By Caitlyn Coverly
A few weeks ago, senior vice-president Laszlo Bock took to Google’s official blog to publicly share the company’s employee demographics, revealing a predominately white male workforce and admitting a reluctance to come forward with the data earlier.
The announcement was deemed a groundbreaking disclosure, because U.S. companies are not obligated to make their workforce demographics public. However, citing that transparency is key to finding a solution, Mr. Bock wrote, “Simply put, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity … our efforts, including going public with these numbers, are designed to help us recruit and develop the world’s most talented and diverse people.”
In Canada, many companies have come to realize the strategic importance of a diverse workforce and, much like Google, have initiated comprehensive diversity strategies. But developing and executing those strategies is no easy feat.
Financial institutions were among the first organizations to act on the long-term demographic and labour-market significance of Canada’s Employment Equity Act, which requires special measures and the accommodation of differences for four designated groups in Canada: women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.
“As a regulated organization, we looked at diversity from a compliance perspective at first,” said Norma Tombari, director of Global Diversity at the Royal Bank of Canada. “However, with the appointment of Gordon Nixon as CEO in 2001, came the revitalization of a very robust diversity strategy; what we refer to as our Diversity Blueprint.”
RBC has been recognized in recent years for its achievements in diversity and inclusion practices. Its 2013 Diversity and Inclusion Report shows RBC’s workforce is comprised of 64% women, 31% visible minorities, 4.6% people with disabilities and 1.5% aboriginal persons — numbers that are fairly representative of the general workforce in Canada.
So, how do companies reach this level?
“Education becomes key when you are managing a multicultural and multigenerational workforce,” Ms. Tombari said. “There will be unconscious bias and blindspots, as well as a lack of cultural understanding and awareness throughout all levels of the organization, so it is our job to put programs in place that counter those attitudes.”
RBC takes a multifaceted approach, offering employees various workshops and webcasts on raising cultural acumen, as well as access to self-assessment tools where employees can rate their own level of understanding.
“The goal is to provide learning that is focused on the topic of diversity and inclusion and the rest is about embedding it in the cultural landscape of an organization,” Ms. Tombari said.
Canada’s energy giant Suncor is at a different stage of the diversity and inclusion-implementation process. After merging with Petro-Canada in 2009, changes in corporate structure created a tidal wave of new systems and strategies.
“With so much change and turnover, some things — such as our diversity strategies — got pushed to the side,” said Kelli Stevens, a company spokeswoman.
The company’s 2012 diversity report shows Suncor’s workforce is comprised of 23% women, 11.1% visible minorities and 2.7% Aboriginal persons. “We don’t look at our current percentages and think that’s okay,” Ms. Stevens said. “We are, and always will be, trying to improve them.”
Suncor, similar to Google, faces the uphill battle of recruiting from a rather homogenous talent pool. “We are a male-dominated field,” Ms. Stevens said.
In 2011, women earned only 16.5% of degrees/diplomas categorized within the fields of architecture, engineering and related technologies, Statistics Canada data shows. In fields relating to mathematics, computer and information sciences, women earned only 27% of degrees/diplomas. However, out of those pursuing post-secondary education, women account for more than half at 58%.
Suncor is in the process of developing a strategy that makes those desires a reality. Part of that strategy is supporting various programs that work to broaden the talent pool.
In March 2013, the Suncor Energy Foundation approved a five-year, $1.5-million program aimed at helping Women Building Futures (WBF), an organization that specializes in encouraging and preparing women for careers in skilled trades, to refine its business model and expand its impact.
Suncor also provides funding for Actua, the Ottawa-based national science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program, to help develop and deliver STEM programs to Aboriginal youth across Canada.
“Many of the communities we have a strong presence in have a high representation of aboriginal people,” Ms. Stevens said. “We want to be reflective of where we work and build strong relationships with those communities.”
Echoed in both companies’ strategies is the hard fact that implementing a diversity strategy is not easy; it is a long-term commitment with results as well as challenges at all stages.
Susan Black, managing partner at Crossbar Group, and Keith Caver, North America practice leader for talent management and organizational alignment at Towers Watson, offer the following advice for corporations undergoing a significant change in workforce demographics:
Inclusion is about making the numbers count: “Companies tend to jump right into programs without clearly defining their goals,” Ms. Black said. “This is often the result of a disconnect in their understanding of their own issues. In an ideal world, having a 50/50 split between male and female employees would be considered success, however, companies really need to look at their corporate structure and their client base to determine if that is what is best for their organization.”
Don’t define diversity too narrowly: “Companies tend to frame all diversity efforts around the four groups and they end up leaving a lot of white space,” Ms. Black said. “As a result people get left out of the diversity conversation. We are all a part of diversity and the thoughts and opinions of everyone should be valued in an organization.”
Culture isn’t something you can change overnight: “It typically goes one of two ways,” she said. “Either organizations declare victory too soon or they fall prey to diversity fatigue. The fact is it takes a long time to change workplace cultures. Don’t rush the process.”
You must address cultural differences and unconscious bias: “It is not good enough to just have the people in place,” Mr. Caver said. “There is an array of information available about shifting demographics and leveraging human capital. There must be an unwavering commitment to educating and preparing leaders so companies are not held back by hidden biases.”