Managing Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity.  What does it mean to you? In the workplace diversity means more than working with people from different cultures. It means working with people from different generations as well as different lifestyles.  For example, someone that has left military or police service to work in a corporation may not be used to team decision making.  Transitioning from a culture of direct orders and solo decision making would be a challenge.  Likewise, a Baby Boomer that chooses to work into his or her 70’s may have difficulty relating to a Millennial in the same office.

In order to have a healthy, productive, successful corporate culture, the workforce must learn to accept and work with people from all walks of life.

How diverse is Quebec’s workforce?

According to the latest census data from Statistics Canada, the population in the province of Quebec rose from 7,546,131 to 7,903,001 between 2006 and 2001. 84% of the population is aged 15 and over with the median age being 41.  A total of 3,745,320 are married or in a common law relationship, 2,899,060 are unmarried due to being single, separated, divorced or widowed.  Two-person family households make up the bulk of the family situations at 1,158,055. The majority speak French, but English, Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Chinese and several other languages are spoken as well.

How does this affect the workplace?

It is difficult to relate to people, customs, lifestyles, and management styles that are unfamiliar to us.  Being in situations where we don’t know or understand a coworker, but must work alongside them can be very uncomfortable.  When steps are not taken to ensure team-building practices, companies have virtual strangers trying to reach a common goal – from a many different pathways.  Getting everyone on a similar path is vital.

How do you bridge the gaps?

Every employee in the company must live by the values of respect, understanding and tolerance – and those values must be demonstrated daily by management.  This means, no cultural jokes.  Jokes or stories that mock other people’s culture are degrading, even if you mean no harm.  Similarly, off handed comments about women in positions of power, or cultural stereotypes have no place at work.

Management can encourage a positive work atmosphere by engaging in neutral team-building exercises in which coworkers can get to know each other in a non-work setting. Having staff volunteers to teach lunch and learn sessions based on their hobbies, signing up for Corporate Challenge, forming social groups (book clubs, wine tasting nights, running groups, etc.) all encourage interaction on neutral grounds. As the team gets to know each other better, they will communicate with more openness and honestly on work projects, and have a much easier time with the challenges that come from a diverse workplace.

Additionally, management must have a zero-tolerance policy for any incidences of racism, abuse or shaming. Everyone must be educated on what is and is not acceptable and those rules must be enforced to remain effective.

Diversity brings a richness of experience and ideas to each business.  Being open to others means learning more, doing more and being more successful, in and out of the workplace.

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