Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Canada and What It Means to Immigrants

Organizations Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
Organizations Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

As a new or future immigrant, you are probably wondering how Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Canada look like.

You’ve done your research. You felt relieved upon finding out that Canada’s immigrant population is more than 20% of the total so you won’t stick out like a sore thumb. However, you know that adjusting to a multicultural work environment with its unique expectations, norms, and policies is a challenge.

So if you are thinking: “Are there regulations or policies that can protect me as an immigrant? How should I behave so as not to encroach on other people’s rights?”, then you are in the right place.

Today, we’ll discuss DEI – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – in Canada.

Disclaimers:

  • I do not have a background in HR and I am definitely not an expert in Labour Law. These are my observations as a Canadian immigrant who is also on a diversity, equity, and inclusion learning journey.
  • This post is in no way intended to be discriminatory. Generalizations are, at times written, to explain some thought processes.
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Regulations Supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Canada

Let’s start by looking at some relevant acts and regulations.

Employment Equity Act

The Employment Equity Act is critical in enhancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Canada. It aims to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfilment of that goal, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities by giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences.” It defines members of visible minorities as persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.

Further, Statistics Canada defines the visible minority population as consisting mainly of South Asian, Chinese, Filipino, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean, Japanese, Black, Arab, and Latin American.

Celebrating International Women's Day to Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Celebrating International Women’s Day is a Way to Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Canadian Human Rights Act

This act is based on the principle that all individuals should have equal opportunities to live a life free from discriminatory practices “based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”

Canada Labour Code

The Canada Labour Code defines harassment and violence as “any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment.”

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What These Regulations Mean For Immigrants

Now, let’s talk about the impacts of relevant regulations on immigrants.

Immigrants now have better chances at job applications or career development.

The government is strengthening regulations to ensure fair hiring practices. For example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has approved a policy on removing the “Canadian experience” barrier. This policy dissuades employers to discount an applicant’s foreign work experience, include a requirement for prior Canadian experience in job ads, or request for local references only.

Organizations are then implementing policies to ensure compliance with these regulations. In addition, they are stepping up to attract and maintain talents as well as ensure synergy from their employees’ diversity. After all, employers who have a diverse workforce benefit from best practices from various countries.

A candidate will not be chosen based on affinity to the minority population alone.

Focus on DEI does not give immigrants automatic privileges. For example, my employer emphasized choosing candidates based on competency, knowledge, and fit for the job. When there are two or more top contenders with fairly equal qualifications, then DEI may come into place.

Employers will still need a way to assess your fit not just for the job but the workplace environment as well.

In a conversation I had with a hiring manager, he mentioned that they need to do their due diligence but in a different way. The educational standards or job qualifications in various countries differ. These may have an impact on an applicant’s fit for specific jobs. Therefore, they need to find a way to check the applicant’s ability without asking about their country of origin.

In my current job in a manufacturing facility, one of my major responsibilities is to write Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in English. As an immigrant, I do have an edge because of my ability to simplify sentences to the level that all our employees can easily understand. I went through the usual hiring process and was interviewed by 3 managers and a director. I also went through the usual probationary period for the employer to assess my skills better.

Upon reflection, there are numerous countries that have English as one of their official languages. However, English is not exactly the same in all of these countries. If the ability to write SOPs in English is the tie-breaker for a set of applicants for an urgent job opening, the job would go to the candidate who currently has the best ability to use or adapt to Canadian English. Our place of origin and exposure would have an influence on this skill.

To my recollection, I was not asked about my nationality or citizenship status. However, I was asked about my eligibility to work in Canada.

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Immigrants have more protection against bullying and harassment.

In general, Canada’s diverse population is also going through a learning journey. There are words or actions that are generally acceptable. But, each individual has a unique level of sensitivity to words, gestures, or facial expressions. I believe that these are greatly influenced by the person’s history, awareness of norms, and characteristics, among others. So, for me, the most important determinant of bullying and harassment is intent.

As an immigrant, we want to smoothly adjust to our workplace culture. It would be ideal to develop a harmonious and supportive relationship with our colleagues. So, accepting things with grace or assuming positive intent helps.

However, hearing an offensive word or seeing a hurtful gesture can be a great teaching opportunity. I believe that a short explanation about why the word or gesture is offensive would help the other person along his or her own DEI awareness journey.

Of course, repeated and intentional acts would require a different resolution. The recommended process would be stated in the company’s bullying and harassment policy.

WorkSafeBC Video: Employer Addresses a Bullying and Harassment Complaint

Regulations exist to support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Canada. These also serve to protect immigrants.

It is important to be aware of these rights to prevent unwanted situations. It is equally important to be cognizant that our rights end where other people’s rights begin.

When in a challenging position, assume positive intentions. Interpret people’s behavior with openness, kindness, and grace.

Find opportunities to immerse yourself in Canadian culture. Be watchful of how people act and speak then use these as guides.

With these in mind, you will be able to thrive in Canada. All the best!

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