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Toronto-Style HR

Hockey Sushi RestaurantMy good friend Victorio Milian (@Victorio_M) put a call out to a number of HR bloggers who seem to have an affinity for their home city, asking them to write about what makes HR unique there.  I guess he thought by virtue of my twitter handle (@BonniToronto), that I would want to step up and write something about North America’s 4th largest city.  Of course, I agreed.

Without question, the thing that makes Toronto the most unique from an HR perspective is its way of dealing with diversity.  A lot of people who aren’t from here are surprised to learn that nearly 50% of the population in Toronto is foreign-born, with the majority of them being of visible minority status.  Here, there is no one population that can claim to be the majority.

Having such a huge influx of newcomers has its benefits and its challenges.  From the perspective of consumerism, I think it is really interesting because you find things here that are popular all around the world.  You also see a very interesting fusion of cultures, resulting in new products and services.  This rings very true for me just by looking out the window from my office.  On the corner across the street there are two restaurants—Hockey Sushi and Pamier Kabob, A Fresh Taste of Afghanistan.  Both are excellent, and both are unlikely to be found in any place other than Toronto.

In the workplace, the level of diversity adds complexity to workplace practices.  This goes beyond having good hiring practices and harassment and anti-bullying policies.  Generally-speaking Canadians are such nice people that you don’t often hear about overt marginalization of visible minorities (although it happens).  That said, some of the human resources issues that may need more attention here than in other places include:

  • An ability within the workplace to assess foreign credentials/foreign experience.  You would be missing out on a huge number of great candidates if you simply shortlisted on the basis of Canadian credentials/experience. But how do you know if University of Bangalore is good for engineering? The answer is that we have developed systems to look at such things. Beyond looking at credentials, you need to be cognizant of the risks you take in shortlisting using Canadian experience only due to human rights considerations.
  • All are welcome.  I was born in the U.S. and I know all about I9s and having the right status to work.  Yes, there are limits to working in Canada however they aren’t to the same extreme and all those extra processes to verify status that you see in other places are really not needed in Toronto.  Instead of being exclusionary, it is rather inclusive.
  • Flexibility with regards to language.  Generally the expectation in Toronto is that working people should have a command of the English language; however there is such a broad spectrum of accents that to get along in the workplace you have to be quite flexible about grammar and word choice.  I should also note that human rights legislation suggests that to require English (or French) is limited to circumstances where there is a Bona Fide Occupational Requirement, and over the years, it has been interesting to see policies I may have developed be translated into Tagalog, Urdu or Mandarin simply because a good part of the workforce could not read English well enough to understand the policy.
  • Sensitivity to time off.  Lots of people who live here like to return to their homeland for a holiday.  Sometimes their homeland is far away, and as a result, they like to take at least two if not up to six weeks to do so.  This means that you have to have a more complex way of dealing with staff planning.  Simply instituting a policy that says “no vacation time of more than two consecutive weeks” will not work because people will leave and go across the street where such policy exists.
  • Dealing with religious holidays.  Many of my clients are in manufacturing, and their work schedules are often based upon the needs of their U.S. customers.    Besides the fact that the U.S. and Canada do not share the same holidays (example July 1st vs. July 4th), in Toronto, some people may need more time off because of their faith.  Imagine if you were a manufacturer and the majority of your employees in a particular department were of a faith with an observance right in the middle of your busiest time?  Or what would you do if you had Saturday production and you had a fairly substantial representation of individuals who for religious reasons could not work on Saturday? How could you keep production running?  How do you accommodate? The answer is creative scheduling in a way I never saw developed in other places that I’ve lived.

I’m certainly not saying that it’s utopia up here and that the answer to the world’s workplace problems can be found here in the big city on the lake, however, we have such an interesting working model that a lot of HR folks talk about with pride.  I also think that because of the complexity, there are higher expectations placed on HR professionals.

Perhaps too, I really like the HR folks here.  There is a sense of community.  Tools and practices are shared.  People offer suggestions.

That’s Toronto.  It’s just fabulous here.  Come see it for yourself!

This blog is a part of the “HR and Home Carnival” envisioned by Victorio Milian.  To read all the blogs about HR folks in other cities, follow this link:

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