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Canada’s Changing Demographics in the Workplace

Aging population. More immigrants. Different languages. Accepting more employees with disabilities. There is no God. Young Aboriginals.

Wait. What was that? “There is no God”? How does this fit into Canada’s changing demographics?

We may be going through the challenges and successes of our changing demographics, but every time we think we’ve got it figured out…Bam!...we get hit right between the eyes with something new. Something we weren’t quite ready for.

Stephen Hammond
Recently groups of Canadians wanted to purchase advertising on the sides of buses with messages including, “there is no God”. One transit authority accepted them. One didn’t. Others are waiting for such requests, perhaps with trepidation. Do you hear “lawsuit”?

Hidden away in data from Statistics Canada is the growth of the Canadian population who say they have no religion. While the 2006 census didn’t include religious belief in their questions, we do have information from the 2001 census. While only 2% of people from Newfoundland and Labrador said they have “no religious affiliation”, a full 36% of British Columbians chose that category. And since Catholics in B.C. made up only 17% and Protestants made up 31%, that means more people chose no religious affiliation than any other group for that province. Alberta came in at 24%.

This simple request on the side of buses (and regardless of what you might think of it, it is simple) is just the tip of the iceberg as yet another group of Canadians asserts their human rights, demanding they get the same respect others have received for years. After all, if religious institutions can advertise, then why can’t non-religious institutions do the same? It doesn’t mean everyone responding that way to the census is atheist, but we can’t assume everyone is buying into beliefs that others take as sacred.

So how might this affect your workplace? Who knows, but what if non-religious employees, or non-Christian employees say, “I don’t want Christmas and Easter off work as I’d rather have two other days off. I don’t want those other two days coming off my vacation pay.” Sure, these are statutory holidays, but if transit authorities are struggling with this form of multiculturalism, perhaps these other requests aren’t far off.

It’s no secret that the look and outlook of Canadians is very different from when my grandparents came to this country from Scotland, England and the United States. Most of our immigrants don’t come from these countries, or other European countries where most of the population is white and Christian. In fact, between 2001 and 2006, 84% of immigrants coming to Canada did not come from Europe. The top source countries for immigrants were China, India, the Philippines and Pakistan.

Let’s add something to this equation. While Canada’s population growth is the fastest of the G7 countries, all seven countries share one thing – a declining birth rate. A full two-thirds of our net population growth is from immigration and it is estimated that all of our net population growth will be from immigration somewhere between the years 2025 and 2030. So put these pieces of the equation together and this means more Canadians will have darker skin and more will have different religious beliefs (or none) than the majority of Canadians who identify as Christians today.

And while I mentioned that our birth rate is declining, there is one exception: Aboriginal Canadians, who make up First Nations (or Status Indians), Inuit and Metis. During the 10 years between 1996 & 2006, Canada’s population grew by 8% while our Aboriginal population grew by 45%. Our Inuit population grew by 26%, our First Nations population grew by 29% and our Metis population grew by an amazing 91%. In 1996 Canada’s Aboriginal population made up 2.8% of the population and as of 2006 they make up 3.8%, or almost 1.2 million people.

As employers and providers of goods and services, we can just sit back and wait for these new Canadians (by birth or immigration) to be absorbed into our processes, as employees or customers. Or we can accept that this kind of change might need some assistance. When I talk to people about the makeup of their employee or customer base, I often get the reply, “but we aren’t excluding anyone”, or “we’re open to anyone, but they’re just not applying, or “perhaps they just don’t want to work with us”.

If we want to avoid the race riots that France, England and, even in years past the United States, have experienced, we need to be pro-active. But this isn’t a government task: every employer and business must contribute to the well-being of this country. For the most part Canada has avoided some of the worst parts of people feeling they are being left out of opportunities. But that doesn’t mean everyone is feeling included. Talk to many Canadians and they’ll tell you stories of current day discrimination that will curl your hair (just this week, while I was delivering a training session, people were casually telling their experiences and others were literally crying because they had “no idea”).

Multiculturalism, in all its forms, is not easy. But the alternative is much worse. So, to do your part, here are some simple suggestions:

  • Actively seek out people who reflect Canada’s population. Don’t sit back, waiting for “them” to come to you.

  • Make sure your workplace is welcoming. So in that sense, this should be the first task, before you reflect the population, otherwise you’ll have employment with a revolving door.

  • Be pro-active on reasonable accommodations. Don’t just wait for someone to complain or ask for changes. Talk to employees and find out if there is something they might need as an accommodation. Most require simple solutions.

    Therefore, while some people debate if there is a God, or there is no God, you can spend time looking at new ways to reflect Canada’s changing population.

    Stephen Hammond, B.A., LL.B., CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) is an expert in workplace and Canadian human rights. Go to for more information.

