic approach. The book makes one reflect on what is not obvious, helps avoid assumptions and discusses unconscious bias.

~Magali Toussaint, international career and cross-cultural coach/ diversity professional, Netherlands, http://about.me/magali.toussaint

 

 

 

 

“You Just Don’t Fit In!”


By:  Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.  Publisher, Inclusion Quarterly

The interview has ended and you turn to the other members of your selection team and say: “He wouldn’t fit in” and they agree, passing over this candidate in favour of a less qualified one. You site all kinds of reasons like: “he is too old”, “we want people who will be fun to work with and he seems too professional”, he seems to know more than we do”, and his cultural dress wouldn’t fit the corporate image we’ re trying to project. All of these are poor excuses for turning down a candidate especially if they are qualified for the job. Telling someone “they don’t fit in is a proclamation of personal bias. Period. The ideal staff person cultivated in your head does not match the person sitting in front of you. Perhaps you were looking for a man? Someone who is of the same race as you? Or a person who doesn’t have a disability?  Were you specifically seeking a straight candidate?  You wanted someone under the age of 40?  A person who thinks like you? Someone who is less intelligent and won’t challenge you in any way?  Or who seems to lack confidence?

I remember getting hired for a job when my manager was on holidays. Figuring out that she would not want to consider me for the job because of my experience, I later learned the selection team strategically held the interviews while she was away. I was 35 and she was used to working with young women who were fresh out of school. Having been through the trenches of the not-for-profit world, I was full of enthusiasm and ready for the challenge of re-energizing a fledgling program. Introduced to me after coming back from her vacation, she declared: “I wanted someone who was younger and who I could mould”! Can you imagine how I felt? Clearly, I did not “fit” her ideal image of the staff she wanted to have, even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with my work.

Recently, my friend recounted a similar situation about an interviewer. Noting that she liked having young energetic staff, she  conveyed she was impressed by his many years of experience, but  added: I just need to know that you will fit in, because everyone fits in here and I am not so sure about you”. He thought it was an odd comment to make, but decided that he would just forget about it. After getting hired, in his first week, his boss called him into her office and had some peculiar personal comments about him that had nothing to do with his work. He’s a rather introverted man who is reserved until he gets to know people.  She said: I am really not sure you are fitting in”. You keep your door closed and you are not really interacting much with the staff”. You seem really unsociable!” B. had his door closed to block out the noise to accommodate his disability, ADHD.  This was mentioned  during his interview. While he was friendly to all staff,  he wasn’t hanging around in the hallways or in their offices gossiping as so many others were. He had a work ethic! Apparently, that was why he “wasn’t fitting in”?
If you are making hiring and retaining decisions not based on a person’s ability to do the job, but on something about them you don’t really like, (which is really what “not fitting in” is all about) this is a bad move that could end up costing you a bundle in legal fees.

As an employer you could easily be playing with fire when it comes to human rights, legislation protecting people with disabilities in the workplace and laws against bullying and harassment.

Hiring someone because they are the best person to do the job is always the right decision and having standardized documentation to support all phases of the hiring process is the way to go.

Next time, you think “that person doesn’t fit in”, challenge yourself to look at what they do bring to the workplace instead of imposing unnecessary superficial expectations on them. Take the time to understand what is happening for them. After all, a good leader makes everyone feel included no matter how different they are. It is up to you to help them “fit in” and be accepted and respected.

Are Your Hiring Practices Really Equitable?


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc. Author of Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget: How to have a more innovative and engaged workforce with little or no dollars.

Equity statements on job postings have become part of the norm, implying the applicant has a fair shot at a job. If the ultimate goal is to hire the best person for the job, then some very common unfair workplace practices may be getting in the way. Let’s take a look at how allowing candidates to circumvent the hiring process throws equity out of the window.

A candidate may have “supporters” in the organization who would like him/her to be hired. The supporters may approach the hiring committee or senior leaders to advocate for the candidate. While this may be advantageous to the candidate and a time-saver for the hiring committee, how might this sit for an applicant who doesn’t have an “in” with the organization? If the supporters are successful, their candidate will be hired.

