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Become a Diversity Champion: How to Champion for Change and Create Opportunities for Inclusion

 

By  Krista Maydew, MA, GCDF, and Roberta Neault, PhD, CCC, RRP, GCDF

When you hear someone talking about diversity in the workplace, people often assume the discussion is about cultural or ethnic diversity. Although programs to increase diversity in the workplace have been used by both public and private sector employers for many years; the main focus has typically been on increasing representation of women, visible minorities, Aboriginals, and sometimes, persons with disabilities.  However, diversity in its broadest sense is inclusive of all people. In our own diversity work, we use the term to describe a wide-range of differences, including but not limited to:

1.      Newcomers (e.g., Skilled Immigrants / Foreign-Trained Workers)
2.      Ethnicity (e.g., Visible Minorities)
3.      Aboriginal Peoples
4.      Religion
5.      Gender (i.e., Men / Women)
6.      Sexual Orientation (e.g., Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered)
7.      Generations (Gen Y, Gen X, Boomers, Traditionalists)
8.      Persons with Disabilities

Clearly, people don’t fit within only one of these categories. An individual may have been born in Africa and educated in England, have converted to a non-dominant religion, and be a middle-aged female who is a skilled tradesperson (i.e., in a male-dominated occupation).

Canada is a diverse nation from a geographic and demographic perspective. Immigration figures alone can help us to understand why embracing diversity is so important. With Canada set to welcome approximately 250,000 new permanent residents in 2009, it is important to consider how we as career practitioners can become diversity champions within our own organizations and beyond our organizational boundaries.

From a business case perspective, diversity in the workplace can improve recruitment and retention efforts, increase a business’ competitiveness, enhance productivity and creativity, and increase overall employee engagement. When employees can come to work freely, without feeling emotions like discomfort, shame, dread, or fear, they are better able to perform their work to their fullest potential. Although this makes intuitive sense, career practitioners working with diverse clients recognize that many employers do not see the benefits of having a diverse workforce.

As organizations of all sizes begin to recognize how diversity can positively impact the bottom line, they may create or adopt diversity policies and programs. Career practitioners are well positioned to act as change champions, raising awareness of the importance of workplace diversity. To begin, career practitioners can champion diversity within their own organizations. Reaching further, career practitioners can introduce the benefits of diversity to local employers, coaching them to create workplaces that will attract and retain members of diverse groups. Finally, to expand diversity awareness, career practitioners can contribute their knowledge and expertise to champion diversity initiatives within the broader career development community, professional associations, and employer groups.

Become a Diversity Champion in Your Workplace
To become an effective diversity champion, begin within your own organization. Ask yourself, “Are diverse colleagues and clients appreciated and respected”? If the answer is yes, use an appreciative inquiry approach to examine what is working effectively. Envision an ideal inclusive work environment (i.e., even better than what it is today). Identify actions to build upon the existing solid foundation to realize your vision.    If the answer to your question is no, support your organization’s leadership in assessing whether existing policies or practices are “diversity friendly.” Next, help leaders to strengthen, develop, and/or implement strategies to better support a diverse workplace.

Reach Out to Local Employers
Embracing diversity may help employers with recruitment and retention efforts, as well as improving productivity, employee engagement, and customer service. Consider creating a tip sheet to share with local employers, highlighting the benefits of hiring a diverse workforce, along with tips for recruitment and retention. In this way, you are working as an advocate for your clients while helping to support employers to achieve their business goals.

Share Your Experience and Expertise
As a career practitioner, you’ve likely heard lots of stories about why clients left past jobs. With your clients’ permission, you could incorporate some of these stories into articles, case studies, or presentations at conferences or professional development events for career practitioners, human resource management professionals, or employer groups such as Chambers of Commerce, Boards of Trade, or Rotary. Speaking out about diversity helps to raise awareness; you might also find a network of diversity champions that you can reach out to, sharing creative ideas and providing mutual support!

Life Strategies Ltd. has recently been working with S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Employment Services in Vancouver to develop and pilot a set of tools to help employers provide inclusive workplaces that embrace and champion diversity. These tools are based on an ROI Model focussing on Recruitment, Orientation, and Inclusion. The comprehensive toolkit comprises a Cultural Diversity Yearbook full of quotes, activities, diversity events, and conversation starters, an ROI Virtual Resources Toolkit, a Diversity Champion’s Backgrounder and Guide, designed to support the implementation of the model, and assessments designed to measure the impact.

References News Release: November 28, 2008 Minister Kenney announces immigration levels for 2009: Issues instructions on processing federal skilled workers. Retrieved from: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/DEPARTMENT/MEDIA/releases/2008/2008-11-28.asp

 

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