The demand for inclusion in the workplace is considerably higher in Canada than the global average according to a study released last month by LinkedIn. Canadian employees priorities for workplace change saw desire for an inclusive workplace evidence the largest growth – a whopping 22.9% increase over the previous study. Compare this to the global average of 7.3% increase for the same category.
This desire can largely be linked to the diverse demographics of Canada, where 21.9% of Canadians identify as immigrants, and when including second generation population, this swells to 39.6% (StatsCan released these figures earlier this month). In our schools, Statistics Canada reports 27.2% visible minorities, so our children are currently growing up in a diverse, integrated environment.
When it comes to gender issues, Canadians are equally supportive, with same sex marriages legalized in all provinces, and federally in the two-year span of 2003-2005. Full trans and gender identity rights were guaranteed in 2017 with Bill C-16. This legal enshrinement of rights followed 45 years after same-sex relations were decriminalized, allowing public consciousness to adapt to the new Canadian norm.
The past two years have seen significant upswing in desire for diversity and inclusion in the US and Canada due to the Black Lives Matter movement. In Canada, this has also been fueled by demand for attention to indigenous and aboriginal rights, to reset after exposure of past wrongs.
So if Canadian employees want to see more diversity in their workplace, how will employers respond?
Last year Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt released their diversity Practices report on corporate Canada. And Canada is getting there faster than most of the world. Boards and executives in Canada report 22.3% representation by visible minorities (slightly ahead of the 22% national average), 33-39% representation by women, and 20% persons with disabilities. The definitions of visible minorities and persons with disabilities (and even the language used) may be up for discussion, but it’s clear that these are not the significant barriers in corporate Canada they once were. Representation by women is actually closer than you might think at first glance, because executives and business leaders are expected to be full-time, and women currently hold down 70% of all part time jobs in the country.
Employees want workplaces to be more diverse, yet corporate Canada is very close to mirroring the diversity of the country. Why the disconnect? Well, “Corporate Canada” does not include small to mid-sized businesses which account for 69.9% of the total non-government labour force. It can be considerably more difficult for smaller companies to diversify, especially at a management level. But perhaps the issue is as much one of perception as of reality. Worldwide media and social media frequently focus on lack of diversity, instilling the sense of dis-proportionate representation, without reference to individual countries, municipalities, etc. We can easily lose sight of the fact that in Canada we are ahead of the curve – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t significant room to improve. Perception can be reality. Listen to the employee concerns about lack of diversity – and address them. The best approach is to take control of both reality and perception.