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Over the years, employers and companies alike have made an effort to hire a more diverse workforce, even if only to comply with their legal requirements. The Ontario Human Rights Code, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act are all examples of statutes aimed at preventing discrimination in the workplace and increasing diversity within it. Organizations should not only be aware of their legal requirements with respect to employment opportunities for all individuals, but they also need to understand what benefits they can derive from such compliance.

Our world is changing; this is even truer in Canada. Baby boomers are slowly making their way to retirement, and the challenge now, given the decline of our national birthrate, is for organizations to find enough young talent with which to replace them. Immigrants, visible minorities, people with disabilities and Aboriginal Peoples are just examples of groups of individuals that are underrepresented in the workforce. However, they are just as hard-working and just as valuable to an organization, and should not be denied an opportunity based on a discriminatory ground: not only is it illegal, but it is actually detrimental to your organization.

If we all had the same upbringing or all thought alike, we would rarely bring about change or advancement. Many articles have been written and statistics gathered on the benefits of workplace diversity, with the following representing but a few of the stated advantages:

  • It enables an organization to provide a broader range of services to its clients or target audience, and increases their understanding of the needs of its clients/audience, given the different spoken languages and cultural knowledge of its employees
  • People with diverse backgrounds bring with them different experiences, viewpoints and opinions, which foster innovation and problem-solving skills
  • It encourages social acceptance and understanding between employees, improving employee retention and satisfaction, which in turn will be projected onto the company’s own clients/audience;
  • It ensures that no skill shortages exist
  • It broadens community engagement by increasing the organization’s access to clients/audience and creating a wider network of contacts
  • It provides an organization with a better understanding of its clients/audience (that is, its workforce should at least reflect the clients/audience it wants to attract)
  • It ensures a more inclusive workplace.

Organizations must cater to changing demographics in order to stay relevant. This is almost impossible to achieve without the support of a diverse workplace.

Regardless of all of the benefits associated with a diverse workplace, in addition to human rights and equity legislation, actually achieving the end result of a diverse workforce is still not without its challenges, be it by reason of something deliberate (based in discrimination) or not (for example, due to a language barrier).

The Canadian workplace is changing and evolving. It has been stated that a diverse workforce is “vital to organizational effectiveness”. If you want to be a successful organization that is able to effectively compete in the marketplace, it is to your benefit to try and hire as diverse a workforce as possible. If you don’t similarly change and evolve, you will not only be missing out on the numerous benefits associated with diversity, but you may not even be around long enough to regret not doing so. Organizational survival in this century requires diversity. Stop avoiding this reality; instead, learn to embrace it not just because you have to, but because it is an important key to your organization’s success.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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