Firms short on diversity practices: Report

Mentoring, networks and training increase visible minority career satisfaction
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/16/2009

As Canadian businesses face a turbulent economy and the need to leverage the best talent from an increasingly diverse workforce, they can’t afford to overlook the barriers faced by visible minorities in the workplace, according to a new report.

Nearly two-thirds of Canadian employers surveyed by Catalyst, a New York-based research and advisory organization that promotes women in business, have a stated commitment to diversity in their mission or vision statements. However, that commitment hasn’t translated into practical application, said Deborah Gillis, Toronto-based vice-president for Catalyst in North America.

“When they look down at the practice or execution of that strategy, fewer than one-half of responding employers said they had policies and practices that address the specific concerns of visible minority employees,” she said.

This lack of execution is costing organizations dearly, she said. Previous reports from the Catalyst study Career Advancement in Corporate Canada: A Focus on Visible Minorities, which surveyed more than 16,000 Caucasian and visible minority managers, professionals and executives at 43 organizations, have found visible minorities report lower career satisfaction and more barriers to career advancement than their Caucasian counterparts.

Those barriers include a lack of networks, mentors and champions, and the presence of stereotypes in the workplace.

Talented employees who are dissatisfied with their career are more likely to leave their organization, which could hurt employers during these tough economic times. But there is hope for employers that want to leverage the diverse talent of their workforce, said Gillis.

“Where we see a focus on diversity and inclusion practices embedded in talent management practices, we see really clear improvement in terms of visible minority employee career satisfaction,” said Gillis.

Diversity and Inclusion Practices, the fifth and final report from the Catalyst study, found effective mentoring programs increase satisfaction scores by 19.3 per cent, effective employee networks or resource groups increase satisfaction scores by 21.8 per cent and effective diversity training increases satisfaction scores by 17.7 per cent.

When employees are more satisfied with their careers, they’re able to contribute more to the business, said Gillis.

The report recommends that diversity and inclusion considerations be integrated into talent management systems at the recruitment, employee development and succession planning phases.

Too often employers look at talent management and diversity as two separate initiatives, said Norma Tombari, senior manager of diversity and workforce solutions at Toronto-based RBC Financial Group.

“One of the better ways of leveraging diversity is to embed it into the different elements of the talent management cycle,” she said. “It’s being very deliberate and proactive and looking at what some of the solutions are.”

Executive search firms that work with RBC are required to include a diverse slate of candidates for pipeline positions. RBC provides additional support to diverse candidates and uses placement programs for those with international experience.

The bank has also committed to having at least one diverse candidate for mid-level pipeline positions and above and provides quarterly reports on the company’s progress against diversity goals to a diversity leadership council, chaired by the bank’s CEO.

To better understand the needs of diverse employees and create relationships to help them advance their careers, RBC’s “diversity dialogues” program partners diverse employees with senior leaders in the bank, said Tombari.

The Catalyst report also recommends organizations train managers on diversity to create a truly inclusive work environment so employees from different backgrounds don’t feel the need to suppress their culture and “Canadianize” themselves to fit in. This includes encouraging open and honest discussions about stereotypes and biases, conscious or unconscious, that exist in the workplace, states the report.

“This is really our call to action, in many ways, to Canadian employers,” said Gillis.


Diversity tips

Inclusive how-tos

• Incorporate diversity and inclusion into talent management processes — such as recruiting and promoting practices — to offer equal opportunity to all employees seeking career advancement. Strive for a diverse slate of candidates for senior-level job openings.

• Encourage open dialogue to address sensitive issues, including race and ethnicities.

• Enhance the exposure of visible minority employees to potential mentors and champions within the organization.

• Create an inclusive environment where managers understand and respect employees’ cultural differences.

• Introduce critical relationship networks that provide employees with access to senior-level executives and employees from other departments and backgrounds.

• Help influence business partners who implement daily talent management practices by appointing a senior-level diversity and inclusion executive.