We take so much for granted today; for instance, we simply assume that our diverse work world is as it has always been.

Yet, if we look back into a mirror that reflects the historical picture of the developing workplace, we would find that women and minority workers were few and far between. Not only that, they were typically working in service-related jobs at far less pay than their male counterparts.

Raj Narayanaswamy (left), president of Replicon, and marketing manager Jessica Lee. There are 18 languages spoken in Replicon’s diverse workplace.

Today, as the National Council of Women celebrates its 118th anniversary, it can sing with pride at all of the progressive changes it has helped to facilitate for women in the workplace. Unfortunately, however, many of the changes that resulted in equal employment opportunity and equal pay had to be enforced through legislation. Diversity was not easily embraced in earlier times.

Thankfully, the world of business leadership has changed. Today’s leaders see that business success and longevity is not simply about legal compliance, but about doing the right thing for the business, for employees and for customers. Thus, there is a more open attitude toward issues such as employee safety and well-being, life-work balance, and diversity in the workplace.

In fact, the concept of diversity itself has progressed from simply meaning an integration of minority employees in the workplace to the concept of inclusion. Inclusion refers to developing a work environment that recognizes and values a variety of employee differences such as race, religion and cultural backgrounds, gender, age, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientation, and/or education.

Not only have definitions changed, but over the last 20 years, business attitudes have changed significantly as well. Businesses have finally realized that diversity is a smart way to do business as it brings a significant competitive advantage, particularly when it is aligned with corporate goals and objectives. Diversity is also an attraction and retention tool not only for employees but also as a means to develop business partnerships and long-term customer relationships.

One of the last groups of individuals to finally feel a sense of inclusion in the workplace are those individuals who are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Once fearing to venture out of their closet of secrecy, people today are holding their heads up high in recognition that they are finally seen as valued members of both society and the workplace. This is what the Pride week celebrations are all about.

While breaking barriers has always been a challenge for individuals, our community can also brag about at least two forward thinking organizations that have made diversity and inclusion a priority for their business.

New Directions for Children, Adults and Families, for instance, confronted the challenge of how to support employee diversity by developing a series of culture and diversity training programs. These programs were deemed to be compulsory for all staff. According to Wayne Sandler, from New Directions, these staff training programs provide educational information on a variety of diversity issues. Programs include titles such as Culture and Diversity, A Peek at Colonization, Social Role Valorization and Breaking Barriers, which deals with gender and sexual orientation. New Directions is also developing a deaf culture competency training program.

In addition, New Directions has developed its corporate values around diversity and inclusion and has built these values into all elements of the recruitment and selection process. They have also been integrated into all supervisory and staff evaluation processes. This initiative has resulted in high satisfaction ratings from all employees who view New Directions as making significant effort to create a workplace of respect, safety and continuous learning.

The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is also a leader in diversity and inclusion and views this as a source of innovation and sustainable economic prosperity. The RBC “diversity blueprint” calls for the establishment of employee resource groups (ERGs) that are self-co-ordinating and active employee groups that provide peer mentoring, coaching and networking. Some of these employee groups include the Mosaic Group, which focuses on visible minorities and newcomers, and the Reach group that supports employees with disabilities.

The Prairie RBC Pride group, active across Canada, acts as a resource and advisory group to corporate leaders on issues related to gay, lesbian and transgendered communities. This has included training sessions, conference presentations, and individual coaching and mentoring. These groups have become an integral part of RBC. For instance, the Prairie Pride group led by Robb Ritchie, adviser for RBC Western Canada Customer Contact Centre, has grown over 400 per cent in a very short time.

A social service agency can boast a significant impact on employee morale and feelings of inclusion, while the RBC, on the other hand, can point to concrete financial gains. Its research on gay and lesbian purchasing power indicated high levels of average salaries and a spending power of over $100 billion. The travel market alone was seen to have a value of $5.4 billion annually. This was indeed a market the bank wanted to do business with and it is working diligently to become the employer of choice for the LGBT community.

In my view, diversity in the workplace needs to be viewed as a universal value; after all, diversity is the one thing that we all have in common. Both Wayne Sandler from New Directions and Robb Ritchie from the Royal Bank state that the first step in embracing diversity and inclusion is to educate yourself and your employees. Next, establish a workplace diversity program that is integrated with your corporate goals. They suggest the following brief guidelines to assist you to achieve your goals.

Planning — Determine what goals you wish to achieve, how the program will be developed, who should be involved and how and what resources are required. Conduct a survey including a demographic profile of your employees, an assessment of your prevailing environment and a review of your HR policies and practices. Finally, confirm your goals and objectives and develop a clear picture of your intended outcomes.

Develop and implement your strategies — Working groups, advisory groups, customer consultation groups, conferences, workshops and policy advisory groups are all proven strategies. Determine what works best for you; however, be sure to include training as a key element of your strategies. Also appoint a champion to lead your initiative.

Monitor and evaluate — Nothing is perfect and so you will have to make some ongoing course corrections. Confirm your performance indicators and then conduct staff surveys, focus groups, self-assessment tools and generally monitor through various progress reports. Analyze the evaluations of the different key success factors and then communicate and celebrate your success.

As New Directions for Children, Adults and Families and the Royal Bank of Canada have already experienced, incorporating diversity as a business strategy is your route to even greater success.

 

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