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Workplace diversity: My personal experience of working in Canada

Dr Neelam Batra Verma

Workplace diversity: Since George Floyd’s killing, every office today wants to create a “diverse” workplace and therefore, is ready to hire people from different lifestyles and cultures to change their appearance on their cool websites. It is the in thing now and every company wants to appear to be a diverse and inclusive workplace. But how many of us truly understand the meaning of diversity? Is hiring such people, just checking boxes, or there is more depth to this intention? The moot point is how successful are these organizations in retaining those people – not counting those who stick around just because they need a “job” but cry to bed every night but those who are thriving, being promoted, and made to feel worthwhile and in return are helping others who are just starting out, to thrive too. In my humble opinion, this is what I would call a successful diverse, and inclusive workplace.

Inclusiveness, Workplace diversity

A workplace that proudly takes the amalgamation of different cultures respectfully is not just a place where people come to spend 8 hours a day and go home disgusted but is a healthy and homely one. The employees here are more like a family and so every morning when they get ready to go to work, they are excited to meet their colleagues, chit chat about their evening, or share their problems, looking for a solution during breaks. People from different cultures have had different experiences and sharing one story, may help someone come out of the dumps. Every person brings with them a wealth of knowledge, experience, training, skills, and practices; not to forget struggles.

Since the last few years, there has been innumerable research suggesting that an inclusive workplace has a benefit on people, both physically and psychologically. Therefore, a diverse office benefits not only the employee’s mental state but also brings with it positivity, creativity, team building, and maybe modernization. Research has shown that when people from different perspectives meet and discuss, a fresh pot of overflowing ideas starts simmering.

The shortfall in implementation of workplace diversity

All this is documented in hundreds of research papers around the world but when it comes to implementation, there is always a shortfall. A 2015 study by McKinsey and Company on why diversity matters, found that “companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns. And diversity is probably a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time.”

Workplace diversity in Canada

McKinsey has been studying diversity in Canada, the UK, and Latina America for several years now and their data is based on a study of 366 companies. They looked at the financial results and a sketch of diversity at the top level. Some of their findings related to workplace diversity were:

  • Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
  • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians (exhibit).
  • Companies in the bottom quartile both for gender and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial returns than the average companies in the data set (that is, bottom-quartile companies are lagging rather than merely not leading).
  • In the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.
  • Racial and ethnic diversity have a stronger impact on financial performance in the United States than gender diversity, perhaps because earlier efforts to increase women’s representation in the top levels of business have already yielded positive results etc.

EDIA benefits employers

There are more studies and research supporting how EDIA workplace benefits companies. But is it working really at the workplace level? Are the employers taking this seriously? Hardly!

My experience while being in Canada for 20 years now has not seen any employer is serious about diversity. There are not one but many reasons as over the years, I myself have been a victim of exclusivity and many days have gone home, to cry on my pillow. There were many instances, in the last more than a decade, where managers and teammates have excluded me from their meetings, events, and discussions, making it clear that I was not an important member of the office.

The feeling of humiliation at work

Some examples: When I was first introduced to the “boss”, after being hired, I held out my hand to shake his (of course pre-COVID). He not only not extended his hand, but also looked through me, and started talking to someone else. I felt humiliated right then but could I do or say anything? No. He is the boss. Yes, I was the lowest member of the team, not only new but belonging to the lowest cadre and not a Caucasian. No other employee I have known, whether casual or on contract, was hired at the position I was in. When I joined or applied for the position, I was new to the country and did not understand the various levels of the organization. However, if only that day the “boss” had shook my hand and just said, “welcome to the team”, I would be over the moon. Just little gestures can make or break a person’s confidence and self-esteem and question workplace ethics.

Typecasted comments

Another time, my manager made a comment, when I had returned from a holiday in India, and a rape incident was big news there. She asked me if I would ever be going back to that “country of rapists”. Rapes happen everywhere, so that means we should not go anywhere, I argued. “I feel safe when I am there”. My argument was not taken kindly and I feel, to this day, the manager holds a grudge against me as I was neither promoted nor supported in any which way but was yelled at and humiliated many times in the office. The instances are too many to describe but eventually, I was able to get a transfer and my tears stopped. Maybe the manager has forgotten the incident, maybe hurting me was not her intention, maybe she has moved on, maybe this was not important for her, maybe for her it was a casual conversation but for me, I still carry the humiliation of my tenure there till today. 

Favoritism at workplace

When I saw juniors promoted to the next level and I questioned why I am ignored, I was told, not once, but many times, “you should be thankful you have a job. People like YOU, are still struggling.” Yes, I was thankful I had a “job” for I had to put my children through university so had to “suck” up the humiliation. In all these years of humiliation, I have not once discussed my situation and mental state with my family and they keep wondering, why I take sleeping pills. I know but they know not. Of course, due to fear of repercussions, I never spoke out.

I have applied for every new opportunity in the office but not once considered. Many a time, I was told my “English” is not up to the mark or I do not have the right qualification. I have thousands of articles published in various national and international publications, published and edited an English magazine for 6 years, and also have published a book – all in English. Still, my English is not up to the mark! Belonging to a culture, which teaches not to boast about your accomplishments, for me to talk about myself is not easy. Of course, write I can. No one needs to make any guesses as to where these comments were coming from.

As far as qualification goes, I have more than required for the job and recently completed yet another program from a local university. In short, I have more qualifications than required for the job but will they consider me when the opportunity knocks? Not at my door, I totally believe.

Experience overlooked, raises questions on workplace diversity

I am a writer and could go on but don’t want to bore you. But you get the point. I can fill pages and pages about my experiences, not to say some managers I have worked with, have been the best and never left me out of the team. They have made me feel included and an important member of the team too. It was one of them who encouraged me to further my education and happily signed a letter I needed. Therefore, it is not all bad but as human nature has it, hurt stays in the heart forever.

Unfortunately, all the action plans created by employers aiming to support Diversity and Inclusivity stay on paper or at best, ticking a box at the time of hiring. Once their statistics are taken care of, employers wash their hands off. They don’t care if their employees are suffering mentally due to racism and exclusivity at the workplace. An email now and then indicating that theirs is a diverse and inclusive workplace and that if employees need any support, they can call a certain number where counselors will help them. Really! Help with what I ask? To make you feel better that you are not the only one? How can counselors help an employee in a workplace situation, I fail to understand.

Conclusion on workplace diversity in Canada, based on my personal experience

To ensure inclusivity and diversity, it is important to change mindsets first. Reset your mind to default and then update, just the way you update your computers and phones or every other gadget you rely on. Merely looping into emails and being invited to meetings without an opportunity to speak, is not inclusivity. Managers looking to make a diverse and inclusive workplace should not only say not many words but their actions should speak for them. I totally believe, whether, in Canada or America, we are not there yet. We have miles to go and long distances to cover. The journey has just begun and it is not easy.

The author is a senior journalist based in Canada, she is the author of the book, 1971: A War Story.


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