Social scientists can measure multiculturalism in a given society by examining the number and content of public policies and government pronouncements. Canada is the only country in the world where multiculturalism policy is enshrined in our country’s constitution.
The multiculturalism policy was officially adopted by the Canadian government during the 1970s and 1980s. The Canadian federal government has been described as the instigator of multiculturalism, as an ideology because of its public emphasis on the social importance of immigration.
In 1971, the Canadian government began promoting a multiculturalism-based integration policy, which was enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, the core document establishing how the various diversities of the Canadian population contribute to the whole, and expanded in 1988, with the Multiculturalism Act.
Supporters of multiculturalism policy argue that multiculturalism policy promotes integration by removing barriers to participation in Canadian life. There is strong evidence that multiculturalism policy has played a positive role in the successful integration of immigrants and ethnic and religious minorities in Canada (as compared to many other countries that lack an official multiculturalism policy).
Studies have shown the most successful forms of integration occur when newcomers retain a sense of their heritage and culture while also becoming involved in the larger society.
By 2031 almost 26% of Canada’s population will be foreign-born and 31% will be visible minorities, according to new projections released by Statistics Canada. Almost half of working age population will be either foreign-born or have at least one parent born in another country. In metropolitan areas such as Toronto and Vancouver visible minorities will be the majority while their population will double in other Canadian cities.
How is diversity changing the workplace?
It’s critical for organizations to understand how diversity and inclusion plays a practical role in staffing, recruiting, retaining, and engaging members and volunteers.
As the economy grows and Baby Boomers retire there are not enough Canadian-born workers to meet the demand for skilled labor. Hiring internationally trained professionals and trades people makes good business sense. In addition to the ultimate goal of attracting and retaining top talent, workplace diversification positions a company to expand and seize global opportunities that are afforded through the networks and languages of individuals who come from various parts of the world; boost the organization’s brand by better reflecting the community it serves; advance creativity and decision making through combining the expertise of people who are privy to overseas business practices and norms; and, promoting cultural diversification.
What this means for Canadian workplaces is things are going to look and feel different. They are going to be much more diverse and the effects of this diversity need to be understood. Foreign-born come to the workplace with different values, ethics, expectations and modes of communication. Conflict is a natural result of the misunderstanding experienced as both Canadian-born and foreign-born struggle to understand each other. Both groups must work to bridge this gap.
Fear of loss of opportunity by Canadian-born, especially white Canadian-born can also manifest itself as anger. Discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin and religion are already on the increase. This trend will continue with the projected change in demographics. Interestingly, discrimination and harassment are changing from white against visible minority to one minority group against another. In some organizations I have already seen an increase in issues between various minority groups. The perceived “bad person” may no longer be the white male.
Some employers have recognized things have to change in order to address the looming issues and be successful in this new work world. Employers, such as those on Canada’s Best Diversity Employers list, have begun to adopt measures to address diversity. Measure include: developing diversity plans or strategies, appointing diversity committees, providing workplace accommodations, examining systemic discrimination, cultural competence training, taking a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and discrimination and creating apprenticeship programs for foreign trained professionals.
Given the projected shift in the demographics all Canadians must recognize that work norms as we know them have to change.