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Diversity Rant – Where the Rubber Meets the Road

February is Black History Month and in the U.S., Diversity Month is coming up in April. I’m not sure when the official “Diversity Month” is in Canada, as we are proud to be a diverse nation and celebrate diversity every day. Or do we?

As I noodled the topic of Diversity, I felt puzzled and frankly, a bit frustrated. As I got curious about my frustration, I thought about the different groups covered by the umbrella of Diversity – women, different religions, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability. I thought about different initiatives I’ve seen and dodgy situations that have left me wondering at times, if we really do walk the talk where Diversity is concerned.

I found I don’t really have any answers, just questions and concerns, so let me throw them out there for you to consider. Here are the questions that are bothering me about Diversity, in the form of a rant:

Women:

How do women really fare in the workplace? Are opportunities to get to the top truly equal for us?

Why are female CEOs (like Yahoo’s Marisa Mayer) villainized when men in the same position would never be under the same scrutiny? When are men ever accused of the double unhappiness of being a “bad male CEO” and a “bad father”?

And why are women typically paid 70 cents on the dollar compared to men? Are we just lousy negotiators or is there more to it?

I would like to know why, when push comes to shove, do women get asked to answer the phones, “man” the front desk, or organize social events in the workplace?

Why does “The Boys Club” prevail and why is there no “Girls Club” of equal clout?

And why are there so many women in the HR field? Or so few men? And why do more of the small-ish population of men in HR achieve VP and C-suite titles faster and seemingly easier than the women? But we are all aware of the issues around HR and its perceived “femaleness” as a perception. How we change it is the question.

Religion:

Really, how much of an inconvenience is it to provide a prayer space or quiet space for individuals to pray during the day?

Does it really matter what god an employee worships?

And why would an employer refuse to consider a Muslim candidate and tell the Recruiter, “Are you crazy, sending me a Muslim candidate when I’m [insert religion here]?” I suspect the better question is, who exactly is the crazy one and how dare they try to make the Recruiter feel lesser for doing the right, civilized, backed-by-Human-Rights-legislation thing?

Ethnicity:

Ah…another one of my favourite topics. Why do North American employers think “Canadian experience” or “American experience” is absolutely critical, a deal-breaker in fact, when hiring? Are foreign trained workers’ brains emptying over the Atlantic ocean as they migrate to North America?

I used to hire foreign-trained employees who had no North American experience for a particular company and it was a win-win. The company got the workforce they needed and the employees got their first North American job and everyone was happy. Or happy for a while, as the company would pay well below market wages and when the employee realized his/her market value a couple of years later, they would leave. Despite my recommendations to provide pay increases along the way as the individual progressed, the company would say “They negotiated their pay, they can live with it.” Which begs my next question: Why do we take advantage of those in a disadvantaged position? Are they lesser because they weren’t born and raised in North America?

Disability:

Why do employers shy away from hiring disabled candidates? Sometimes it’s the perceived cost of adjusting the physical space, but beyond that, is there more to it?

I once “temped” in a call centre environment and one of the top CSRs was a visually impaired woman, who sat near me. Day in, day out, I heard her on the phone with her customers and she was fantastic. The level of attention and focus she provided to her customers was superior to those around her. Was this because of her disability? Maybe. I don’t know, but I would bet yes, it was. So it was a benefit, not a problem.

So why do employers we have a perceived problem with disabled candidates? Are they uncomfortable? Afraid? Awkward and unsure of how to approach the individual?

I could go on about other groups but I think we can all get the point. As much as we value diversity and often put it up on our office walls as a “Company Value”, really, what do we or our employers do when the rubber meets the road? How do we really behave? And what can we do differently, perhaps, just by asking questions?

I don’t know, but I’m going to keep asking tough questions and not accepting the status quo.

 

Elaine Cruise Smith takes an irreverent and (sometime brutally) honest approach to authenticity in the workplace. She blogs about it at “Get Real: People, Passion, Profit$, where she explores how getting real with people (colleagues, employees, the boss, and customers) frees us to be extraordinary and to achieve extraordinary results. Elaine also blogs about living large without breaking the bank at “Champagne Taste …on a beer budget”. Follow her journey and musings at http://getrealhr.blogspot.ca/ and http://champagne-taste-beer-budget.blogspot.ca/ and connect with Elaine on LinkedIn.

Diversity as We Practice

You don’t always need a feedback form to understand how your employees feel about your company’s work culture.

I was in conversation with an employee who wanted to resign. It was just a little over 2 months he had moved here from a different work location and he wanted to go. He was staying at company’s guest house with other employees and was not very happy about it. He thought we was not being accepted well as he came from a different culture and spoke a different language. A new accommodation would not solve his problem. All he had to say was – “It’s not about place, it’s about people”

Yes, more than anything else it’s the employee behavior that defines an organization’s work culture. On their mission to become a preferred diversity employer and attract best talent and clients, organizations sometimes miss to analyze if their current workforce is equipped to handle diversity in terms of gender, lifestyles and cultural background. Diversity doesn’t end with recruiting people with differences; it’s a responsibility to cultivate an environment where everyone feels valued and is willing to contribute. The transition from diverse to inclusive workforce becomes easier with little awareness and consideration at work

  • Talking about differences is a taboo for many but at times it helps. Sometimes letting people share their differences with others help to improve mutual respect and understanding.
  • Is your recruitment team well trained to understand and address diversity? While hiring the best fit, they must also check if the organization is a good fit for new hires.
  • Communication might be a barrier when people from different cultural background or countries interact. Small workshops /interactive sessions can teach employees the essentials on an honest, clear and open communication.
  • A well informed and empathic HR team to address any diversity issues when they arise.
  • Festivals and celebrations are for everyone and must be shared with everyone. Offering some work flexibility to employees on such occasions is an indication that you respect and value them.
  • In-house programs for coaching, mentoring and guiding employees to adjust to a new environment and people helps building a workforce that embraces diversity.

It is not always possible to stop people from leaving but accepting them with their differences when they stay is important for a healthy work culture. To sustain a diverse workforce, diversity must be in practice at all levels.

What Makes Us Different Makes Us Stronger

One of the key elements to having a successful and thriving organization is not to employ “like” individuals but rather to embrace diversity and differences.

All of us are different. We have different backgrounds, personal experiences, races, genders, cultures, the list goes on and on. We each have our own personal imprint which is different and unique from anyone else. These unique differences bring together different ideas, perspectives, understandings to an organization and in turn make that organization thrive.

Could you imagine working for a cookie cutter organization? An organization employed with people identical to you? Everyone would think the same, act the same, have the same ideas…but would the company really thrive and grow? No. It is the differences that we have that bring out new ideas, challenge the norm and create innovation.

Having a diverse workplace also improves company morale and creates an equal and ethical work environment. Being in a diverse workplace is educational and exposes you to things perhaps you were not aware. It can help open your eyes to different perspectives as each of us sees things in a different way.

Not only is it important to have a diverse workplace but also to embrace it. Embrace each other’s differences. Celebrate your differences and educate each other. The more that we know about our differences the more we can excel. Be open to others’ ideas, even if they are different than yours. Try to see things in the eyes of the beholder and be considerate that others may see things differently, and that’s ok. Not only is it ok but it is great! The more we see things differently, the more we learn, the more we are challenged and the more we grow.

Diversity is not good… it’s great!

Jennifer Charron, B.A., CPC is a Recruitment Partner with Lucas Professional Search Group, located in Windsor, Ontario.  You can learn more at www.lucaspsg.ca.