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As visible minority population swells, Canadian employers are stepping up

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The number of visible minorities in Canada has topped the five million mark for the first time in Canada’s history, now representing 16.2 per cent of the country’s population. Canadian employers are learning how to manage employees from different cultural backgrounds and are creating programs and training sessions to ensure that newcomers become comfortable in their new workplace culture so that they can perform to their full potential.

From 2001-2006, the visible minority population in Canada grew by 26.2 per cent, far outdoing total country population growth of 5.4 per cent over the same period. Statistics Canada reports that if current growth trends continue, visible minorities will account for about one fifth of Canada’s overall population by 2017.

To reflect Canada’s increasingly diverse population and workforce, Mediacorp Canada, the editors of ‘Canada’s Top 100 Employers’, has created the ‘Top 25 Best Diversity Employers’ and the ‘Best Employers for New Canadians’. These rankings recognize Canadian employers who have incorporated diversity into their business strategies and who offer leading programs to help new Canadians transition into the workplace. Although they represent a recent trend in Canada, diversity programs have seen widespread adoption and rapid evolution.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that diversity in the workplace improves innovation, productivity and morale, reduces turnover and ultimately benefits the bottom line.

Effective management of diversity and of the integration of newcomers from different cultures is therefore paramount. Employees from diverse cultures may not realize how employer expectations in Canada differ from what they are used to. One of the most consistent differences among cultures is hierarchy, notes Lionel Laroche, president of diversity training company MCB Solutions. “People who grow up with hierarchy see distinctions of rank everywhere and believe someone who has a higher rank is to be deferred to.” This can put immigrants at a disadvantage in Canada, where independent thinking is encouraged.

More and more Canadian companies are requiring managers to attend cultural training sessions to help them understand diverse backgrounds and how to manage their diverse staff. New hires receive orientation on work styles in Canada on issues from social interactions and norms to participation in meetings and the employee’s role in the organization. Mentor programs and buddy systems have helped new immigrant employees make the transition into their Canadian workplace and community more quickly.

New immigrants – an increasingly important element to population growth – will soon represent 100 per cent of Canada’s labour force growth. Canadian employers with strong diversity programs are best poised for future labour force and business growth, both at home and in international markets.

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