HR Toolkit

Diversity at Work

Why a diverse workplace matters

Employers in all sectors of the Canadian economy are now, more than ever, focused on attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. This section of the HR toolkit provides employers with information about why diversity is vital to organizational effectiveness.

Enhanced diversity and inclusion in an organization will:

Supporting recruitment challenges and skills shortages

Two major demographic pressures affecting the Canadian labour force today include: the large number of baby boomers approaching retirement age and the shortage of young people available to replace them.
Nonprofit employers consistently report challenges in recruiting the skilled talent they need in their organizations. Competition for employees will continue—and increase—as employers in all sectors are affected by changing labour force demographics.

There is a wealth of skilled and talented people who are not effectively engaged in the Canadian workforce. The immigrant workforce, Canadian-born visible minorities, youth, mature workers, persons with disabilities and Aboriginal Peoples have all been overlooked in the past. Their talents are wasted—either by not employing or by under-employing qualified candidates. If nonprofits wish to thrive, they need be able to recruit and retain the talent they need. To do this, they must be equipped with an understanding of how to connect with and support these undervalued groups. Nonprofits cannot afford to ignore such a large segment of Canada’s labour force, and should look to engage under-utilized pools of talent as part of the solution to recruitment challenges and skills shortages.

Did you know?
  • According to Statistics Canada, as of 2011, all net labour force growth in Canada is expected to come from immigration. In 2006, 51% of new immigrants reported that they held university degrees, compared to only 19% of the Canadian population.
  • According to Statistics Canada, by 2017, the number of visible minorities in Canada is expected to double and account for approximately 20% of Canada’s population. Racialized groups are under-represented in professional positions.
  • Indian and Northern Affairs Canada reports that the Aboriginal labour force is young and is growing at twice the Canadian rate. All growth scenarios considered, the Aboriginal Peoples population in Canada will represent a significant percentage of the labour pool in some major Canadian urban centres, as well as smaller communities.
  • While the gap in employment rates between people with and without disabilities has been shrinking, the difference remains significant. A 2001 Statistics Canada survey reported that: 90% of people with disabilities did as well or better at their jobs than non-disabled co-workers; 86% rated average or better in attendance; and staff retention was 72% higher among persons with disabilities

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Improving employee satisfaction and retention

Satisfied and engaged employees are more effective and productive. These employees are also more likely to stick around. Retention of employees means saving resources that would otherwise be used to recruit, hire and train new staff. Organizations that don’t support and nurture a diverse workplace may be able to recruit diverse talent but will face major challenges when trying to retain it.

Recent statistics indicate that diverse employees are three times more likely to leave an organization than non-diverse workers because:

  • They don’t feel part of the organization
  • They don’t feel valued
  • They don’t feel they have an opportunity for advancement
  • They feel that cultural barriers exist
  • They believe a competitor is more likely to develop career paths for a more diverse range of employees

Managing diversity means minimizing the challenges or barriers to a productive and diverse workforce. The more effective an organization is at supporting diversity and inclusion, the more engagement that organization will experience among its employees.

When managers are attuned to the specific skills and practices required for guiding a diverse team, and when all employees understand the workplace’s culture and values and their role within it, a better ‘fit’ is achieved and employee engagement increases. Organizations that take diversity seriously and implement effective integration strategies have greater success in achieving optimal employee performance and retention of staff.

More information on Employee Engagement and Retention is available in the HR Toolkit.

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Providing better client service

People are more easily engaged when they feel represented amongst their colleagues and peers. When employees are members of the communities that an organization is working in—or working with—it adds to both credibility and trust.

Beyond relationship-building benefits, organizations also gain valuable cultural knowledge that will help them better understand the needs of the community they serve. For example, an employee with a disability may be more keenly aware of the needs of others in the disability community, and can act as an excellent resource for the identification of relevant goods and services for both community members and potential employees. Similarly, employees from diverse ethnic or linguistic backgrounds are better able to serve people from their communities, as well as increase the language and cultural capacity in an organization.

New legislation in Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), ensures that everyone who lives or visits the province can equally benefit from the goods and services businesses have to offer. To find out more visit the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.

Regardless of the province in which an organization resides, employers can make use of the following tools to support the creation of accessible services: Accessibility Standard for Customer Service: Getting Started Guide for Employers  and the Accessibility Standard for Customer Service : Template Plan.

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Broadening community engagement

In addition to providing better service, increased diversity means casting a wider net to connect with a greater variety of people, and access broader and deeper networks. Such increased community engagement can result in important links with potential members, new employees, volunteers, donors and supporters. This diversity can result in further reach, greater visibility and a much broader base of support.

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Fostering innovation and problem-solving skills

In a 2010 HR Council employer survey, 73% of respondents identified ‘enhanced innovation and creativity’ as a benefit that would likely flow from a more diverse workforce, as diverse employees provide fresh perspectives and different points of view.

Research from many sectors and other countries supports this, showing a strong link between diversity and innovation. Well-managed heterogeneous teams are more productive, more creative and more effective than homogeneous groups.

Diversity can contribute to more effective decision-making and problem-solving by providing a range of perspectives, a broad spectrum of expertise and a more robust process for critical evaluation. Different perspectives can draw attention to shared assumptions that may be implicitly guiding current practices.

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Promoting organizational values more fully

Nonprofits indicate that there is a clear moral imperative to promote, build and nurture diverse organizations.

It is implicit in the Canadian value system that all individuals should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. The nonprofit sector often champions social justice, empowerment, equality, diversity and social inclusion. Working to build a workforce that reflects the communities we live and work in, the clients we work with, and Canadian society at large, is one way that nonprofits can live up to and promote these espoused values.

Next section: How to build a foundation for diversity at work

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