What happens to the other people who have applied? Your best candidate may have been waiting in the pile of resumes, which did not get your attention because of the “support” one candidate received.

What implication does this have on diversity and workplace inclusion? Immense. You ended up hiring very similar people. What is the effect on innovation? Abysmal. New Canadians, people who live out of town, youth, people with disabilities, aboriginal people and those who may be entering the workforce for the first time don’t stand a chance, unless “they know someone.”

In terms of succession planning, you may see very little in the way of diversity, creating huge implications for organizational profitably as well as innovation, not to mention corporate image.

If the situation I have described has become part of your organization’s hiring procedures, there is a good chance it has become well known. Do you want the word out that: “You need to know someone, to get a job”? Or would you prefer applicants have an equitable chance of getting hired as your equity statement would imply?

The hiring process should be transparent all of the way. If you don’t feel comfortable with writing down the specifics of your hiring process and making it public, there is a good chance it may be inequitable and even illegal.

You can argue that it has always been this way! In the past, we did not include equity statements, but now we do. Consequently, more than ever we need to be accountable for applicants who take the time to answer job ads and treat the process fairly out of respect to them and to the integrity of the organization.
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Quick and Easy Ideas for LGBT Workplace Inclusion


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Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc.  Author, Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget:  How to have a more engaged and innovative workforce with little or no dollars.

Pride Month is coming up and now is the time to take a look at what your organization is doing to create workplace inclusion for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered employees.  Even though I am a big supporter of LGBT inclusion in the workplace and in the community at large, sometimes I find myself stumped at what can we do in our organizations to advance the cause?  I figured that there were other people out there who likely feel how I do, but don’t know where to begin.  I did some research and I came up with a few ideas below that are really quite easy to do.  You don’t have to have a big budget, but you will see that these ideas will no doubt contribute to a more caring, engaged and productive workplace.

  • Don’t assume everyone is straight.
  • Remember to communicate a zero tolerance policy that inappropriate comments or jokes will not be allowed.
  • Keep in mind that LGBT employees often have children, spouses and partners. Show interest in their lives as well.
  • “Coming–out” is usually a risky thing to do in the workplace. When someone shares this with you, thank them for their trust in you and honour their need for privacy.
  • Convey verbally and in writing that professional development and promotional opportunities are solely based on merit.
  • When you are embarking on diversity and workplace inclusion training remember to include LGBT content.
  • Include any policies or benefits to LGBT employees on your website as you would for other groups. In the case of a global operation, it is important to let employees know how LGBT company practices and societal approaches abroad may be different if a transfer or travel is involved.
  • Don’t overlook LGBT causes when you are looking for outreach opportunities in your community. Considering the prevalence of bullying and higher levels of suicide among LGBT youth, these groups could use more resources.
  • Send out a Happy Pride Month message in your newsletter, intranet or other form of communication, just as you would with any other special month.
  • Ask employees if they have any ideas to improve LGBT inclusion in the workplace or marketing/customer service efforts to this population. These questions should be posed to your employees in general and not singling out LGBT in your organization.

 

If you would like more easy and low-cost ways to make your workplace more inclusive, consider purchasing our eBook, Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget  at http://www.yourdiversityatwork.com/ebook/ .

 

 

Tips for Avoiding Subconscious Bias In the Hiring Process


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc.   Publisher, Inclusion Quarterly.

Let’s face it — we are human!  But when it comes to equitable hiring practices, our “humanness” can get in the way of hiring the best candidates.  There is a growing body of research that says that we are more likely to hire attractive people for certain jobs based on their appearance and not their qualifications.  Research shows that even small children think that people of colour are less trustworthy and not as friendly , and these biases continue on into adulthood and influence hiring practices.

The unfortunate reality is that the best people are often not chosen for a job because our subconscious bias gets in the way.

