19 Apr 2020

Sonia on Sunday: Importance of cultural diversity in a workplace

What is diversity, and why should we strive to promote and increase it in a workplace? Today I will discuss the importance of cultural variety within our places of employment.

Diversity in a workplace is the idea of employing individuals who come from different backgrounds- regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

Sonia Krajewska is the ANC’s Community Settlement and Integration Counsellor (Permanent Residents).

In my experience travelling across three continents and working in five countries, I have to say that many employers strive to be more inclusive and diverse, while others still remain pretty uniform and lack the variety of different cultures.

In one of my jobs, I was the sole non-national in a 40-person department. It made it harder for me to feel like I belonged, since I was the only one who was not from that place and had a different accent. I had no idea about local sports teams and I simply found it hard to feel that I was in the same boat as my coworkers.

Cultural diversity is growing in the province today. We see it in workplaces, and in everyday aspects of life like going to the grocery store. This is because Newfoundland and Labrador has the oldest and most rapidly aging population in the country. It is expected that in the next eight years there could be nearly 62,000 job vacancies in the province, particularly in sales and service, natural resources and agriculture. With birthrates low, the best option for securing a qualified workforce and ensuring a steady supply of labour is through immigration. Of course, with immigration comes diversity and we at the Association for New Canadians promote embracing it!

The idea of cultural diversity in a workplace has always been important for me personally. There are many benefits to increased diversity in the workplace:

⋅ Expanding talent pool
Companies known to be open to hiring diverse employees will attract wider pool of candidates. The number of applications for job postings will rise and therefore the employer will be more likely to find outstanding staff members. Employees with different educational background or work experience from other parts of the world often bring many advantages and skills to the team.

⋅ Enhanced creativity and innovation
Maltese physician and psychologist Edward de Bono (the inventor of the term “lateral thinking”) once said that creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. That is exactly what happens when companies employ people with diverse backgrounds and points of view. It’s easier to have new and different ideas to bounce off each other when the team consists of people who come from different walks of life. This in turn often leads to new ideas being introduced and implemented. According to research published in 2015, companies which are more diverse and inclusive are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their field. *

⋅ Reduction of racism
When people are exposed to many cultures and religions, they tend to open up more while understanding the importance of each individual, regardless of their beliefs or background. I remember my first contact with different nationalities and cultures when I first left my home country of Poland and moved to London, UK. My place of employment at that time was very inclusive, and I had a chance to get to know people from all around the world. It made me more aware of how insignificant our differences might be, and I cherished the fact that I was able to learn more about cultures in other countries. This opportunity allows one to become friends with people from the other side of the world and dispels stereotypes you might have previously held. We are getting better at recognizing the importance of inclusion; yet racism is still a major issue for us, as MSNBC published the results of a survey in 2018 stating that 64% of respondents believe that racism remains a major problem.

⋅ Faster problem-solving
Harvard Business Review discovered that diverse teams are more likely to solve problems faster. It’s mostly due to the fact that people who come from various backgrounds bring different experiences to the table. Diversity brings innovation, which leads to faster problem solving.

To summarize, there are plenty of advantages of keeping your company diverse. With such widespread immigration and mobility, our province is becoming a place where we interact with people from all around the globe. By understanding all the benefits of diversity in a workplace, we not only create a more friendly environment, but we also influence productivity and innovation of our businesses.

My suggestion for employers, for all the reasons outlined here, is to embrace diversity and open up to a pool of international candidates.

My advice to workers is to select your workplaces based on their values and promote firms which believe in those very same ideas of inclusiveness. You might want to check the Globe and Mail’s “Canada’s Top 100 in Diversity”  which recognizes (mostly larger) workplaces across Canada with exemplary diversity and inclusiveness programs for their employees. Or ask around about companies in Newfoundland and Labrador who promote diversity in their workplaces. (The Globe is not distributed in this province but there are many companies here who recognize the value of a diverse workforce.

*Bersin by Deloitte 2015 High-Impact Talent Management