    New Cohort Calls for New Leadership Development

    As the Canadian workplace evolves to embrace top talent from around the globe, well-educated, ambitious immigrant professionals have become intrinsic to their organizations’ current and future success. Typically hired for their acumen in information technology, finance, research and engineering, career-minded New Canadian professionals anticipate opportunities for advancement, readily signing up for leadership development offerings promoted by their employers. The question is: Does the leadership training provided by most organizations meet the needs of this exciting new cohort?

    Effective leaders communicate effectively
    Influencing, consensus-building and team motivation require finely honed communication skills. Learning the ropes is challenging enough for those operating in the familiar waters of their native language and culture. For immigrant professionals, the obstacles can seem daunting, especially when talent-development programs have not accounted for their linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

    Sergey Somov secured his first Canadian position four and a half years ago as a database software developer with a Canadian telecommunications firm. Recently promoted to team leader, he is clearly on the management track. En route, Somov has attended traditional leadership programs to learn about project management, conflict resolution, constructive feedback and personality types.

    While appreciating the insight gained from these programs, Somov, whose name has been changed at the request of his employer, has sometimes felt the brunt of linguistic and cultural knowledge gaps that left him perplexed as his classmates progressed from topic to topic. Although, for example, the concept of constructive feedback was easy to grasp, putting it into practice was a greater challenge. Somov would have appreciated language pointers, including guidance on English feedback phrases to use in casual versus formal interactions. “You’ve come a long way, buddy” gives a much different impression than “Your performance in this area has shown marked improvement.”

    Somov is not alone. A wave of technical professionals who have arrived in Canada in the past decade are now eager to put their expertise to use in leadership positions. To meet the needs of this increasingly diverse talent pool, cutting edge leadership programs have shifted to encompass a broader curriculum. Under the banner of ‘hybrid communication training’, this new approach interweaves business communication concepts with language development and intercultural awareness.

    Language component essential
    With the aid of his company’s Learning department, Somov discovered a hybrid leadership communication course with the linguistic depth he was seeking. The program included expert grammar and pronunciation guidance, along with a repertoire of English phrases for a wide range of communication tactics related to persuasion, positive language and active listening. For Somov, the tactical phrases were key. “ I picked the ones I was comfortable with and practiced them in class.” These comprehensive English language tools gave Somov the confidence he needed to apply his new skills on the job.

    Cultural clarification key
    Influencing others requires nuanced interpersonal awareness, much of which is culturally based. For example, in some groups, blunt language seems an appropriate way to express honesty and respect; in a multicultural setting, these tactics may rub team members the wrong way. The hybrid leadership communication course helped Somov realize it is possible to unintentionally “hurt someone’s feelings by saying something that is normal in your own culture”.

    Somov believes others were aware of his communication misdemeanors but chose not to mention them. He appreciated learning in class, for example, that typing email messages in capital letters is commonly regarded as ‘shouting’, a fact his colleagues had not brought to his attention. Says Somov, “the course gave me a rare opportunity to see another point of view.”

    Roleplay and reflection required
    Training techniques are an important consideration in choosing courses appropriate to the multicultural workplace. Leadership training sessions tailored for New Canadian professionals provide participants with ample time to role-play scenarios and receive expert feedback. Participants should be able to articulate and rehearse appropriate language and to clarify cultural issues in an appropriate environment.

    Scheduling parameters must also be considered. For culture-shocked participants, 20 hours of leadership training packed into three consecutive days does not offer the same time for reflection and recalibration as is afforded by a series of two-hour classes spread out over ten weeks. This approach, Somov felt, supported “continuous improvement instead of getting a bunch of knowledge into your head and only putting 20% into practice. I liked the ability to practice piece by piece. We could bring back our experiences and share them with the others, find out what we did wrong and what we could do better. It was like having a personal mentor.”

    Hybrid communication training a boon
    Hybrid communication training has enabled Somov and thousands of other New Canadian professionals to advance to positions of influence. In his role of technical-team lead, Somov’s new-found skills have proven particularly useful in interactions with other teams and departments. In stressful, time-sensitive situations, decisions are now being made more efficiently. Those involved report a greater sense of inclusion, and are more willing to accept unsettling news and rapid change.

    With clearer communication, Somov is able to position himself so others can see his analytical abilities and have confidence in his leadership. He has become, in his own words, “behaviorally smarter”.

    Clearly, the Canadian workplace is changing. IT, accounting, engineering and research operations, having benefited from an influx of international technical talent, are now looking for ways to optimize the leadership potential of this valued labour pool. Hybrid communication training – with its integrated approach to leadership, language and culture – offers a fresh perspective.

    Teresa McGill is President of Gandy Associates -

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