As a small business owner, I am conscious of this now more than ever.  I want to hire the best people, because if I don’t , I lose money and the reputation of my business.   Good people make me good as well. Business owners see and immediate connection with the bottom-line and are no doubt more likely to choose qualified people than looking for only “fit”.

It would be so easy if more people felt this way but they often don’t.   That’s why we need to build in processes to help reduce the occurrences of bias. When it comes to fair hiring practices, the key word is “structure”.  Structure allows for all members of the hiring committee to keep on track.  Problems arise when committee members “go off the script”.

Here are some tips to support the integrity of your hiring processes.

Check you biases at the door.  Remember the focus needs to be on skill rather than “fitting in”. If your goal is to hire “someone who will fit into the organizational culture” you will undoubtedly hire people who are the same as the rest and not necessarily the best employees.  Certain cultures and age groups and those with a diversity of thoughts and opinions, will be out of the running. Sometimes interviewers are afraid to hire the best because they fear losing their job to the candidate. But hiring the best people is a good indication of a progressive leadership team.

Map out your hiring process.  It is a good idea to use a flow chart or another kind of chart to identify who will be responsible for each stage in the process. Having a visual to work from will help you to see what links may need strengthening to increase the fairness of the process.  For example, one way to reduce beauty bias is to start with a preliminary online or standardized interview which removes the possibility of subjectivity.

Zoom in on the key competencies for the job, and structure the processes around it.  If your job posting requires an advanced level of technical skills in a particular area, be sure to have this tested within your screening process.

Involve multiple people in the interview process.  The screening committee should be made aware of fair hiring practices and be committed to getting the best candidate possible.

Ask the same questions of everyone.  Avoid asking extra questions of some and not of others.  You  give a candidate an unfair advantage.

Included a weighted scoring sheet.  Keep to the most important competencies and weigh them according to the job.  Relying on written responses alone is not enough.  This makes the process far too open to interpretation, bias and illegal hiring practices.  If your interview process is ever questioned by the candidate or authorities you can at least show that you had some structure in place.  Having a scoring sheet throughout the process:  recruitment, interviewing, and reference checking will cut down on the bias.  You owe it to the candidate and to the reputation of your organization to follow a structured system.

Focus on the key issues.  Can the candidate do the job? Based on their responses and prior work history, will they do the job?  If they have not done the job before, what qualities have they demonstrated in the interview process or skills have they obtained from other experiences that make the case that they can do the job.

Conduct reference checks.  Ensure that all candidates referees are asked the same questions.

Don’t forget empathy.  Looking for a job these days is harder than ever and there are so many people in need of one. Always keep in mind how you would like to be treated.  Think about how you would feel if someone less qualified got a job that should have been yours.

Signs the Political Correctness Police Has Taken Over Your Workplace


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity At Work in London Inc.,  Author of Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget:  How to have a more engaged and innovative workforce with little or no dollars.

 

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“When I grow up, I’m gonna marry a tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer or Indian chief”.

In the 70’s, this was the skipping song we chanted as little girls. The goal was to land on the “rich man” or the “doctor”. Any other kind of a husband signaled a doomsday marriage. Fortunately, a lot has changed for the better and our evolving language has captured the humanness, equality and the need for all people to be included.

In this effort to restore equity to groups which have been on the margins forever, have we in the process gone too far with creating other inequities in the workplace? I think that we have. We are a long way from having a balanced workforce. Let’s take a look at some typical examples you find in the workplace. Is your workplace guilty of any of these?

• You don’t have a Christmas celebration in the workplace even though over half of Canadians identify themselves as Christian and even those who don’t still celebrate some aspects of Christmas.
• You appease the demands of one group in the workplace at the expense of the other, because you don’t want to be labelled as a _______.
• You withhold information that could advance social change or contribute to the betterment of the community because your findings shed a negative light on a group or groups of people.
• You allow behaviours from certain groups of people who you would never allow from others.
• You ignore performance issues from people of designated groups because you don’t want to ruffle any feathers.
• Diversity of thought and politics are not permitted.

