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Diversity Makes Business Sense

Inclusiveness Is Imperative In Today’s Mixed Society

Diversity Makes Business Sense

By Mark Swartz
Canadian Workplace Specialist

The face of Canada continues to evolve. Unlike 25 years ago, when only one in 20 residents was a visible minority, today this figure has climbed to nearly one in six (more than 16% of our population). Other not-always-visible minorities include employees with some form of disability, people who are gay, lesbian or transgendered, practitioners of religions that may be outside the mainstream, residents born outside of Canada, and the like.

Employers have begun to recognize this and it's changing the way they do business. Accommodation and respect are the catchwords of today's human resource practitioner.

Why Diversity Pays Off

In part this has to do with our competitive environment. The race to attract top talent is becoming colour and gender-blind. Employers simply can't afford to ignore the full pool of candidates. Also prospective employees may want to know that the place they work respects human rights for all.

Then there's the legal angle. The Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act are the two most significant pieces of legislation concerning workplace rights. The Human Rights Act says everyone should have an equal opportunity "to have their needs accommodated…without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted."

Meanwhile, the federal strives "to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability." The focus is on four designated groups: women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.

A Sampling of Best Practices

While most employers are meeting their obligations, some are going far above the minimum.
Canadian Pacific Railway, of Calgary, Alberta, created an engineering services women’s forum to develop outreach and recruitment initiatives for female jobseekers. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in Ottawa employs three people with Down’s syndrome as part of their diversity program.

For 2008, Hewlett Packard (HP) Canada's “Safe Space program” – a course designed to foster an inclusive environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers – earned them the title of one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers. Meanwhile L'Oréal Canada, the Montreal manufacturer of cosmetics and personal care products, provides diversity training programs to all employees.

For more information on equality in the workplace, you can surf the Labour Program of Human Resources Development Canada.

Laws Support Equality

Developments in common law, via court decisions, are also creating incentive to adopt a more equitable approach to employment. A case in point is Meiorin v. British Columbia from a number of years back. Here, a female firefighter who had previously done her work satisfactorily failed to meet one aerobic standard after four attempts. She was dismissed. The court reinstated her after finding the standard unfair to women in general, and not essential to the position.

This led to a uniform three-part test regarding accommodation. Each firm must show that job requirements have been adopted for legitimate workplace purposes, that good faith was used and that the requirements are "reasonably necessary" to accomplish the purpose of the position.

In essence, it's another win for diversity. Employers can no longer set standards for job performance that create arbitrary exclusion. This ruling, and Canada’s shifting demographics, point to even more accommodation and respect for differences in the future. At present, each small step can lead to that eventual giant leap of embracing everyone in the workplace, making your staff feel safer and more inclined to be loyal to you.