In these cases, we are talking about “Fear” which seems to be the norm in organizations that have swung too far on the left of the pendulum when it comes to political correctness. Legislation for sure makes people scared; there is more of it now than ever before. Many organizations let too many behaviours slide because of the fear of law suits and complaints. It is better to take proactive steps at creating workplaces that everyone can work in, instead of trying to police everyone’s thoughts, words and actions.

 

Religious Accommodations Need Limits


Dr. Grayson of York University in Toronto, Canada should be commended for the brave action he took by denying a student’s request for religious accommodation.  According to his beliefs, the student could not meet with his fellow female classmates to work on a school project.

I sent Dr. Grayson an e-mail of support and so did many others, championing his commitment to women’s equality and his respect for secularism. In his article in The Globe and Mail, Dr. Grayson defends York University noting that their decisions were based on on what was dictated by the Ontario Human Rights Code — even if  flawed.

I have a question for the Ontario Human Rights Commission: Since when is it acceptable to perpetuate sexism in the name of religious accommodation in Canada?  Let’s not forget that women in this country have fought for equality and it was less than 100 years ago that we were legally recognized as “persons”. This is a secular country, attracting immigrants fleeing theocracies who don’t want religion to control every aspect of their life.  Why are we even entertaining the idea that segregation of the sexes is acceptable when it can have such a negative impact on a huge demographic?

Dr. Grayson points out that since many elementary schools are making these concessions,  students will naturally expect the same when they attend a post-secondary institution.   Allowing this to happen in public funded institutions is wrong and problematic from many perspectives.

If we agree that the goals of post-secondary institutions are to prepare students for critical thinking, career exploration and finding employment, then we are doing these students a disservice.  Giving them the impression that we are prepared to segregate our workplaces along the lines of sex to accommodate one person; we cannot blame them for thinking this is possible if it has been done all along.

 Here are a few examples of religious accommodation that I have come across in my work with post-secondary institutions:

  • Female students with face-coverings who can only work in female groups.
  • Male co-op students who insist that they can only work in male workplace settings.
  • Nursing students who cannot follow through on in-class demonstrations that require touching students of the opposite sex.

Unless the labour shortages become extremely intense, I really doubt that the average Canadian employer would be able to accommodate the above requests. By doing so, could spell disaster for both the employees and employers in both monetary and human terms.  It tears at the very soul of this country which values equality.  And while workplaces are trying to becoming more inclusive,  accommodating one of these requests will only have ripple effects, negatively impacting many employees and ultimately the one initiating the request. Resentment and vilification will spread.  We only need to look at the reaction the York University student has received.

 Those working in employment services with religious minorities should discuss workplace accommodations.  Be very honest about the impact their request may have on their ability to obtain a job and retain one. For example, I may say:  “Yes, it is your right to not shake the hand of the opposite sex”.  But add:  “In Canadian culture, shaking hands is a standard greeting and expected business practices, it in no way has any sexual connotation”,    “If you don’t shake someone’s hand when they offer it, there is a good chance they will feel offended that you didn’t think they were worthy of this greeting.  Or, that you are arrogant”.  I also add that they have to ultimately make the decision whether they will carry on with some of their practices in public because of the effect they can have on employment and forming relationships outside their religious groups.

 I am not entirely against religious accommodations. Dietary accommodations, and days off for observance are reasonable requests which have little impact on others especially when they are anticipated.  But, the Ontario Human Rights Commission needs to have a better pulse on what is happening in our workplaces when its values conflict with those of most Canadians.

Canadian Work Experience Is Important And This Is Why


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Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.    http://www.yourdiversityatwork.com

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHC) paper “Policy on removing the ‘Canadian experience’ barrier” speaks to the challenges many New Canadians face when they are seeking employment.  Citing careers in teaching, counselling, project management, medicine, customer service among others as those requiring Canadian experience.

Opponents of the requirements will argue that it is discriminatory. However, this is too simple of an explanation.

 While there will be employers who use this as a reason to discount New Canadians others may doing so for some very valid reasons.

 Let’s take a look at both sides of this issue in a more balanced way.

 When I have looked at a resume and see an individual who has spent 5 years in English as A Second Language (ESL) classes and has never worked in Canada or been involved in any community service, this is a red flag for me.  I ask myself:  How much does this applicant contribute to their community?  How integrated are they if their only responsibility is to go to school? Venturing out of the sterility of ESL classes and getting a paid survival job or helping out in the community makes you a richer person and a better prepared future employee.  It shows engagement, flexibility, resourcefulness, adaptability, commitment and most of all contribution.  These opportunities lead to practicing newly found English speaking skills in a more realistic setting.

 Canadian experience can be obtained in many ways. The reason why employers like to have it is because it is easier for employees to integrate into a Canadian workplace.  It often means that New Canadians will have some understanding of the soft skills that are required to be successful.

 Requiring Canadian experience is not racist. Consider this.  If those of us who were born in Canada and were hired to do a job in China,  Saudi Arabia, India or other countries how long would we survive?  Chances are unless we have a designated employee or mentor helping us out, we wouldn’t understand the workplace culture well enough to last.

Canadian experience is a two-sided responsibility that the Ontario Human Rights Commission doesn’t understand.  Both employers and applicants have responsibilities.

 For the New Canadian:

  •  If you cannot find work in your field, try to find any jobBelieve it or not, you are learning and gaining new skills.  When I think of all of the survival and student jobs I’ve done over the years, I learned a great deal of skills, some of which I use every day in my business.  Listing a survival job on your resume is better than not having one at all.  As I have mentioned to ESL students I have mentored in the past, use these opportunities to listen with both your ears and eyes. If you are observant there is much you can learn from any workplace experience.  These days there are a lot of people working below their skill levels because of the high unemployment.  Employers understand this and will look more positively on you than not working or volunteering at all.
  • Volunteer in your professional associations where you will gain more contacts and networks.  You’ll also learn more about how work is delegated, how different issues are handled and the latest information to make you more competitive in your field. You will certainly grow to understand the Canadian workplace landscape better and enhance your soft skills.
  • Become part of your community.  Backlash against immigrants is often related to the belief that immigrants are not integrating enough.  There is so much need in your community and your skills are surely required.  Research what causes interest you and get involved.  While going to school each day to learn English is important, if you have been doing this for more than a couple of years you may need to ask yourself if you are hiding behind the security of school, fearing getting a paid or volunteer position?  The longer you are away from working the sooner you will lose your skills.  Depression can easily settle in.  Getting out and having responsibilities outside your family will make you feel better especially when you see that you can help others out.
  • Ask for feedback and be willing to take it.  Whether you are working in a survival job or volunteering ,make a point of asking for constructive criticism.  This is a great opportunity to find out how you are doing and to learn new skills and understand Canadian culture better.

 For employers:

  •  Be more flexible when it comes to Canadian experience. Consider survival jobs and community service engagement.
  • List required soft skills instead of asking for Canadian experience.  Some applicants will have similar experiences working in multinational organizations with policies and procedures that are similar to North American standards.  Canadian experience is less of an issue.
  • Take responsibility for helping New Canadians get experience within your company.  You can offer paid internships, unpaid work placement and more.  Don’t over look the impact that a buddy system, coaching and mentoring can have on an enthusiastic employee.   Be prepared to explain why things are done the way they are in your workplace and the beliefs behind them.  Understanding the “whys” help us to understand the culture better.

 To learn more about how you can nurture and encourage soft skill development in your New Canadian employees, check out our workshop on November 13, 2013 in London, Ontario.  Encouraging and Nurturing Soft Skill Development in New Canadians:  A Workshop for Managers.  Visit http://www.yourdiversityatwork.com for more information.

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